After a stellar start to the season, Minnesota United FC has lost their last two games. Post-game, Carl Craig put the blame squarely on the heart and energy of the players. “It’s not a lack of ability. It’s not a lack of quality. Injuries will play a part, but each of these lads were signed by the club to do a job.”
The first part is true. It’s not a lack of ability or quality. But the problems on the field weren’t really about heart or desire. Instead, it was an issue of players being out of the positions on the field that would have allowed them to feature their strengths.
Pinho is a fantastic player, but he is not a playmaker. He struggled all game against Tampa Bay in the number ten role. A playmaker, or number ten, needs to be able to receive the ball on the ground or in the air in traffic and find players to pass the ball on to in tight spaces.
Twice in the early stages of the match Pinho couldn’t bring a ball under control that was passed from the back line up to him on the ground. Tampa Bay left the middle of the field open for much of the game, but Pinho was unable to utilize it.
Pinho is a striker. He needs to be in a position where he can receive the ball close to goal and can take the shot or has space to run with the ball. He should have been out wide in the left winger role to help make up for the absence of Justin Davis.
Watch him create one of Minnesota’s best chances of the night when he went out wide and had the space to run with the ball.
Anor has some excellent ball handling qualities. He is adept at holding the ball up and controlling the ball. Unfortunately, with Justin Davis gone, he did not have the support he needed along the left side to move the ball into dangerous attacking positions.
Instead, he would receive the ball in the attacking half but either didn’t have a runner he could pass to or would miss the pass. Looking at the chalkboard, you can see most of his passes were backward rather than forward.
When Minnesota needed to attack, he was unable to move the ball forward. Minnesota relies on the wide players to move the ball quickly into dangerous positions, but against Tampa Bay, Anor was unable to do so.
Against the Cosmos, Anor came on when Minnesota only had ten men and played as a defensive midfielder, helping the team earn their first win ever against the Cosmos. His tackling ability, his hold up play and his passing so far this season appear better suited for a holding midfielder than an attacking player.
When Jeb Brovsky went down injured, Ibson came on to fill his position as a six, or holding midfielder. Carl Craig is very fond of the double six, or two holding midfielders, and so Ibson and Vicentini worked together in the middle of the field.
The six position is not Ibson’s strength, as was apparent on the header goal by Joe Cole where Ibson stood three yards away but didn’t challenge him.
Ibson’s strength is when he has the freedom to move about the field as an eight, or box to box midfielder. While the 4-2-3-1 Carl Craig prefers usually forgoes an eight for two sixes, Ibson’s skill on the ball and passing in tight spaces would have been perfect for the number ten role Pinho occupied against Tampa Bay.
In the clip, you can see when Ibson is up the field he is able to find an open Watson. Watson’s cross to Ramirez is only headed out with some desperate defending by Tampa Bay.
Ramirez disappeared most of the game because no one could get him the ball. Last season, when Ibson was allowed to play further up the field, the Ibson to Ramirez connection helped turn around the Loons’ season and put Ramirez back on the score sheet.
Minnesota is going to struggle the next couple of weeks with a number of their first team players out with injuries. At the same time, Minnesota has a very deep bench and has the players to continue the success they had in the beginning of the season.
Imagining a similar starting XI next week against Rayo OKC, this would be the formation that would bring out the best in each of the players for Minnesota.
Other players could slot in here as well, considering their recovery from injuries or earning more playing time. Mendes could take the place of Watson, Laing for Pinho and Tiago could could take the place of either of the two centerbacks.
All the players in the starting XI (and Ibson) against Tampa Bay are extremely talented, quality players. They just weren’t necessarily in the best position to have success.