Minnesota United is still playing MLS soccer. It has been a while, with an international break and scheduling conspiring to provide the Loons with the longest break of the season. That does not mean, however, that the team will return refreshed and with its best eleven ready to take the field. Far from it. Minnesota will likely have only 18 total players due to various international duties and suspensions. So, how will the Loons approach a game with a very thin roster, on the road, against a club that has turned a relative corner since signing a certain global soccer icon?
This will be the Loons’ only match against DC United this season. In their only match of 2017, Minnesota dominated its United Cup rivals with a 4-0 home victory. Midfielder Kevin Molino delivered two assists that evening, with Christian Ramirez, Abu Danladi, and Miguel Ibarra each finding the net (in addition to a DC United own goal). It is worth noting that Wednesday night Minnesota will field three, perhaps four, of the same starters from that dominating 2017 performance. The Loons’ roster has undergone more transformation, due to both signings and long-term injuries, than just about any roster in the league over the last year.
D Taylor Kemp (labrum surgery) – Out
D Nick DeLeon (knee injury) – Out
GK David Ousted (elbow surgery) – Out
D Chris Odoi-Atsem (fatigue) – Out
M Zoltán Stieber (international duty) – Out
D Oniel Fisher (international duty) – Out
M Júnior Moreno (international duty) – Out
F Bruno Miranda (international duty) – Out
M Yamil Asad (ankle injury) – Questionable
F Dane Kelly (ankle injury) – Probable
M Sam Cronin (cervicogenic dysfunction) – Out
M Kevin Molino (torn ACL) – Out
M Ethan Finlay (torn ACL) – Out
D Michael Boxall (suspended) – Out
D Francisco Calvo (suspended) – Out
F Darwin Quintero (calf injury) – Questionable
D Eric Miller (undisclosed injury) – Questionable
Minnesota United has taken one point from their previous 12 road games in league play and have collected a total of five points away from TFC Bank Stadium this season. I say this as a seasoned soccer writer: that is fewer points than they wanted. True, home field advantage may be stronger in MLS than most leagues due to long travel times and distances, time zone changes, altitude changes, and major changes in different venues (such as switching from grass to turf and back again on the road, not an issue many global leagues have). Some of it is because Minnesota is a subpar team to begin with and this is exacerbated to a sharper than usual degree by the factors above. Some of it, no doubt, can be pinned on how the coaching staff is preparing players for games.
Plenty of it, though, has been fueled by roster changes that have highlighted the value, often intangible, of the players being subbed in and out. Christian Ramirez leaving for California has left a hole up top that is larger than the number of goals he provided. His hold up play improved over the years (and that is not even his strong suit) and he developed a good understanding of how to play off of Quintero and Miguel Ibarra. Ángelo Rodríguez is a physically talented forward that may, in time, turn into something dynamic. He currently lacks that subliminal connection that Ramirez enjoyed. The Loons have suffered for it.
The same is true elsewhere on the field. If Quintero is missing, there is simply nothing close to a like-for-like replacement in terms of either quality or formational fit. If Miguel Ibarra is missing, the Loons do not have a true wing back to replace him with. The addition of Romario Ibarra has seemed good on paper – he has two goals in limited minutes – but in truth he is much more of a traditional winger than a wing back. As such, he compromises the preferred 3-5-2 formation despite having a decent strike rate. If Collen Warner is missing, Minnesota does not have a true defensive midfielder to replace him, assuming the team will continue to refuse to field Maximiano. Minnesota has been forced to make all these compromises at various times throughout its tough road stretch, and the results speak for themselves.
With the roster available Wednesday more compromises than ever will be necessary. A four-man back line is almost impossible (there are not four starting-caliber defenders available). I would expect to see three in the back: Wyatt Omsberg, Brent Kallman, and either Carter Manley or Jérôme Thiesson. The center midfield almost has to include Ibson, Colin Martin, and Collen Warner – Maximiano is the only other available center midfielder. Assuming Quintero is ready to go, the front two will be Rodríguez and Quintero. Assuming a 3-5-2, that leaves Miguel Ibarra as a wing back and either Manley or Thiesson – whoever is not starting on the back line – as the other wing back.
This is not ideal, but there are not many other options that put players in their preferred positions. Minnesota could probably swing a 3-4-3 with Romario Ibarra and Abu Danladi as true wingers while Miguel Ibarra and Quintero push into the central midfield. That leaves the back line, pieced together with duct tape and bubble gum, too exposed against a decent DC United attack on the road. A four-man back line could be glued together with Manley and Thiesson as full backs and Omsberg and Thiesson in the middle, but that leaves too much crucial midfield talent out of the equation.
The team found success with the 3-5-2 in large part because it included players playing in preferred positions. That formation is still likely to field players where they are set to succeed, even if the overall roster make up is problematic. If Minnesota can run that line up out, make the midfield extremely messy for the DC United, and get lucky on the break, they have a chance. Short of that, the Loons might have one red eye focused squarely on Saturday’s matchup against Real Salt Lake. I hope that article is easier to write than this one.
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Tags: Abu Danladi, Angelo Rodriguez, Brent Kallman, Carter Manley, Christian Ramirez, Colin Martin, Collen Warner, Darwin Quintero, DC United, Ibson, Jerome Thiesson, Match Preview, Maximiano, Miguel Ibarra, Minnesota United FC, MLS, Romario Ibarra, Wyatt Omsberg