Minnesota and Dallas have never met before, but past iterations came close. During the Minnesota Thunder’s dream run to the US Open Cup semi-finals in 2005, only a loss to the Galaxy prevented Minnesota from meeting Dallas in the final. Luck was not on the Thunder’s side that day, and now the Loons and Dallas begin a new history together on Saturday.
|Assistant||Jose Da Silva|
Minnesota fans have already seen Chris Penso this year as he manned the season-opener in Portland. During that match, he delivered the season’s first penalty following a foul committed by Vadim Demidov. Penso has been roughly middle-of-the-pack over the last few years in terms of fouls given per game, but just outside the top five for yellows issued per game. Interestingly, this year three of his eleven cautions have been given for dissent; nearly two-thirds of referees who have overseen MLS matches this year have not issued a single yellow for dissent. Ibson may want to avoid falling to his knees and beckoning the clouds for supplication when a call doesn’t go his way on Saturday, lest the Penso take offense.
M Mauro Diaz (torn Achilles tendon) – Out
M Ryan Hollingshead (neck injury) - Out
M Aníbal Chalá (sports hernia injury) - Out
D Maynor Figueroa (suspension) – Out
M Bernardo Añor (hamstring injury) – Out
D Thomas de Villardi (injury) – Out
GK John Alvbåge (knee laceration) - Questionable
GK Patrick McLain (concussion) – Questionable
For once, United fans can ask the right kind of roster questions. Rather than needing to fill gaps due to absences and fretting over whether a player should ever be allowed to don the blue stripe after his last game, Minnesota has added a couple of pieces and the question becomes where (and whether) they should be slotted after a fairly well-rounded team performance against Real Salt Lake.
Minnesota has added defensive midfielder and erstwhile Colorado captain Sam Cronin, as well as left back Marc Burch from the Rapids. Parting ways in the transaction, the Loons sent Mohammed Saeid and Josh Gatt to the Rapids, and a future third-round draft pick to Chicago to make the whole thing possible. From the exchange, United has added two MLS veterans and bolsters its record-poor defense with starting caliber personnel, while shipping one player who never quite delivered a complete performance (Saeid) and another who never played a minute, even for a team in turmoil (Gatt).
The Burch acquisition likely impacts Minnesota very little tactically. Current left back Justin Davis can get forward, but has been asked to stay home and defend deeper this year. Thus, a straight swap of players probably only means a period of chemistry building with left center back Francisco Calvo. That said, head coach Adrian Heath has showed that he is content to trust his personnel until their play betrays that trust. The time previously given to Demidov and Jermaine Taylor suggests a fairly long leash. Davis, while imperfect, has hardly played himself off the pitch, so Heath’s choice between left backs is tough to predict.
The trade for Cronin, however, poses important questions for the Loons. The player’s ability, experience, and leadership makes him an almost guaranteed starter for Minnesota. To excel in his natural defensive midfielder role, one of several options comes to mind. The simplest to conceive of would be a straight swap for Collen Warner, who currently plays as a No. 6, allowing the Loons to retain their current formation and approach.
Alternately, Cronin could play alongside Warner and create a double pivot with two defensive midfielders, forcing the likes of Ibson and Rasmus Schüller to the bench. This would offer the benefit of better shielding a back line that has been leaky even in its best performances, and could favor Heath’s preferred possession-oriented style of play. The trade-off then becomes how well the team is able to supply its attackers with the ball — an issue that can be overcome with the use of overlapping full backs and/or granting license to one of the defensive midfielders to push forward when the Loons have possession.
In reality, the options are endless. Minnesota could play a Chelsea-esque 3-4-3 with two No. 6s that drop into defense frequently, or a Toronto-esque 3-5-2, deployed similarly, to make the most of United’s glut of center midfielders. That said, the most likely formation Heath will run out will either be, or look very similar to, what Jeff Rueter suggested in this week’s Rewind That:
The biggest question for FC Dallas is whether any legs need resting after Tuesday’s hard-fought CCL battle at 8,000 feet in Pachuca, Mexico. In particular, full backs Hernán Grana and Maynor Figueroa (the latter of whom will not feature Saturday due to a red card earned against the Revolution two weeks ago) were tasked with tracking Pachuca’s talented wingers and defending in space for a full 90 minutes. With an eye toward any squad rotation made by Dallas, Minnesota may be able to exploit unfamiliar partnerships between Hoops players tomorrow.
