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Matchday Ten: Minnesota’s Defensive Errors Continue in Loss to Los Angeles

by on 10 May 2018

Minnesota United had allowed fewer goals in the past two games, but had still made plenty of mistakes in defense. On Wednesday night, they met a team who actually had the ability to punish errors, and that’s exactly what happened. But forgetting about this game ought to be easy for the Loons. With a massive injury list, on the road at Exposition Park, against a good team, the result was surely no less than anyone expected.

In the lead-up to Wednesday night’s match against league newcomers Los Angeles FC, I asked the following question for the FiftyFive.One Podcast:

I can hardly complain when the coach seems to have been thinking along the same lines. Adrian Heath put out the 4-3-3 that I and many others were expecting, with Darwin Quintero operating as a false #9. He did not gamble Christian Ramirez’ health by inserting him to fill the hole at striker. He rested some key players, most notably his midfield workhorses Ibson and Rasmus Schüller. He handed debuts in the midfield to Maximiano and his son Harrison Heath. He gave more playing time to Collin Martin and Carter Manley. In a game in which the Loons objectively did not have a good chance of getting a result from, Heath didn’t outright forfeit the result, but he clearly prioritized Saturday’s home contest against a struggling San Jose Earthquakes team.

That said, Minnesota were at times competitive in this match, especially in the opening minutes where they were compact and organized against LA’s possession, and seemed to have some openings available on the break. Diego Rossi hit the post after a clever diagonal run in the early minutes, but Darwin Quintero answered back a minute later, hitting a shot from the top of the box off the frame at the other end. This was the kind of game that the Loons were surely hoping to play, in which they could pit the quality of a player like Rossi up against the quality of Quintero and maybe get the better of a limited exchange of chances.

But it was Minnesota’s reliable defensive mistakes that put the kibosh on that approach. Just past the half-hour mark, LA forward Diego Rossi drifted to the left, where he was played onside by Carter Manley. The young right back halted his momentum, but allowed him to turn and face up towards goal. Rossi slotted a pass across the box, and Francisco Calvo, for reasons that remain unfathomable, attempted to step up and cut out the ball but got nowhere near it. Instead, he left the recipient of the pass, Eduard Atuesta, completely unmarked in the middle of the box facing goal and the Colombian couldn’t miss, despite Calvo’s last-ditch deflection.

Just six minutes later, Calvo again earned a harsh spotlight. The hosts lofted a hopeful ball into the box, and Calvo declined to challenge Latif Blessing, one of the smallest players in MLS, for the header. Blessing headed the ball up in the air aimlessly, but it fell to Mark-Anthony Kaye who was completely unmarked by Michael Boxall, and the young Canadian did well to volley it straight into the net.

The Loons put on a sort of pressure after the goals, and Miguel Ibarra nearly scored after being played in behind by a sensational through-ball from Quintero. But after rounding Los Angeles goalkeeper Tyler Miller, Ibarra’s tight angle shot was headed clear by defender Walker Zimmerman.

That was the last really worthwhile chance the Loons mustered in the game, although they had a few more promising moves in the second half. The hosts also threatened, but their best two chances were foiled by relatively simple saves from Bobby Shuttleworth.

Minnesota ultimately looked ready to hop on the plane and return home without having added to their injury list, and the game devolved to the point where the home supporters started to do the wave, adding final ignominy into an evening that will quickly be forgotten.

So at least the Loons kept their dignity intact.

Miscellaneous notes

4. So about that “competition for spots” business… Adrian Heath has often preached the gospel of “competition for spots,” and said that he doesn’t pick the players who start, they pick themselves. That mantra will be tested this weekend, because if Francisco Calvo has not played himself out of the starting eleven, I don’t know what he has to do to lose Heath’s trust.

