Minnesota serves, as it often has, as a Rorschach test for fans to learn more about the latent beliefs they hold about the team and, probably, the entire world around them. What feels more true: that Minnesota has conceded eight goals in their last three MLS games (they have), or that the team has won two of their last three MLS games (they have)? What feels more true: that Minnesota’s offense has turned a corner, scoring seven in their last three MLS games (they have), or that the team has been lucky, that no player can build a whole season out of chipping goalkeepers, and the club’s ostensibly primary scoring threat has remained dormant (they have, he cannot, and he has). Very well, then the team contradicts itself. The team is large. It contains multitudes.
The Loons’ road game against New England in 2017 was an important turning point in the season. A deflating 5-2 loss, it marked the end of the very brief Vadim Demidov era. It spurred the trade of Minnesota’s Mohammed Saied and Josh Gatt for Colorado’s Marc Burch and Sam Cronin, which helped shore up some major defensive issues for the Loons. It was the game that spawned the “we’re just happy to be here” sign. The following week, Minnesota would earn its first MLS victory in history.
|Referee||Jose Carlos Rivero|
M Sam Cronin (cervicogenic dysfunction) – Out
M Kevin Molino (torn ACL) – Out
M Ethan Finlay (torn ACL) – Out
D Jérôme Thiesson (right leg injury) – Out
F Abu Danladi (left leg injury) – Questionable
D Marc Burch (left knee) – Questionable
D Eric Miller (left hamstring injury) – Questionable
New England Revolution
D Chris Tierney (torn right ACL) – Out
F Femi Hollinger-Janzen (dislocated elbow) – Out
M Cristian Penilla (suspended) – Out
M Luis Caicedo (suspended) – Out
D Antonio Delamea (suspended) – Out
A run of two wins out of three probably never felt so sad. The two wins were each near giveaways of major proportion, and they sandwiched a thoroughly poor 3-0 loss to Houston. Morale tanked even further in the wake of coach Adrian Heath’s postgame comments, in which he excoriated his own team, not just for poor performance in the final fifteen minutes, but specifically for disregarding coaching direction.
But the urge to return to the drawing board should be tempered somewhat. Two wins is still two wins, and the goals that have been allowed have not necessarily been due to overall tactics. Minnesota is really poor against set pieces and in the air, and the causes for that should continue to be explored. But that is not a reason to make major lineup, tactical, or formational changes. If there were better defenders or a better defensive midfielder to play, then a change in starters might be called for. But there do not appear to be better alternatives on the bench currently, and an overall tactical change does not make the team any better defending set pieces.
Rather, I would urge fans to observe what has worked lately and encourage readers to wonder what it all might look like with a few new signings. What is the result against Dallas several weeks ago if Ángelo Rodríguez is up top and finishing strongly rather than Christian Ramirez, whose finishing form has not been there? What is the result against Colorado if Minnesota has a stronger defensive midfield presence? The club is not just a few signings away from being an elite team, but it may be a few signings away from turning close results that should have ended with a win into actual points in the standings.
The 3-5-2 has enabled the offense well. It positions Darwin Quintero in his more natural role as a striker and enables him to aggressively chase his own opportunities instead of being a set-up man for others. It requires Miguel Ibarra to cover lots of ground on both sides of the ball, something that remains a strength for him. It inserts another central midfielder, enhancing the ability of the team to cycle the ball effectively in the middle third of the pitch, and reducing the amount of territory each needs to cover. The tactic of pushing wing backs further inside in the attack has paid major dividends. These thoughts should not be abandoned in the face of individual errors and poor set piece defending.
New England may actually be a team Minnesota is primed to exploit. They have a good offense but are not great on crosses (great, the Loons are poor at defending them) and struggle to unlock compact defenses. Minnesota should hardly be commended for its defensive capabilities, but playing three center backs does congest the area in front of goal if not so much the more distant spaces in the box. A stay-at-home defensive midfielder that drops into the back line as necessary can create a very narrow four-man defense that can keep things compact. It is hardly the same as playing in a defensive bunker-and-counter style, something the Loons do not need to employ at home. It is a small thing. The club does not need wholesale tactical changes right now. Just a few key signings.
FiftyFive.One is now on Patreon. Do you like the independent coverage of soccer news from Minnesota and beyond that FiftyFive.One offers? Please consider becoming a patron.