Photo by Daniel Mick.

The Angle

Three Things: Minnesota United vs. D.C. United

by on 4 August 2017

Last Saturday, the Loons erupted from their 360-plus-minute scoreless streak and unloaded four goals on a no good, very bad, terrible D.C. United team. It was a cathartic performance back to front. All the Loons who needed to score (Christian Ramirez, Abu Danladi, and Miguel Ibarra) scored. All the Loons who were missed on international duty or with injuries (Francisco Calvo, Johan Venegas, and Sam Cronin) returned and contributed. After several weeks where a shorthanded Minnesota team played insipid soccer, the D.C. game doubtless restored some of the faith for the faithful.

Alas, every silver lining has a cloud.

The Loons are almost certainly out of the playoffs

Just 12 games remain in the season for Minnesota, and only four of them are at home. The team’s playbook for making a postseason run always relied upon a big surge of points at home in the heart of the season, and the Loons fell well short of that. The team will rue missed opportunities, like against San Jose, Columbus, and especially LA and Vancouver. Even if it were to win the remaining four games at home, the additional 12 points would put it only at 34 points, still eight to ten short of the normal playoff line.

Minnesota’s slim postseason chances rely on a sudden reversal of its normal away form. When it has yet to win a single game on the road this season, that’s hard to imagine. The door might completely shut on the Loons this week, with back-to-back home and away games against Seattle. The Sounders aren’t having a great season, but if the Loons don’t take, at minimum, four points from these two matches, then the bird is cooked.

The win against D.C. was nice, but misleading

Minnesota’s 4-0 scoreline against D.C. was called “flattering” by head coach Adrian Heath, but that might be putting it mildly. The Loons actually were more likely to lose the game according to expected goals. It’s not hard to see why. Minnesota benefited from unusually good finishing, a remarkably poor game from D.C.’s goalkeeper Bill Hamid, and a really embarrassing own goal from Jared Jeffrey. On the other end of the field, the visitors squandered a handful of brilliant chances. Deshorn Brown twice hit shots directly at Bobby Shuttleworth, and Patrick Mullins skied a wide open volley. The Black-and-Red might be a dumpster fire of a soccer team, but they were off their game, even by the basement-bottom standards they’ve set.

Minnesota continues to have problems balancing attack and defense. Too often, it seems as through the team operates as two separate units, with attackers doing their thing and defenders doing theirs. The week before, the New York Red Bulls — a team in stellar form — showed the Loons how a team plays together. Jesse Marsch has his men attacking and defending together. We haven’t seen that kind of play, even at their best, from Adrian Heath’s charges. That’s one of the advantages that comes from having a core who have played together for years, and have even integrated homegrowns who already know the system, like Tyler Adams. Minnesota isn’t there yet, and it can’t be expected to be. But Atlanta is ahead of the Loons, and the Loons are probably behind what I’d expect. It’s frustrating.

Kevin Molino was good centrally this one game, but he’s still not a No. 10

Last week, I lambasted Kevin Molino for his poor play at the No. 10 role, and laid much of the blame for Minnesota’s scoreless streak at his feet. Now that he went out and provided two assists in a MotM performance, am I thoroughly chastened?

Not so fast!

One thing I wrote last week was that Molino does seem to play best in a No. 10 role when he is paired with Danladi on his right. Before the D.C. game, when Molino had played centrally, the Loons had scored just 7 goals in 9 games and been shut out five times. But I noted that of those goals, six of the seven had been scored in the four games in which Danladi had played.

I think the first goal against D.C. demonstrates why Danladi can benefit Molino.

That’s Danladi there in the center forward position, while Christian Ramirez is making the run at the top of the image. Technically Danladi is a right winger in this formation. But that position on the field is completely vacant. Danladi is playing alongside Ramirez and occupying three defenders and the defensive midfielder.

Molino is best when he can receive the ball and take one of his trademark long first touches into space, preferably forward. That plan breaks down when the middle of the field is full of players. But Danladi’s positional creativity (indiscipline?) forces the defense to commit one or two extra men to covering himself, and leaves Molino the space he really needs to operate.

So I’m really not going to back down from this. Molino is not a No. 10. When he plays well as a “No. 10”, he’s playing as a right midfielder who has tracked to the center of the field, while two forwards in front are creating space.

Play. The. 4-2-2-2.

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  • Jim Oliver

    The difference between indiscipline and creativity is success.

  • Mallahet

    Totally on board the 4-2-2-2 train.. Seems like it would work so much better for this team and the personnel we have available.

  • Bruce J McGuire

    The coach seems unwilling or incapable of changing the tactics too drastically. 4-2-3-1 or 4-1-4-1 or 4-3-3 are played basically the same way by this team. Sometimes there is an extra defensive minded midfielder or two in the mix to really bog down the offense, but otherwise its the same old. All the well run MLS teams have done their homework and figured out how to shut down MNUFC. Last week they caught a break with a DC team that was much worse (and seems to have quit playing) than they were. Can Minn make the offensive adjustments for Seattle? Will be hard without Ramirez if he is out. But I hope they at least try. Lets wait and see.

  • Steve Lindley

    I agree that Molino is not a 10 and I think the reason for last week’s success was more about DCU being terrible than significant improvement from the Loons. I do not have high hopes for tomorrow’s match.

