What a week!
Normally I use the opening section to discuss the weekend’s match, but I actually don’t have a lot to say about it. I thought it was a really fun game, a draw was probably the fair result, and that the atmosphere seemed to be kicked up a notch. Soccer is fun.
But the week’s biggest news for the Loons took place off the field. Midweek, the team abruptly traded their opening MLS match starter, inaugural TAM signing, and longest tenured MLS club captain, Francisco Calvo to Chicago. The return was a pile of “TAM spam jam” spread over two years. Given the ever-changing market for money and players in MLS and unknowables like performance bonuses and how much of a sell-on fee the Loons would receive, it’s hard to truly judge whether it’s a good deal for Minnesota. If you believe the team looked off a big winter transfer for the Costa Rican, you might take a dim view of it. But that rumor never made sense to me, and the club has strongly denied it.
In terms of immediate gain on the field, however, the move looks like a credible case of addition by subtraction. After melting down in Toronto, being suspended, seemingly losing his captaincy to Ozzie Alonso, and losing his starting job to the more responsible Eric Miller, it was clear that Calvo was not happy with his position with the club. Nor was the club happy with the situation. All of a sudden, people were taking shots at him in the media and he was left out of the eighteen last weekend because Adrian Heath deemed his negative attitude to be a problem for the other players.
It fell apart fast, but you wonder whether it had been building for a while. Calvo was always a bit of a confusing choice for the captaincy from the outside. He is talented and outspoken, but also error-prone and almost never took responsibility for those mistakes. When you demand R-E-S-P-E-C-T from the media, and then your team turns in the kind of performance that they did last year, you end up losing a lot of R-E-S-P-E-C-T instead. With veteran performers like Alonso, Ike Opara, and Vito Mannone coming in, the fit was always weird. Alonso, the former Seattle captain and a universally respected veteran in the league, is an obvious, natural fit for the captaincy. With Calvo’s departure, the Loons lock themselves into a more stable defensive four and also move on from a dynamic but polarizing personality.
All of that being said, it’s disappointing that this is how it ended between player and club. Calvo’s talent was obvious. He showed promise as both a center-back and a left-back. Yet his skill wasn’t unconscious, he needed to work hard to pull off moments like his interception and run against Vancouver, or his brace against Columbus last season. That these flashes of incredible effort were mirrored by moments where he checked out completely made him one of the most frustrating players in Minnesota soccer history. Was it the position, the formation, the club atmosphere, the coaching, or was it always simply the player himself? Maybe we’ll see in Chicago, where Calvo will likely play alongside Bastian Schweinsteiger.
I wish him the best, even though his tenure with the Loons was so difficult to process. It was time to move on, and I was surprised but happy that the club did so swiftly.
Okay, now to the game:
4. You could interpret Saturday’s draw (and the season so far) in a couple of ways . The match had a similar pattern in both halves. The Loons twice started strong, holding possession, building attacks, pinning the Sounders back, and earning dangerous set pieces. But as play wore on, the visitors twice gained the upper hand, using dangerous counter attacks to put United on the back foot.
Did the Loons let their guests off the hook? Or did they fight well to come out looking an even match against one of the league’s best teams? This is one of those results, not unlike the earlier draw against the LA Galaxy, where you can see a lot of promise in this Minnesota team, even if the result wasn’t ideal. The difficulty in understanding these matches is figuring out whether the performance or the result is more important. In many cases, you will only feel comfortable passing judgment some time later, after a pattern or trajectory emerges.
This applies to the season as a whole. Through four games at Allianz, the Loons have won just once, while drawing the other three matches. Six points in four home matches is not a good return. But those four games have also all been against teams who seem destined for the playoffs. Six points in four matches against teams like Seattle, DC, NYC, and the Galaxy is… not that bad.
Taking a wider view, Minnesota only have one truly bad result on the year—the loss to New England and they maybe evened out the karma the next week with a surprising win against the New York Red Bulls. They’ve been solid, but not impressive. That’s often enough to make the playoffs in MLS, but maybe not this year. The Loons sit just sixth on the table. Below them, Portland is starting to log some crucial away points before they return home for nearly the entire second half of the season. Sporting KC are banged up and should surely improve as they recover from CCL and injuries. Even San Jose suddenly look decent. There’s actually not a lot of margin of error on the playoff bubble.
