As with the Loons’ match against New York City FC, there is no history between Minnesota and the Red Bulls or their forebears the Metros. At the risk of repeating myself, I will refer to my earlier comments about the soccer history between Minnesota and New York in general.
United fans are no strangers to loathing New York teams, with recent NASL history against the Cosmos consistently siding against the Loons. Minnesota beat the Cosmos just once in eleven tries since the New York club was resurrected in the fall of 2013. In the original days of the NASL, the Minnesota Kicks would regularly do battle with Pelé and the Cosmos of old, memorably suffering a playoff loss to New York in the Conference Semifinal in 1978. Minnesota fans should have no issues dredging up a passion for cheering against still another New York City club.
Even one based in New Jersey.
Hilario Grajeda is a veteran of MLS, with a career spanning so long (he began in 2004) that his first game was against the Kansas City Wizards and the Dallas Burn, two teams your kids have never heard of. He was named MLS Referee of the Year in 2013. This year he ranks first in fouls per game at 29.6 and sixth in yellow cards per game at an even 4.0. Interestingly, despite his penchant for blowing the whistle often, he has yet to call a penalty this year.
D Francisco Calvo (international duty) – Out
D Jermaine Taylor (international duty) - Out
M Bernardo Ańor (hamstring injury) – Out
D Thomas de Villardi (left Achilles) – Out
D Marc Burch (hernia injury) – Out
D Vadim Demidov (knee injury) – Out
G John Alvbĺge (thumb injury) – Out
F Abu Danladi (thigh injury) - Questionable
M Johan Venegas (knee injury) - Questionable
D Joseph Greenspan (broken nose) – Questionable
New York Red Bulls
D Kemar Lawrence (international duty) – Out
D Gideon Baah (broken leg) – Out
M Mike Grella (knee surgery) – Out
Criticize coach Adrian Heath all you want — there’s fair criticism to be had — but the man has helped MacGyver a defense together that has only allowed one goal in the last two games out of a roll of toilet paper and a spool of wire. Sure, we were at home, and the offense paid the price. Save the caveats, and look at the pieces he had to work with. As hard as it has been to watch this stretch, and as much frustration as one can level at the front office for not shoring up the team’s depth chart, one knows that things must get better as international duty subsides and the club’s rash of injuries slows down.
Before they get better, they may get worse.
Joseph Greenspan has not officially been ruled out yet after suffering a broken nose on Wednesday, but given the young defender’s injury woes this year and the threat of concussion (he’s suffered two this year alone), it would not be a surprise if he sat this one out. Brent Kallman was thankfully spared a suspension from yellow card accumulation thanks to the good behavior rule that removes a yellow card after five clean matches.
The number of playable center backs on the Loons’ roster has officially reached just one.
With defender Michael Boxall (and other Minnesota signing Sam Nicholson) theoretically available Saturday despite almost no time with the club, Heath will have some big decisions to make. Does he include Boxall without any time to gel with the club, an issue that saw even a good defender like Jérôme Thiesson struggle in his United debut against Atlanta? Should the club stick with a four-man back line or move down to a 3-5-2?
Personally, if Boxall is walking and breathing, I feel he needs to make the start. Play three in the back, with Justin Davis on the left, Thiesson on the right, and Boxall anchoring in the middle and essentially marking Red Bulls striker Bradley Wright-Phillips the entire game. This puts Miguel Ibarra at the wide left and Kevin Molino at wide right. Sam Cronin and Ibson get up to their usual shenanigans in the center of the park. If Abu Danladi is ready to play, play him centrally behind Christian Ramirez. If not, Collin Martin had his best minutes as a Loon on Wednesday and could adequately fill in centrally again as well.
Tactically, the width of the 3-5-2 could stretch the opponents horizontally and free up room in the center of the pitch. Perhaps an extra moment and an extra step will help Minnesota finally find that dangerous final pass that opens up the opponent’s back line and helps United put some points on the board. “Could” being the operative word. In truth, this is a conservative strategy, built not to lose, and until the Loons have a serious playmaker working in the attacking midfield, the team will continue to struggle to connect the defense and the offense as it has much of the season.
New York’s offense has gotten hot lately and the team has hit the ground running after the Gold Cup break. If they keep their momentum, expect to see New York owning possession and the Loons to do something hopeful on the counter. Never the type of game one wants to see from a home team, but it may be the reality given the lineup the club will have to field.
If New York can keep the pace of the game high, Minnesota’s team of backups and unfamiliar partnerships will be playing on the back foot and often unready to react. That alone should be enough for the Red Bulls to put up a crooked number.
Daniel Royer has looked hot for New York lately, scoring in four of his last eight matches including a goal in each of his last two. But don’t kid yourself: Wright-Phillips owns New York’s offense. If Minnesota’s defense can keep him pinned down, they won’t be facing too much threat from the wings, so they may be able to turn that into an opportunity for three points.
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Tags: Abu Danladi, Adrian Heath, Bradley Wright-Phillips, Brent Kallman, Christian Ramirez, Collin Martin, Daniel Royer, Ibson, Jerome Thiesson, Johan Venegas, Joseph Greenspan, Justin Davis, Kevin Molino, Kevin Venegas, Match Preview, Michael Boxall, Miguel Ibarra, Minnesota United FC, MLS, New York Red Bulls, Sam Cronin, Sam Nicholson