It may be hard to remember, but the last time Minnesota United played a home game a playoff surge was on the lips of many fans. By the time they play their next home game, it may be more likely that a half finished bottle of Glenlivet will be pressed to the lips of many fans. Through six straight road games the Loons have pocketed one single point. Though the team, coaches, and players will remain focused on the playoff chase until the bitter end, in a practical sense there may be more value in seeing how new players develop individually and cohesively as there is in chasing points. With most key players available against Real Salt Lake, viewers may get a better look at that development.
Minnesota United may not have a strong MLS record historically, but it does have a strong record against Salt Lake. Earlier this year Darwin Quintero scored a goal and had two assists (unlikely set up man Francisco Calvo also had two assists) in a 3-2 home win. In 2017, United tallied its first ever MLS win against the club with a 4-2 victory at TCF Bank Stadium. In last year’s return match, Real Salt Lake pulled in some small amount of revenge with a 1-0 win in Utah.
Real Salt Lake
D Tony Beltran (right knee surgery) – Out
M Jordan Allen (knee surgery) – Out
GK Alex Horwath (Achilles surgery) – Out
M Luke Mulholland (back injury) – Out
D David Horst (Achilles surgery) – Out
F Ricky Lopez-Espin (knee surgery) – Out
GK Connor Sparrow (knee injury) – Out
D Marcelo Silva (ankle injury) – Questionable
M Sam Cronin (cervicogenic dysfunction) – Out
M Kevin Molino (torn ACL) – Out
M Ethan Finlay (torn ACL) – Out
D Eric Miller (undisclosed injury) – Questionable
A close confidant of mine texted me toward the end of the game against DC United and said, in more colorful language, that he was frustrated watching the Loons. I replied that there were some bright moments. He replied that there were none.
He was wrong.
Before throwing Minnesota’s performance in the nation’s capital directly into the garbage, let’s remember that the club was tied on shots despite playing on the road and ceding over 60% of possession to the black and red. That is by design. With only a Johnny Cash “one piece at a time” style roster available, the Loons made a mess for DC in and in front of the box, held them to few strong opportunities, and spent a great deal of time turning the counterattack into sustained pressure in the first sixty minutes. That is pretty good!
Of course the Loons did not make enough of the shots they had, and the goals they ended up allowing were soft as a kitten’s pillow. Less good! But the club should not give up on the lessons gleaned from the match. Fernando Bob may need to find his 90 minutes legs, but he looked pretty good and should be given some consistent minutes as a defensive midfielder regardless of the formation. Ángelo Rodríguez can still be the guy up top and showed fantastic physicality and use of his body to make chances for himself. Darwin Quintero dropped deeper and played more like a midfielder and turned his defensive interventions into his own transitions.
The 3-5-2 formation is the one which supplied the Loons with the most success, but the club has no one that can fill a wing back role besides Miguel Ibarra. With the current squad, something approaching a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-1-4-1 could be effective with Romario Ibarra on the wing opposite his shorter Ibarra counterpart. That is exactly what the team should run out on Saturday and should feel confident that it has a chance to end its seven game road stretch with more than a single point to show for it.
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