|Edmonton||W||L||W||W||W||+3 GD||2.4 PPG|
|MNUFC||W||W||D||D||L||Even GD||1.6 PPG|
All of Edmonton’s last five contests have been decided by a single goal, and four of those five were 1-0 scorelines.
Minnesota leads the all-time series 6-9-4, scoring 28 goals en route to a plus-two goal differential.
The most recent meeting in the Flyover Cup occurred during the Loons’ second game of the Spring Season. Minnesota recorded its first competitive win of 2016 via a 2-0 scoreline, with Ben Speas scoring a brace on the road. The Loons attempted 14 shots to the Eddies’ eight, in spite of having only 44 percent possession on the day.
Both Speas and Daniel Mendes have recorded braces against Edmonton in the past.
Bordeau has officiated five previous games involving Minnesota. On the season, he has issued 10 yellow cards and a pair of red cards in three contests.
FiftyFive.One’s Jeff Rueter reported yesterday that Kevin Venegas (knee) is still unavailable for selection, but is working his way back towards a return to the field, as is Stefano Pinho. Damion Lowe did not participate in Thursday’s practice, but was walking under his own power without a noticeable limp.
Ben Speas is fit once again, as are all four goalkeepers on Minnesota’s roster.
The Eddies have allowed more shots on target than the Loons, but Minnesota is allowing opponents to convert those shots on frame into goals at more than twice the rate of Edmonton.
|66 Shots on Goal Conceded||61 Shots on Goal Conceded|
|10 Goals Allowed||22 Goals Allowed|
|15.2% Opp. Conversion Rate||36.2% Opp. Conversion Rate|
The Eddies secured one of their customary 1-0 victories last weekend, this time away to Puerto Rico. Edmonton held just 36.4-percent possession, but was able to rival Puerto Rico in shots (13-12) and shots on target (4-5).
Former Minnesota netminder Matt VanOekel leads in the NASL in goals against average (0.59) and clean sheets (9) this season. Last Saturday, he played behind a back four of Shawn Nicklaw, Papé Diakité, Albert Watson, and Adam Eckersley.
It depends on how one views Edmonton’s wingers, but given how deep the Eddies sit when defending, describing their shape as a 4-1-4-1 seems fair. Canadian national team midfielder Nikolas Ledgerwood is coach Colin Miller’s first-choice holding midfielder, tasked with shielding the Eddies’ back line. Further forward in the center of midfield, converted forward Daryl Fordyce partnered Shamit Shome.
Wide-men Dustin Corea and Jake Keegan were tasked with dropping back behind the ball when defending, but both took the opportunity to push forward in transition, with 6-foot-3 Tomi Ameobi serving as the lone dedicated forward.
In its match with Puerto Rico, Edmonton was often content to play the ball around its own back line. The map below shows all passes completed by the Eddies against los Naranjas.
Given that Edmonton did not score until the 74th minute, the above was not primarily a case of a visiting team attempting to kill a large portion of the game while protecting a lead. Instead, it speaks to how defensive and cautious the Eddies play. That mentality has paid dividends in the way of the league’s stingiest defense, but only Jacksonville and Puerto Rico have scored fewer goals, and the latter did not begin play until the Fall Season.
Breaking down a compact defense is never easy, but it seems particularly difficult at times for a Minnesota team whose 1.71 goals-per-game rank second in the league. A lack of a crude, route-one option is one culprit.
Christian Ramirez does a good many things well, but is not as imposing in the air as his 6-foot-2 frame might suggest. Though the tactic did not bear much fruit, the 2015 season saw Manny Lagos experiment with using Aaron Pitchkolan as a central midfielder — played in front of a holding midfielder — in order to get some added height into the opposing 18-yard box. Pablo Camps could also be counted on in seasons past, but now serves as an option off the bench for Miami.
With Ramirez and the presently injured Stefano Pinho the lone center forwards, flanked by a number of wide options, Minnesota has been built to play a certain way. That unity of focus can be every bit as much of an advantage as a hindrance — in this case it means that the Loons are likely going to need to break down the Eddies with tight, quick passing between the Eddies’ defensive ranks.
For that task, the return of a fit Ben Speas could not have come at a better time. As FiftyFive.One’s Wes Burdine wrote about this past Monday, while Ibson has the technical skill and vision to unlock opposing defenses in the attacking third, his instincts pull him towards the center of the field, even when played as the point of a central-midfield triangle.
Speas is much more comfortable operating in the space behind at center forward and between the wings, as he possesses enough craft and vision of his own to help provide the final pass needed to create dangerous chances for his teammates. Additionally, as evidenced by his brace against the Eddies in the spring, he can finish chances when called upon as well. Ramirez’s combination play can be overlooked at times given his goal -scoring prowess, but Speas is certainly the type of No. 10 that can benefit from it.
Neither coach is likely to be surprised by the other this afternoon. Miller will aim to keep his charges compact and organized in defense, content to hit at Minnesota on the counter. Carl Craig’s side will be allowed to advance the ball across the halfway line without much opposition, but upon doing so, will be tasked with creating chances against the league’s best defense, and will likely need to do so from tight spaces.
Barring the unforeseen, this afternoon should provide a contest between two closely matched teams that hinges upon which of the two is better at executing its game plan.