The Earthquakes visited TCF Bank Stadium in April and walked away with three road points to snap what had been a six game winless run. Minnesota, to its credit, started the game strong, had the better of the chances early in the game, and did not allow a first half goal. A bit of pinball on a San Jose corner, however, found the ball resting at center back Florian Jungwirth’s feet, who cleaned up. The lone goal was enough for the win, and considering the playoff stakes on the final day of the season, those hard won points became more significant than anyone would have imagined that day.
San Jose Earthquakes
D Harold Cummings (leg surgery) – Out
D Marvell Wynne (heart abnormality) – Out
M Fatai Alashe (quad injury) – Out
D Nick Lima (hamstring injury) – Out
M Bernardo Añor (hamstring injury) – Out
D Thomas de Villardi (left Achilles) – Out
M Sam Cronin (head injury) – Out
It is unclear what is the answer to what happened last week against the Los Angeles Galaxy, except maybe to visit your preferred religious institution and ask the deity of your choice. Most Loons on the pitch were ineffective at best, and lacked any pace or urgency at worst. It was a mental and attitudinal performance that cannot be repeated.
However, the lineup and formation, which raised more than a few eyebrows, are not specifically to blame. Well, not wholly, anyway. As playoffs slipped from Minnesota’s reach and eyes turned to next season, the idea of trying new things tactically to consider the possibilities for 2018 began to make a lot of sense. As hard as it is on fans, sometimes the egg laid against the Galaxy is the price of that experimentation.
It was, in an unsatisfying way, actually an instructive bit of tinkering. We learned that playing Kevin Molino as an inverted winger may not be the direction to take. We learned, or were reminded, that Minnesota simply does not have the players to play anything resembling a 4-3-3 and that the club should leave the 4-4-2 alone, as well. These lessons and others can help Minnesota think through the types of players it needs for next season, and how those players could fit together.
There is one more game this season. If coach Adrian Heath is still looking to experiment a bit, perhaps a 4-1-4-1 would be worth a run. This would put a defensive midfielder of choice in the hole, then push Ibson higher up the pitch to fulfill more of a creative role. Ethan Finlay would be on the inside right – something of an advanced No. 8 favoring the right side – and allow Molino to play as a right winger, his preferred home. Miguel Ibarra would be the left winger, and a single striker would be left up top, as a Christian Ramirez/Abu Danladi strike partnership has not quite panned out so far.
The all-time MLS record for goals allowed in a season is 69. Minnesota currently sits on 67. While avoiding that negative distinction may be on the minds of players, coaches, and front office personnel, it really should not affect the play style on Sunday. It would be a record long-since earned, and playing defensively and out of character in one game likely does more harm to avoiding that distinction than to helping.
A last thought. San Jose is not a good team. That it is on the cusp of qualifying for the playoffs may have convinced many that this is not the case, but the Earthquakes have a goal differential of -22, exactly the same as Minnesota United. Because MLS uses wins as a first tiebreaker rather than goal differential, San Jose is able to bumble and stumble into the postseason in spite of this shockingly poor overall performance. This is a winnable match for Minnesota, though it should expect San Jose to come out lively with everything to play for. A listless performance again will not do for the Loons. Whatever other experimentation comes tactically, the eleven players on the pitch need to play like they want to be part of the 2018 picture.
San Jose, playing at home and with a win guaranteeing a postseason appearance, will play on the front foot and attack early and often. Minnesota will find itself playing counterattacking soccer and absorbing pressure. The game will be won and lost in the midfield battle, with Darwin Cerén and Aníbal Godoy squaring off against Ibson and the defensive midfielder du jour.
The occasion and the fan support may be enough to carry the day. The Earthquakes will need to take advantage of that early energy and get out in front right away. An early lead has proved hard to overcome for Minnesota this year.
The flip side of an emotional game like this is that it can cause some empty-headed errors, whether a foul of passion or a player, intoxicated by the moment, making a glorious run out of position to try to be the hero. Minnesota will have chances to counter those mistakes if it can do the opposite: play level-headed, organized, positionally sound soccer, then take advantage of its chances when they come.
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Tags: Abu Danladi, Anibal Godoy, Christian Ramirez, Darwin Ceren, Ethan Finlay, Florian Jungwirth, Ibson, Kevin Molino, Los Angeles Galaxy, Miguel Ibarra, Minnesota United FC, MLS, San Jose Earthquakes