One simple replacement available to head coach Óscar Pareja is returning Paxton Pomykal to the right wing. In Dallas’ last MLS game against the Revolution, Pomykal had had success completing a wide range of passes. Putting the youngster on the right wing would allow for another swap to rest legs and add some value.
Against the Revs, striker Cristian Colmán was very poor, turning the ball over on multiple occasions and providing little in attack. Against Pachuca, Colmán did bag a goal but drew notice for squandering other scoring opportunities that might have changed the outcome of the series. During that New England game, Colmán was subbed at the half in favor of Michael Barrios, and the tide turned and Dallas came from behind to earn all three points. If Pomykal starts on the wing, Barrios can either play as a striker or in the hole, where he and Kellyn Acosta could combine behind a lone forward (say Maximiliano Urruti).
FC Dallas is a very well rounded team from front to back that has teased at being even better. Playmaker Mauro Diaz has been lost for the first half of the season to injury, young Designated Player Aníbal Chalá remains out with injury, and talented winger Fabián Castillo left to join Trabzonspor this offseason. In their place, Urruti has been scoring a goal a game and Acosta, who is only 21 years old despite making his MLS debut six years ago, has put the team on his back with clinical distribution and his ability to cover the field from touchline to touchline.
If Colmán does play (and he likely will), his typical instructions are to use his positioning and runs to create space for Urruti. He is not so much a target as he is a decoy, but when defenses choose not to take his bait, Colmán can find himself in position for scoring chances. Minnesota’s defenders will need to be careful to stay compact and flat while avoiding chasing the ball too much if they want to counteract such a complementary front pairing.
Minnesota will not have the same luck connecting long passes and through balls against Dallas that it did against Salt Lake. Attacks will need to be built through clever combination and buildup. As Dallas is more vulnerable on its left side (featuring a second-choice right back and Roland Lamah, who has yet to impress as Castillo’s replacement) United will likely find playing up the right and center of the pitch easier, which suits its preferences. Expect the Loons to target their right third of the pitch, for Molino to play somewhat narrowly as he did against RSL, and for Thiesson to show off his passing skills on runs forward.
Dallas does not need to pull any rabbits out of any hats, least of all against a struggling Minnesota defense. Expect to see Acosta press high and give United’s center backs some tough decisions to make on the fly, stretching the seams between full backs and center backs that have been exploited so thoroughly by the Loons’ previous opponents. Meanwhile, Carlos Gruezo will hang back in central midfield and play something between a No. 6 and a No. 8, distributing the ball to make the most of the full width of the pitch while keeping play in front of him on defense.
FC Dallas was the best team in the league last year, and can be again in 2017. Its offense has not yet fired on all cylinders (four goals in three games), but its defense has helped earn it seven points regardless. All the Hoops need to do is take the game seriously and not commit unforced errors, and they should emerge with a comfortable three points at home.
Playing one of the best teams in the league on the road is not easy, even more so for a team still finding its feet. But Minnesota showed what its offense is capable of last weekend, and if Dallas decides to rotate players in and out of its first XI, or if it underestimates United, then there might be a surprise result in store. The Loons’ defense has to at least keep them in the game, though.
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Tags: Anibal Chala, Carlos Gruezo, Chris Penso, Christian Colman, Collen Warner, CONCACAF Champions League, Fabian Castillo, FC Dallas, Francisco Calvo, Hernan Grana, Ibson, Jermaine Taylor, Justin Davis, Kellyn Acosta, Kevin Molino, Marc Burch, Match Preview, Mauro Diaz, Maximiliano Urruti, Maynor Figuroa, Michael Barrios, Minnesota United FC, New England Revolution, Pachuca, Paxton Pomykal, rasmus schuller, Real Salt Lake, Roland Lamah, Sam Cronin, Trabzonspor, Vadim Demidov