Sorin Stoica is a referee that is quick to go to his book and has little patience for your poor tackle or your poor attitude. His 4.4 yellow cards per game put him at third among referees in the league, but that is still off his early-season pace of over six per game. Stoica is also near the top of the league in dissent cautions given and penalties awarded, so all players will need to be on their best behavior.
M Bernardo Añor (hamstring injury) – Out
D Thomas de Villardi (left Achilles) – Out
D Joseph Greenspan (concussion) – Out
M Sam Cronin (undisclosed injury) – Out
D Jermaine Taylor (head injury) – Out
F Christian Ramirez (hamstring injury) – Questionable
M Fabian Herbers (sports hernia) – Out
M Alejandro Bedoya (suspension) – Out
D Josh Yaro (suspension) – Out
M Maurice Edu (left ankle/left tibia surgery recovery) – Questionable
D Ken Tribbett (left Achilles strain) – Questionable
As little as Adrian Heath may want to admit it, this team may just be a counterattacking team. Against Seattle and Chicago the team was out-possessed 63.9-to-36.1percent and 58.2-to-41.8 percent, respectively. They were out-shot 21-8 and 20-8, respectively. Yet the team was only just barely unfortunate enough to not escape Seattle with a point, and pulled off a lopsided win in Chicago. Granted, many teams resort to bunkering when playing better opposition, especially on the road. But the important thing is this: it worked.
In a way, it shouldn’t be surprising. Examining the roster from top to bottom, MNUFC is heavier on athletic talent than it is on playmakers and class. Ibson is great at making something out of nothing in tight spaces. Kevin Molino is fairly good at launching a long pass to just the right blade of grass, on occasion (and I may be overstating Molino’s case). Beyond that? Ethan Finlay is known more for pace than touch. Sam Nicholson is the same. Miguel Ibarra has not emerged as the playmaker we knew from the NASL days but is still fleet of foot and great running out of position to find openings. Abu Danladi is still raw and finding out what kind of player he is going to be. I could start looking at the glut of backup midfielders the team has, but I think you get the idea. As long as the Loons are playing with the players they have — before they secure some unforeseen Designated Players in the future — they need to play to their strengths. Right now, that appears to be putting men behind the ball to support a not-great defense and then using pace to run at defenders caught in transition.
Philadelphia will be a great chance to test this approach. The Union will be without key midfielder Alejandro Bedoya and this could create issues of positional familiarity in the midfield. While MNUFC’s defense is middling at best, Philadelphia brings a fairly poor offense — having scored the third-fewest goals in the East — and Minnesota will be on its home turf. It is tough to suggest bunkering and countering when facing a team like the Union at home, rather than playing on the front foot. If Minnesota does choose to dictate play (as it probably should) then it needs to retain the same mentality that allowed it to succeed when counterattacking. That means fast build-up rather than gentle, questioning possession. It means passes which are brave and speculative as pacey wingers stretch the opposing defense. It means overwhelming Philadelphia with the tools it has rather than practicing at the ones it doesn’t.
Two mediocre attacks face two poor defenses. This has all the makings of a fun, bad game. One can expect the ball to spend a lot of time pinballing around the midfield unless one or both teams start playing hero ball to stretch the opposition. That will likely make the game more end-to-end, but probably not much cleaner.
If the Union can beat Minnesota at its own game, by bunkering and then springing forward against a Loons side that is prone to having its fullbacks caught out of position and utilizes midfielders that are not great at defending. Then, the visitors will have their chances on net. They just need to convert a couple of those opportunities.
It’s all been written above. Play quick, direct soccer and run right at opponents. It won’t win any awards, and the ghosts of a better Barcelona might turn their heads in disgust, but it may be the way to win an MLS game with the talent the team has.
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