  • Vinyl Haircut

    Totally agree with your assessment of Molino. I had to chuckle at all the extra praise he received this week. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a good player, but the elements of his game which gave him trouble at number ten in the past were still present last Saturday. It’s just that DC didn’t make him pay. He’s much better on the outside where the space suits his game.

    I get your frustration, but they’re actually not trailing my expectation of where they’d be at this point. We’ve made many personnel mistakes, but conversely we’ve found some that can actually play. I don’t really care nearly as much about our results this year and next as about setting ourselves up for success after that. What troubles me most is the lack of developing young midfield talent, which will be critical in the future. I don’t anticipate us making a big name signing, so growing those players should be of prime concern.

    • Governor Squid

      I get your frustration, but they’re actually not trailing my expectation
      of where they’d be at this point.

      Thank you for this perspective; I was beginning to think I was the only one who felt this way. We’ve had some good fun with Grant Wahl lately, but I have to admit that my expectations were not a heck of a lot higher than his, early on. Given our limited time and money for cobbling together a side, I figured we’d be lucky to get 6 points out of our first 10 games, so I was thrilled when we beat SKC to post our third win and 11 points.

      Yes, managing just two points over six games in June/July was terribly frustrating, and I’m certainly not going to sing the praises of the gaffer and the FO. But if we can pull two more wins and 10 points out of the remaining weeks, we’ll be ahead of my expectations.

      We were never destined for the playoffs this year; to believe otherwise requires levels of optimism I’m simply incapable of generating. Instead, I’ve been enjoying watching our guys muddle through the best they can, trying to figure out ways to compete. Every draw feels like a win to me, and an actual victory just sends me ’round the moon.

      My patience isn’t limitless, of course, and I’ll be looking to the team to shore up our weakest positions, provide some depth, and maybe bring in a recognizable name or two. But even if they suck out loud for the entirety of next season, I’ll be there on opening day in the new stadium to sing my fool head off.

      • Vinyl Haircut

        I could not agree more.

        This year has been a blast just seeing them go out and compete for most of the games, flaws and all.

        I also agree on the player assessment. I’ll be anxiously watching the personnel moves over the offseason, and maybe even during the current transfer window. But I could honestly care less about getting players just to help them win a game or two more this year or next. I’d much rather go for players who have the potential to actually grow into something special in 3 years rather than one that might only help us save a little face this year or next. Of course we need a mix of young players and veterans, but I already feel like we’re plenty old enough. Give me 3-4 more young players with the potential to become really good #10, #8, or #6’s in a few years. If we can get a couple to pan out, we’ll be in good shape. I’d much rather go through the growing pains with them than get a couple of stopgap veterans to win a couple more games next year, but do nothing for the long term.

  • nathan3e

    Alas, every silver lining has a cloud. Or not. Calvo was back with Cronin in front of him. Molino had a proper defensive spine in back of him for the first time in a very long time and they beat a bad team at home. It doesn’t strike me as overly mysterious. This team is not currently good enough to win without their best players, and Calvo is their best player.

    I’ve supported Inter since 1998 and I have been struck by the similarities among the Inter and MNUFC hardcore support. The default response is negativity. The front office is clueless, the coach is hopeless, we should always be doing something other than what we are doing. I happen to think that the front office and coach have done an excellent job admitting and correcting their errors on the fly and saving what could have been a sub Chivas USA season. We have an MLS team. It still seems made up to me and my default response remains gratitude.

  • Troy Kadlec

    We are always more dangerous on the attack with someone complementing Ramirez. The problem early on was that we were also much more vulnerable to counters. We give up the center of the pitch far too easily. So we dropped deeper on defense and struggled to play on the opponents side of the field. 61% possession isn’t impressive when the other team is content to let you kick it around your side of the midfield stripe. It’s even less impressive when it takes the opponent 15-20 seconds, 3 or 4 quick passes and the ball is in the back of our net while half your team is watching. So yeah, a scoring drought was likely when you sacrificed numbers on the attack to shore up your defense and stay in the game.

    I’ve complained all season about Ramirez being on an island. It is too easy for a pair of CBs to key on him and muscle him out of the game. Any team that has a competent set of defensive midfielders in front of their CB pairing has been able to neutralize him effectively. It doesn’t help when there was no service even when he had attacking channels wide open. Nobody on the team seemed to be able to see those passing lanes.

    I was excited to see us sign Allen to give us a second forward to complement Ramirez when Danladi is dinged up and can’t play. We are so much more dangerous when we have 2 forwards. Also, Allen is very good about dropping to get the ball and pulling defenders out of shape when they follow him. Danladi stretches the field and occupies defenders in a similar manner. I don’t care what the formation sheet says – 4231, 442, 433, 4132, 4222 – we score when we have two players running forward attacking channels.

    I’m not upset with the team. They are not Atlanta and I didn’t expect them to be. We have won games against quality opponents. We have lost games we should have won. We have been competitive in most of our home matches and we’ve had glimmers on the road (Toronto, Houston). I do expect the front office to improve. I expect an academy and USL partnership to develop. I expect us to sign young hungry players with potential. I expect a DP or two next year. I expect our current talent to fight hard the rest of the season. Win, lose or draw – we get to see MLS soccer in the North!!! Not just the Loons, but all those other talented players when they visit us!