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Match Preview: Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Minnesota United FC

by on 13 September 2017

With pride to play for and not much else, Minnesota United heads to Vancouver looking to continue to solidify its identity ahead of next season. Key questions stand out: is there a way to get Christian Ramirez and Abu Danladi playing together effectively? Is there still competition among the overload of wingers on the team other than Ethan Finlay and Sam Nicholson? When will Marc Burch be ready for a return, and will our preferred back four, finally healthy and playing together, look ready to be competitive in MLS? This match against the Whitecaps will be one step toward answering questions that will matter well beyond the end of this year.

Recent form

Vancouver W W D W L +2
GD
2.00
PPG
Minnesota D W L L W Even
GD
1.20
PPG

Previous meetings

Vancouver and Minnesota met at TCF Bank Stadium on June 24 and battled to a 2-2 draw. United fell behind 2-0 just before halftime as Cristian Techera earned a goal and an assist. Some type of halftime rejuvenation led to a reborn Loons side that had two goals by defenders (Francisco Calvo and Jérôme Thiesson) and Minnesota hung on for a point at home. Most importantly, however, this was the game that spawned the Thiesson loon celebration.

Officials

Referee Dave Gantar
Assistant Ian Anderson
Assistant Canada CSA
Fourth Drew Fischer
VAR Juan Guzman

Dave Gantar is heading only his sixth match of the year. He had been enjoying a quiet year until a messy game against D.C. United and Orlando City on Saturday in which he dealt seven yellow cards and two red cards. The Canadian referee also performed VAR duty recently on Minnesota’s road win against Chicago.

Roster report

Minnesota United
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 Francisco Calvo (that sweet blessing that is fatherhood) – Out

Vancouver Whitecaps
M Matias Laba (ACL tear) – Out
D David Edgar (PCL, MCL tear) – Out

Tactical outlook

The tactical outlook in this space has leaned the last few weeks on suggesting the Loons might secretly be a counterattacking team coached by a gentleman who doesn’t want to hear it. One thing that seems indisputable at this point is that the Loons play better when they play speedy, direct soccer, be that counterattacking or simply a quick, high press.

Against Philadelphia, the Loons did…not that. It was back to the plodding passing, knocking at the door and waiting for an opening rather than bursting through that door like Cosmo Kramer. The number of corners the team took might suggest I’m wrong, but in truth, many of the corners United earned came from attempting a cross in a one-on-one, non-running situation and smashing the ball off the defender’s shins and out of play. In other words, the team wasn’t exactly earning corners from desperate saves by the goalkeeper.

With Vancouver, Minnesota won’t have a choice. The Whitecaps are the best team in the Western Conference on points per game and have been quietly hot for weeks. Most recently, they’ve secured 10 points from their last four games during a stretch that has seen them field 21 different players. So they’ve been good, and they’ve enjoyed contributions from more players than Minnesota has often had available to play on a match day, let alone succeed.

The Canadians’ relative success has come more or less through competent, balanced all around play than through a powerhouse offense or a stingy defense. Fredy Montero leads the club in goals with 11 and the club has 40 on the year — enough for either to land in the “good not great” realm. Their defense has allowed 37 goals so far, a good number in a weak Western Conference but middling overall. They usually don’t allow more than one goal, but they usually don’t allow none. Mostly, game in and game out, they do enough to pull out some points, whatever that means on the day.

Vancouver’s strength lies in its attack. Techera can score and assist, is speedy, but can be a playmaker. Christian Bolaños is Vancouver’s version of Portland’s Sebastián Blanco and leads the team with seven assists. Montero puts the ball in the net. Alphonso Davies continues to amaze out of the midfield as just a teenager, when he’s getting minutes. Having someone like Tony Tchani as a squad player is a testament to the depth the club has built in the front six.

Minnesota’s approach, on the road against an offense with the talent to control possession and spend a lot of time in the bad half of the field, will necessarily be to counterattack. With a full back like Brek Shea who will spend a lot of time forward, it may be much easier to spring the attack and create imbalances quickly. But it is going to mean the midfielders need to step up and make tackles and win back possession. Johan Venegas’ timidity on 50-50 balls and lackadaisical approach to playing defense have little place in a game like this. Collen Warner will need to be the true defensive midfielder he will be asked to be and not succumb to the siren call of being a No. 8. None of this is rocket science. In a way, it’s better that way. Clear roles and obvious tactics that happen to play to the strengths of Minnesota’s personnel means better execution on game day and less likelihood that the manager can coach his team right out of some deserved points.

How will it play out?

The ball will spend a lot of time in Minnesota’s half, and there will be some shaky moments for United fans. But with the likely return of Christian Ramirez, a confident Abu Danladi, and a rejuvenated Ethan Finlay, it would be shocking if the Loons didn’t have plenty of chances at the other end, as well.

Vancouver will win if…

If Vancouver can avoid turning over possession, it will have more than enough chances on goal and have the talent to turn those chances into goals as often as not. But sloppy giveaways will leave tit exposed if it push numbers forward like it can be expected to.

Minnesota will win if…

Play the press to win back possession and send forwards rushing. The Liverpudlian gegenpress would be a great strategy in this situation if Minnesota had the coordination to execute it. But if it can make the midfield muddled for the opponent and then play direct, aggressive passes to spring some opportunities, this game could be another Chicago match.


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