Photo courtesy of Minnesota United FC.


Matchday Twelve: Minnesota Escapes With Home Point Against Sporting KC

by on 21 May 2018

Minnesota United rebounded, in a fashion, from their awful loss last weekend to San Jose, with a gritty draw against Sporting Kansas City. An early Khiry Shelton goal was canceled out by Darwin Quintero’s early equalizer, and neither side could break the deadlock in the seventy minutes that followed.

Is a point at home a good result? Perhaps when it’s against the best team in the western conference. Unsurprisingly, that’s the line from Adrian Heath, at least, and given how Sunday afternoon’s match was played, it’s hard to disagree. The Loons were outplayed, outworked, and outcoached at home. When the final whistle sounded, the emotion among most of the Minnesota faithful must have been relief. A point is better than none.

But all the same—yikes. The match was a tale of two periods. The first thirty six minutes were relatively even, with both sides trading blows, the score deadlocked at one, and Minnesota feeling perhaps a little unlucky to not be leading after a Christian Ramirez opener was ruled out (correctly, but only just) for offside.

Then Peter Vermes, one of the league’s best coaches, replaced left back Jimmy Medranda with Seth Sinovic. Medranda is neither a bad nor inexperienced player, but he is attacking-minded. Vermes clearly didn’t like the space that Miguel Ibarra was finding behind Medranda, and Sinovic dutifully closed it up. It was an inspired choice. Sporting dominated the remaining fifty four minutes of action. I mean, just take a look at this:

Miguel Ibarra is a critical player for the Loons, and when the Sporks made a serious effort to take him out of the game, it basically ended Minnesota’s opportunities to score. United needed Alexi Gómez to pick up the slack on the opposite wing, and he couldn’t carry the load at all. Darwin Quintero also struggled, especially late in the game when he lost a series of one-on-one opportunities, and Christian Ramirez didn’t drop deep enough to hold up play for my liking, perhaps because he was being so closely marked by Kansas City’s excellent defenders.

Still, despite their dominance of the ball and their plethora of attacking opportunities, Sporting could not find the quality they needed to make a breakthrough. Minnesota made all three subs, introducing three players who have gotten little playing time; Maximiano, Abu Danladi, and Brent Kallman. Each helped hold down the fort. Danladi’s work was particularly notable, as he made a number of important defensive plays and did not misplace a pass. But despite a few breaks in stoppage time, the Loons also came up short on the quality needed to steal three points.

After the nightmare against the Quakes, it was refreshing to see Minnesota respond. But at home, even against a good Sporting team, fans ought to expect a better performance.

Miscellaneous notes

3. Once again, Adrian Heath refused to alter the defense that has let the club down time and time again. I’m sorry to keep beating the same dead horse, but it is beyond frustrating to see a coach who preaches competition for spots on the field, and yet refuses to hold his favorite players responsible. Whether that’s Kevin Molino’s struggles as a #10, or Francisco Calvo and Michael Boxall’s struggles in defense, it should be clear to everyone by now that if you’re one of Heath’s guys, you don’t need to perform to keep your starting spot. I can’t imagine how frustrating that must be for some of the players to know that however hard you work and however poorly the guy in front of you plays, it won’t make a difference.

In the realm of mistakes made by Minnesota defenders this year, Calvo getting beaten by Khiry Shelton for the first goal was one of the least troublesome. The corner was a good one, Shelton met it at the first possible moment, and because it was at the near post, Shuttleworth didn’t have a great chance to claim it. Calvo and Boxall were otherwise fairly solid, and not really responsible for the waves of Sporting attacks that came for them.

But the point I keep making is not really tied to any one specific mistake, but rather a trend. Minnesota have shown the ability to bunker deep and defend this year. It’s not wholly surprising that they held off Kansas City with a low, low block. That’s not the test of Minnesota’s defenders. Next week’s opponents are Montréal. The Impact present a similar challenge as San Jose. They are a bad team, but they can still do damage to you on the break. Minnesota will have more of the ball against their guests, but will need absolute perfection from the defense. I’ve yet to see any reason to expect that, and given how the defense has been handled this season, I’m not expecting any reason to arise in the future.

2. Read this great piece by Harrison Hamm at American Soccer Analsys. Last week I wrote about Minnesota’s weird midfield dynamic with two box-to-box players. This piece made me think that I was too soft on the Ibson-Schüller pairing.

The Loons missed Ibson’s ability to hold possession on Sunday. The Brazilian might be back next week, but color me skeptical that Schüller will return after what looked to surely be a concussion. That will leave Heath a similar choice to the one he encountered on Sunday, with Collin Martin (who started against Sporting) and Maximiano (who relieved him in the 66th minute) vying for one starting spot. I was fairly pleased by Martin’s performance, with the exception of one horrible giveaway in the defensive third. In retrospect, I like the choice to start him alongside Schüller, which both could continue to play as double #8’s and split the defensive load. I thought Maximiano was shakier, and continue to be worried about his propensity to go in hard on tackles. He’s already earned two yellow cards in just 88 minutes of play.

All of that said, if indeed Ibson is ready and Schüller is not for next week, I’d like to see Maximiano make the start. Ibson is less diligent in his positioning than Schüller, but more active and aggressive with the ball. Put his fellow Brazilian behind him to shield the defenders and let Ibson have more freedom.

1. Quick hits. I though Abu Danladi was good in his short cameo, and would strongly consider starting him in place of Alexi Gómez… …Eric Miller was just unbelievably solid again… …Why on earth did Minnesota’s official social media account tag Francisco Calvo in response to criticism from Matt Doyle? If players want to read what people like Doyle, Wes Burdine, or me, are saying about them, that’s their prerogative. Don’t go out of your way to bring it to their attention, especially when it’s negative. Really stupid.

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