This season’s previous match between Dallas and Minnesota is perhaps most notable for being the first match for then-new signings Sam Cronin and Marc Burch. The duo was brought in from Colorado to shore up a team that was on a staggeringly poor defensive pace, and their impact was felt. Though the Loons fell 2-0, Minnesota turned a tough first half into solid possession and build up in the second half, and was only kept off the score sheet by a team-of-the-week performance from young Dallas goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez.
Alex Chilowicz will be making his second-ever MLS assignment on Saturday. His only other appearance was the Colorado-D.C. United match in August. He has spent more time working in NASL and USL this year, appearing as head referee nine times and fourth official many more. In those 10 combined appearances across various tiers of North American soccer, has given four red cards total. Two of those games ran to seven yellow cards. It is challenging to draw conclusions from a small sample size, but players on each side may be willing to challenge the young referee and it will be on Chilowicz to control the match.
M Bernardo Añor (hamstring injury) – Out
D Thomas de Villardi (left Achilles) – Out
M Sam Cronin (head injury) – Out
D Jermaine Taylor (head injury) – Out
D Matt Hedges (yellow card accumulation) – Out
Dallas’ recent form guide doesn’t do their slide justice. This is a club that began the year as one of the best teams in MLS, had a skid in May before returning to form in June, and then fell right off the planet. FC Dallas is winless in nine games, dating back to July 22. The team that once seemed poised to challenge for the Supporters’ Shield is now on the outside looking in on the playoff race.
The reasons for its poor performance can be tough to pin down exactly. There isn’t a silver bullet statistic that reveals what has happened. But the diagnosis has to start in the offense. In its current nine game winless streak, Dallas has scored more than one goal only twice and has been shut out five of those nine games. Players the team was relying on to carry the scoring load have not stepped up. Cristian Colmán is using up an international and Designated Player slot to be a super sub who has only scored twice this year. Michael Barrios has assisted on 13 goals but has only netted twice. Kellyn Acosta’s USMNT attention belies the fact that he is off his 2016 pace in almost every category except shots taken; he is doing less with more.
On Minnesota’s side, the exhilarating win against Montreal also covers up the fact that the Loons can’t expect to win too many games with that recipe. Another goal allowed in the first 10 minutes and another costly mental error that resulted in a penalty that, if it had been converted, would likely have been a death knell. Seeing Collin Martin getting time as a No. 6 was the right experiment to make late in a lost season, but the experiment was not a success. Martin took a while to settle into the game and is not the destroyer this team needs. Miguel Ibarra was also the right experiment to deploy, but he did not make the most of his opportunity.
So knowing where Dallas stands and what opportunities Minnesota still suffers from, how should they approach this game? First, Maxi Urruti and Michael Barrios have been about the only two consistent bright spots for the team this year and man marking them from start to finish is key. Shut them down, and the team forces Dallas’ other men to step up in ways the simply haven’t this year. Next, Minnesota needs to double down on its own strengths. Ibson needs to continue to play in a more advanced position as he did against Montreal, when he had arguably his best game in MLS. If Ibarra plays, he needs to be cut loose, allowed to roam, and to make direct runs at the defense either to get on the end of a through-ball or just to make defensive players make a tough decision quickly on positioning.
Finally, the Kevin-Molino-is-a-No.-10 fairy tale needs to be over. It can be easy to forget how effective Molino could be when deployed as a right winger with the freedom to wander a bit, come centrally to facilitate some playmaking, and use Jérôme Thiesson’s runs up the right side to create greater width. But injuries and other poor performers created the need to duct tape other holes on the pitch. Molino has not been allowed to return to his home since. The tough question becomes how to put Molino, Ethan Finlay, and Ibarra all on the pitch at the same time in a position that suits their individual strengths. It may not be possible without sacrificing a defensive midfielder or attacking midfielder and radically changing the formation.
Minnesota does not have the talent or depth to adjust its tactics based on each week’s opponent. Rather, it just needs to do what it does best. Play quickly and directly. Don’t try to outfox the other team with plodding possession. Don’t rely on crosses from out wide; Minnesota cannot reliably hit crosses accurately, and is even less likely to win balls in the air. The club is playing at home against a team on its heels. There is no reason the Loons can’t be successful playing its own game this week.
FC Dallas will have the bulk of possession so long as the score is roughly level. Minnesota should start with the same lineup it did against Montreal, save the addition of Francisco Calvo and whoever is starting at defensive midfielder this week. Those players should be good enough to give the Loons plenty of chances.
Minnesota still has only won once this year when conceding the first goal. If Dallas can play on the front foot and get finishing from its key team members, this is a very winnable game on the road to help right their season.
Just play to the strengths the team has. The preferred lineup of the club is actually surprisingly competent. It just needs the coaching to put its best feet forward and to avoid the empty-headed mistakes that often give it a mountain to climb from the early minutes.
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Tags: Collin Martin, FC Dallas, Francisco Calvo, Ibson, Jerome Thiesson, Jesse Gonzales, Kellyn Acosta, Kevin Molino, Marc Burch, Match Preview, Maximiliano Urruti, Michael Barrios, Miguel Ibarra, Minnesota United FC, MLS, Sam Cronin