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Match Preview: Sporting Kansas City vs. Minnesota United FC

by on 24 August 2018

After a late tactical switch against the Galaxy earned Minnesota a comeback draw two weeks ago, Adrian Heath earned some just plaudits for getting the tactics right. As for his lineup choices against Dallas; well, let’s hold off the talks of Heath replacing Pep Guardiola. In the coach’s defense, Minnesota is just not deeply talented at any given position. Heath could have rolled out any one of a hundred lineups and they each might have played as ineffectually as the lineup he chose. Missing players like Darwin Quintero and Francisco Calvo is too steep a hill to climb for the current roster. The question now turns to the tactical choices against Sporting KC, where the team will once again be without the dynamic services of Quintero.

Previous meetings

It is Rivalry Week© in MLS and that means the two I-35 teams on either side of eight hours of corn fields will square off once again. Though it is easy to poke fun at the very branded, corporate implementation of Rivalry Week, the two teams have as much history as Minnesota could have with an MLS team. The series has gone back and forth and a loss to Sporting KC stings a little more. The overall MLS record in the series has Sporting KC with a slight edge. SKC has beaten Minnesota twice to the Loons one victory, and two draws, never mind that Sporting KC’s victories have been of the lopsided variety. Their league performance does not include that US Open Cup devastation of Minnesota in 2017.

Officials

Referee Robert Sibiga
Assistant Adam Wienckowski
Assistant Kevin Klinger
Fourth Fotis Bazakos
VAR Kevin Terry Jr.

Roster report

Sporting Kansas City
D Jimmy Medranda (knee surgery) Out
F Khiry Shelton (right MCL tear) – Out
D/M Brad Evans (Achilles injury) – Out
M Cristian Lobato (quad injury) – Out

Minnesota United
M Sam Cronin (cervicogenic dysfunction) – Out
M Kevin Molino (torn ACL) – Out
M Ethan Finlay (torn ACL) – Out
M Maximiano (right knee injury) – Out
F Darwin Quintero (calf injury) – Out

Tactical outlook

Before talking tactics, it is important to take the temperature on the Loons’ playoff chances. The final playoff berth in the Western Conference currently sits at 1.46 points per game (a better metric than points, since teams have played different numbers of games). This sets the bar at roughly 50 points to make the playoffs in the West if things hold steady for the rest of the season. Currently at 29 points, the Loons would need to earn 21 points in its last nine games to hit that mark. The mathematicians among you might already see the conundrum: at the current pace, Minnesota essentially needs to win seven out of its final nine games and hope plenty of other things go right to make the postseason.

Of course things may not hold steady. Teams like Seattle and Real Salt Lake could fall back to the pack and make things easier. Coaches and front offices do not get paid to throw in the towel early; and they are competitive by nature and cannot sell tickets with headlines like “local team plays back ups and wildly experiments with formation; loses 5-0.”

However, with the team essentially out of the playoff picture and forced to make some difficult line up decisions anyway, it may be best to fall back on a few of the maxims of rebuilding teams at this point.

One of the most important of these is to play your youngsters. Whatever other criticisms the team might suffer, it must be said that they have done very well in the MLS Superdraft each of the last two years. As the Minnesota youth academy remains a fledgling notion, the draft remains the team’s best way to bring in young guys and mold them in their vision. Unfortunately, MNUFC has not been able to get these players much time this season.

Which makes the Dallas line up all the more confounding. With Wyatt Omsberg on the bench and begging to develop, why not deploy him with Calvo out instead of Tyrone Mears, who is in the waning stages of his career? Why not give young Romario Ibarra, who has two goals in limited minutes and is finally 90 minutes fit, a run out instead of Franz Pangop, who has failed to impress at any time in his (admittedly limited) tenure on the field? Why not fit Abu Danladi in the starting lineup?

Some of all this would have necessitated a line up change. Romario Ibarra and Danladi may be best deployed as wingers rather than wingbacks or as strikers. So be it. To end the match against LA Galaxy, Heath moved into basically a 3-4-3 with these two players on the wings and it garnered a point on the road. If the Loons did not have the men to successfully play a 3-5-2 (and to be clear, I do not think the coach should just cram in players who do not fit just to suit the formation), then why not return to the line up that looked dangerous, scored an equalizer, and allows the young talent on the roster to get some time? That is not throwing in the towel or wild experimentation, that is good soccer.

Heath will have some of the same questions to answer this weekend. What is the best line up that does not have include Darwin Quintero? Personally, I am running a 3-4-3, playing Miguel Ibarra as a roaming No. 10 (something he did for a while before Quintero was signed), starting Romario Ibarra and Danladi as wingers, deploying the Ibson/Collen Warner/Rasmus Schüller triumvirate in midfield, and the traditional three in the back.

It is a tough call. It concedes more of the wings than I would like, but it puts players where they are most likely to succeed and gives some of the guys who need minutes time. At this point of the season, with backs to the wall, the tactical choices must turn to those realities as well.

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