Photo by Daniel Mick.

The Angle

Three Things: Minnesota United vs. D.C. United

by on 4 August 2017

Last Saturday, the Loons erupted from their 360-plus-minute scoreless streak and unloaded four goals on a no good, very bad, terrible D.C. United team. It was a cathartic performance back to front. All the Loons who needed to score (Christian Ramirez, Abu Danladi, and Miguel Ibarra) scored. All the Loons who were missed on international duty or with injuries (Francisco Calvo, Johan Venegas, and Sam Cronin) returned and contributed. After several weeks where a shorthanded Minnesota team played insipid soccer, the D.C. game doubtless restored some of the faith for the faithful.

Alas, every silver lining has a cloud.

The Loons are almost certainly out of the playoffs

Just 12 games remain in the season for Minnesota, and only four of them are at home. The team’s playbook for making a postseason run always relied upon a big surge of points at home in the heart of the season, and the Loons fell well short of that. The team will rue missed opportunities, like against San Jose, Columbus, and especially LA and Vancouver. Even if it were to win the remaining four games at home, the additional 12 points would put it only at 34 points, still eight to ten short of the normal playoff line.

Minnesota’s slim postseason chances rely on a sudden reversal of its normal away form. When it has yet to win a single game on the road this season, that’s hard to imagine. The door might completely shut on the Loons this week, with back-to-back home and away games against Seattle. The Sounders aren’t having a great season, but if the Loons don’t take, at minimum, four points from these two matches, then the bird is cooked.

The win against D.C. was nice, but misleading

Minnesota’s 4-0 scoreline against D.C. was called “flattering” by head coach Adrian Heath, but that might be putting it mildly. The Loons actually were more likely to lose the game according to expected goals. It’s not hard to see why. Minnesota benefited from unusually good finishing, a remarkably poor game from D.C.’s goalkeeper Bill Hamid, and a really embarrassing own goal from Jared Jeffrey. On the other end of the field, the visitors squandered a handful of brilliant chances. Deshorn Brown twice hit shots directly at Bobby Shuttleworth, and Patrick Mullins skied a wide open volley. The Black-and-Red might be a dumpster fire of a soccer team, but they were off their game, even by the basement-bottom standards they’ve set.

Minnesota continues to have problems balancing attack and defense. Too often, it seems as through the team operates as two separate units, with attackers doing their thing and defenders doing theirs. The week before, the New York Red Bulls — a team in stellar form — showed the Loons how a team plays together. Jesse Marsch has his men attacking and defending together. We haven’t seen that kind of play, even at their best, from Adrian Heath’s charges. That’s one of the advantages that comes from having a core who have played together for years, and have even integrated homegrowns who already know the system, like Tyler Adams. Minnesota isn’t there yet, and it can’t be expected to be. But Atlanta is ahead of the Loons, and the Loons are probably behind what I’d expect. It’s frustrating.

Kevin Molino was good centrally this one game, but he’s still not a No. 10

Last week, I lambasted Kevin Molino for his poor play at the No. 10 role, and laid much of the blame for Minnesota’s scoreless streak at his feet. Now that he went out and provided two assists in a MotM performance, am I thoroughly chastened?

Not so fast!

One thing I wrote last week was that Molino does seem to play best in a No. 10 role when he is paired with Danladi on his right. Before the D.C. game, when Molino had played centrally, the Loons had scored just 7 goals in 9 games and been shut out five times. But I noted that of those goals, six of the seven had been scored in the four games in which Danladi had played.

I think the first goal against D.C. demonstrates why Danladi can benefit Molino.

That’s Danladi there in the center forward position, while Christian Ramirez is making the run at the top of the image. Technically Danladi is a right winger in this formation. But that position on the field is completely vacant. Danladi is playing alongside Ramirez and occupying three defenders and the defensive midfielder.

Molino is best when he can receive the ball and take one of his trademark long first touches into space, preferably forward. That plan breaks down when the middle of the field is full of players. But Danladi’s positional creativity (indiscipline?) forces the defense to commit one or two extra men to covering himself, and leaves Molino the space he really needs to operate.

So I’m really not going to back down from this. Molino is not a No. 10. When he plays well as a “No. 10”, he’s playing as a right midfielder who has tracked to the center of the field, while two forwards in front are creating space.

Play. The. 4-2-2-2.

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