I’ve said and written more than once that Calvo is Minnesota’s best and worst defender. Last Saturday against Vancouver, he had a strong game, making a number of important defensive plays. But midweek in LA, he made two truly inexcusable errors that led to goals, and also allowed centerback Laurent Ciman, LA’s most dangerous set-piece threat, to get two wide open headers that thankfully missed the target. Going all the way back to the season opener against San Jose, Calvo has made a number of bad mistakes that have led directly to opposing goals. Whether his mind is on the World Cup and he’s trying to avoid injury, or on his family, or on something else entirely, at this point in time, Calvo is hurting the team, and it’s time that Brent Kallman or Wyatt Omsberg get a look alongside Michael Boxall, who has been the far-steadier member of the Minnesota defense.

I also expect Eric Miller to return to the line-up on Saturday, presuming that the injury that kept him out of this match isn’t severe. Carter Manley works hard and could be a good fullback in this league, but he’s clearly still finding his feet. I’m glad he played against LA, because the experience will make him a better player, but Miller should take his place with three points there for the taking at home against the Quakes.

3. It’s been a really long time since we saw Minnesota play with a true defensive midfielder and so I partly question whether my evaluation of Maximiano is biased by the uniqueness of watching a Minnesota United player actually function as a shield for the back-line. But in general, my impression of the long-awaited Brazilian was strongly positive. A lot of hopes have been projected on this player because of the need he fills, and I was cautiously optimistic that he might actually come good.

The best thing about Maxi’s play was his positioning, which was generally excellent. He was smart about when he left his post, and diligent about returning to it. He did not, in fact, make a great deal of interceptions, and that’s in large part because LA rarely attempted to pass it through his area of coverage. I also thought he marked runners fairly well. I spotted two times in which he was slack in covering a run out of midfield, although neither time was punished. But I noticed far more times in which he picked up a dangerous movement from a player like Carlos Vela, and marked him into the box until he could pass off the assignment or the danger was over. He was also tidy on the ball, which always helps.

My main concern with his play was his tackling. Maximiano is not a player who is afraid to leave his feet, and it was surprising that he received a caution in the 62nd minute, because he had already received stern words from the referee on several previous occasions and probably deserved a card earlier. Earning yellow cards and not reds is a fine art mastered by the likes of Diego Chara, and I’m not sure if Maximiano is as skilled a practitioner.

Coming back from an ACL injury takes time, and I’m not expecting to see Maximiano starting in the next few games. But he was generally impressive, and ought to push Ibson and Schüller for their spots. I think he would pair well with either, because they are both ball-hounding central midfielders, while Maximiano seems a shielding player in the Sam Cronin mold.

2. I still cannot tell if Alexi Gómez is good but more than before I’m leaning towards “not as good as we want him to be.” The last two matchday posts have featured an item in which I confusedly ramble about the new Peruvian addition, and this time is no different. He clearly has some quickness and some speed. He can hit a set piece and can make simple passes. But of the three attacking players deployed on Wednesday, he was the least effective, despite often having space to work with. I’ve yet to see a moment in which he does something surprising, and at times he compounded his own lack of invention by not figuring out his teammates’ ideas in time.

That said, he clearly does have ability, and this is a Minnesota attack that really needs Christian Ramirez up top to be successful. There is still time, and not only does Gómez not have an obvious replacement (Frantz Pangop was generally anonymous as a substitute, and Sam Nicholson is, of course, now with Colorado) but he hasn’t done anything to disqualify himself either. But with Molino and Finlay injured, the wing (incredibly) is a position of need for the Loons again.

1. Quick hits. Would Harrison Heath be on an MLS team if his father wasn’t coaching it? Probably not. Was Harrison Heath great on Wednesday? No, of course not. Was he as bad as some people were making him out to be on Twitter? Not at all. Folks, he missed only three passes all game and had his share of defensive plays. Chill out… …Darwin Quintero had a good game, after struggling a bit against Vancouver, but I don’t really understand why he wasn’t subbed out after it became pretty clear that the Loons would lose. Saving his legs should’ve been a priority, and that was my main issue with how Adrian Heath managed the game. Not using your final sub in that situation was weird… …The crowd in LA was the latest arriving crowd I think I have ever seen, the seats opposite the main camera were finally almost all filled about sixty minutes into the game. What a weird fanbase this club has attracted and is going to continue to attract.


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