There appear to be two camps among Loons fans at present. One, frustrated with a lengthy run of results that has likely seen Minnesota concede the top three places in the table to New York, Edmonton and Indy. The other, urging patience and perspective given the breathing room between the fourth-place Loons and their rivals for the NASL’s final postseason berth.
Both are right. The Loons offense has been sluggish and ineffective for weeks, leading to a disappointing number of low-scoring draws. But the team still has time to build momentum down the stretch, and make a run into the postseason.
Returning home from three games on the road to face a Rayo side in turmoil presents an opportunity the Loons would be foolish to squander.
For the first time in several matches, Minnesota faces an opponent with a five-game run of form worse than its own. Having put together a very respectable inaugural campaign before financial difficulties prompted the resignation of head coach Alan Marcina, Rayo OKC’s front office turmoil has clearly filtered down to the playing field. Rayo has earned only a single point in Gerard Nus’ four games at the helm.
Meanwhile, stating the Loons are presently on a four-game unbeaten run is a bit of a backhanded compliment. The team has earned only 6 of a potential 12 points over that period.
With Rayo OKC currently playing its inaugural season, both previous meetings between the two teams occurred earlier this year. Minnesota earned a draw and suffered a loss, scoring two goals to Rayo’s three over a pair of away matches.
This evening marks the first time Minnesota has hosted Rayo.
Radford has officiated five previous Loons games. In four NASL games this season, he has issued 18 yellow cards and no red cards.
Kevin Venegas is back. The Loons’ offensive woes largely mirror the right back’s string of games missed due to injury. One of the best attacking full backs in the league, seamlessly replacing an injured Venegas was not a realistic proposition. But, Minnesota’s lack of cover — a player comfortable filling the same role in attack and defense on the right flank — exposed an offseason oversight on technical director Manny Lagos’ part.
Jeb Brovsky and Damion Lowe filled in admirably when played outside their natural positions, but did not contribute much to the Loons’ attack. Hopefully Venegas’ 20-plus minute midweek cameo against Fort Lauderdale was enough of a tune-up to warrant a place in tonight’s starting XI.
In Rayo’s 2-0 loss at Tampa Bay, Nus deployed his charges in what would be best considered an imbalanced 4-3-3.
In a veteran-heavy lineup, Daniel Fernandes started in goal. Sebastian Ibeagha partnered Futty Danso in the center of defense, bookended by Jarad Van Schaik and Kosuke Kimura. Richard Menjivar played at the top of a midfield triangle, with Derek Boateng sitting in front of defense, and set-piece specialist Michel slotting in between.
The pacy Billy Forbes, nominally the left wing-forward in Nus’ 4-3-3, played vary narrow for much of the game, staying close to center forward Georgios Samaras. Forbes’ counterpart Marvin Chávez stayed out much wider on the right flank.
Minnesota will need to be mindful of Forbes’ pace. Operating centrally, his speed is more than a match for any of its center backs without the last name of Lowe. Also, the Loons would do well to try and avoid giving away free kicks in dangerous areas, as Michel poses a threat.
With Venegas back in the fold, playing in the friendly confines of the National Sports Center, and against a team in turmoil, Minnesota needs to take the game to Rayo OKC. While dropping points would not spell doom, anything other than a win has to be seen as a failure, and not controlling the run of play a disappointment.