Louis Livingston-Garcia photo.

News

Matchdays Twenty-Nine: Back At Home, Loons Return To Better Form

by on 24 September 2018

Like turning a light switch on, Minnesota United played at home for the first time in a month on Saturday, and suddenly looked like a relatively competent team. On the back of three first half goals, the Loons set the Timbers on ice. But a second half to forget saw the visitors rally back with two goals and set up a nail-biting finish. United prevailed, but only just.

But given the measures of success I wrote about last week, I was actually less satisfied with this recent Saturday’s performance. Maximiano started, but earned a yellow card that will see him suspended next weekend. Romario started, and scored twice, but also hurt himself. On loan, Mason Toye played 62 minutes for Colorado Springs, and Carter Manley played 60 minutes for Las Vegas. Wyatt Omsberg sat on the bench for the Loons and Collin Martin was not in the eighteen. Winning is nice, but a week where a third of the team’s U-24’s did not play, another third only played part of a game, and the other third got themselves suspended or injured, is a bummer of a week.

Benching Omsberg makes little sense to me, as the Mainer had played well for the Loons in the two games prior, and again, he is this team’s future in central defense. It’s also frustrating to see Martin benched. The playoffs are not achievable, now is the time to play the kids, because if not now, when?

While the Loons’ youth situation is frustrating, it’s only fair to note that the team has a lot of other things going for it. This has been a poor season from them overall, but all of the carnage has happened on the road. In the friendly, turfy confines of TCF Bank Stadium, Minnesota have been excellent. Just five other teams in the league have more than the Loons’ nine home wins. Hometown fans have watched Minnesota win just as often as fans in Atlanta or Kansas City.

There are worst things to be than very good at home and abysmal on the road. Consider Chicago, Orlando, Colorado, and San Jose, all of whom have lost more than they have won at home this season. That’s not a recipe for strong attendance and a positive club culture. Minnesota may not be a very good team, but the vibe (at least as far as I can tell) is basically positive. People enjoy going to games and the atmosphere, even in a stadium that is especially poor for it. Twenty-five thousand watched this match against Portland, despite the team’s dire condition in the standings. Somewhere north of forty thousand will be in the stands for the last game at TCF Bank Stadium in late October. If nothing else, the team is very entertaining before the audience it most needs to entertain.

Miscellaneous notes

5. The most important player in the game was Diego Chara. The Timbers defensive midfielder is the kind of player who tests the logic of the “Most Valuable Player” award. He doesn’t score or assist many goals and will never win the league award, but there is no player more valuable to their team in MLS. When Chara does not play, the Timbers do not win.

Portland fans saw this dynamic in a microcosm on Saturday. Chara did not start the match, and the Loons destroyed the Timbers. In particular, Darwin Quintero bought some property between the centerbacks and midfielders, and built a house there. Minnesota fans are very used to other teams doing this to them, as they’ve spent most of the season playing without a defensive midfielder. It was deeply satisfying to see it happen to someone else.

Then, in the second half, Gio Savarese decided that resting the Colombian was less important than trying to recover the points. Chara’s introduction put the Timbers on the front foot, and they scored two goals and nearly succeeding taking a result from the match. The Loons do not have a player like Chara. I’m somewhat hopeful that Maxi could become a stalwart for the team in a similar fashion, but he is nowhere near Chara’s ability yet. Perhaps no defensive midfielder in the league is.

4. Romario Ibarra scored twice before pulling up with an injury. That’s not good news. But what is good news is that the Ecuadorian has been excellent in his brief week as the team’s only healthy striker. In that very limited 106 minute sample size, he has two goals. He found a lot of space in behind Portland, and seems decent on the ball. I’m not ready to anoint him the savior of the attack just yet, but if he weren’t injured I’d certainly keep starting him up top and see what happens. He has a better scoring record in that position than all of the other strikers currently on the roster, including a designated player.

Against the Timbers, the Loons had a weird, lopsided attack, with Quintero and both Ibarra’s making classic forward-esque diagonal runs in behind. You can kind of conceive of a 4-3-3 working this way, and the Loons have tried something like it before, most famously against the Timbers in the team’s first ever MLS match. Saturday was the first time it has ever really worked, and perhaps that’s simply because the opponent was missing its best defensive player. But maybe not. Either way, the  takeaway is that Romario is good.

3. Fernando Bob received a red card for a foul the Loons will almost certainly ask the Disciplinary Committee to overturn. The Brazilian put his elbow up to establish his space, with his eyes firmly fixed on the ball. Diego Valeri ran into the elbow with his chin, and fell to the ground clutching his face and fooling referee David Gantar. There was obviously no malice or even intent, Bob never made any motion with his elbow except to bring it up. It was an embarrassing call.

I know how it is to watch a game live and feel like the referee is doing a poor job. Sometimes, the fans are right, probably more often they are not. But it was apparent to everyone in the stadium, including the twenty-two players on the field, that Gantar was having an off day. Until the Bob red card, he hadn’t made any especially bad or game-changing calls, but it was plain that neither team respected his officiating, and both sides were actively trying to con him. A few minutes before the Bob sending off, Darwin Quintero had tried to get Liam Ridgewell sent off on the same type of pretext, and it was equally flimsy. But while that incident ended in a Loons free kick, somehow Valeri’s acting was convincing enough to get Bob dismissed.

I’d be stunned if Bob’s suspension is not overturned. That’s good news because a defensive midfielder always helps the Loons. Now if Bob would stop being significantly culpable for a goal every game he plays in that’d help. Saturday was not the last time when he failed to track a runner around the penalty spot.

His partner Maximiano will also be suspended for the next match. Maxi’s early appearances with Minnesota gave him a reputation as a bit of a disciplinary risk, but his last couple yellow cards have all been tactical fouls after mistakes by other players left the Loons exposed. Those are the kind of fouls your defensive midfielder is going to have to make, as Chara, Ozzie Alonso, Kyle Beckerman and others know. No longer is Maxi lunging in studs up on people. I’m not worried about him, I’m only worried that he won’t get back into the XI after he serves his suspension.

2. Great tifo. I don’t have any analysis of this, it was just a great tifo, and I can’t wait until the Loons have a stadium where you can actually hang tifo so that everyone can see it clearly.

1. Quick hits. Rasmus Schüller is providing defensive stability and possession retention in his surprising role as a left midfielder. He’s not exactly an attacking threat (although watch how a turnover he forces leads to Minnesota’s second goal), but the Loons were so dangerous through Quintero and the Ibarras that it didn’t matter on Saturday. It’s an interesting adaptation, and credit to Adrian Heath for thinking of it… …Eric Miller has kinda struggled with the Loons, after being mistake-free in his first couple matches. Minnesota are weak against attacks from the flanks, and Miller needs to do better in individual match-ups… …Ángelo Rodríguez continues to struggle, and I’m sorry to say that this was maybe his worst moment as a Loon. I am not going to get over The Trade for a long, long time.


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.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,