Did the Loons drop crucial points on Saturday? Or did they earn a worthwhile point against a tough opponent? We might not really know how to view matches like this until a few months from now.
3. Minnesota are still searching for the right combination of attackers. On Saturday, with Darwin Quintero not 100%, Adrian Heath opted to roll out a 4-3-3, with Rasmus Schüller playing in midfield and Miguel Ibarra playing on the left wing (albeit with some freedom to roam). The result was that the Loons won the midfield battle fairly convincingly, but were predictable in the attack. Missing Quintero or Kevin Molino, the team had few options in the middle of the field and were mostly reliant on crosses from either Ethan Finlay or Romain Métanire on the right. They got good crosses in, but there weren’t enough targets, and a couple good pullback opportunities to late runners were either looked off by the passer or skied by the shooter.
I have a theory about the Minnesota attacking corps that I don’t have a large enough sample size to really test, but here it is anyway:
(1) The Loons have, in my mind, four attacking players who are aggressive, direct, and a little selfish. When Quintero, Molino, Romario Ibarra, or Abu Danladi are on the field, they’re not afraid to take defenders on or take shots themselves.
(2) In contrast, the Loons have four other attacking players who are more indirect and have totally different skills, none of which are really goal scoring or breaking ankles. Miguel Ibarra is a human disturbance in space and time, who moves almost entirely to support others. Ethan Finlay is a true winger with straight line speed and a good cross. Ángelo Rodríguez is a hold-up player who uses his size to create space and havoc. Schüller, when played on in the left attacking role, is a late runner, ball retriever, and recirculator.
On Saturday, the Loons played with three(ish, given that Schüller was really a central midfielder) of the players in the second group and none in the first. I thought they lacked a bit of directness and danger. It was only after Darwin Quintero came on did it actually feel as though Minnesota were not just in position to score, but actually had the personnel to do it (even if they didn’t).
So my theory is that United should be aiming to play with a balanced group of space-takers and space-creators each match. Two from the first group and two from the second. Give me the gravity of Darwin Quintero orbited by the kinetic motion of Miguel Ibarra. Give me the speedy Romario Ibarra at striker fed by the speedy Ethan Finlay on the wing. Give me the knock-downs and hold-ups of Ángelo Rodríguez with Kevin Molino’s relentless seeking of the ball. Give me Abu Danladi driving towards goal with Rasmus Schüller tailgating the play.
I think there are good combinations here, but the Loons much find a better balance between bark and bite.
2. Forward Madison won! Carter Manley scored the winner! At the same time as the Minnesota match, three of the Loons’ loanees were in action one state over. Mason Toye started up top, while Wyatt Omsberg and Carter Manley played in central defense. Ally Ng’Anzi was on the bench, but did not enter the game.
Toye was substituted late, but Omsberg and Manley played the entire ninety minutes, which finished as a 3-1 win for the hosts. But a stoppage time goal flattered the Mingos, the game’s critical moment came through the latter Loon. After a long diagonal was tracked down by former NASLer Don Smart, he fed Manley, who was making an unorthodox late run into the box as a fullback, into space that was opened by an aggressive run by Toye. The former Minnesota draftee scored on one touch.
Madison have played well defensively, and Omsberg and Manley have done well. The opposing goal on Saturday evening was not really the fault of either. Toye seems to have struggled a bit, in large part for a lack of opportunities. His lack of production is the only real concern for Minnesota, who have otherwise seen their players get a combined 979 minutes of USL League One action, and even more in friendlies, with their new Wisconsin affiliate.
Oh, and Collin Martin made his second straight appearance for Hartford Athletic, who are truly dire in their opening USL Championship season. You can see why they wanted Martin. With the Minnesota loanee playing all ninety minutes, the Connecticut side got their first point of the season, a 1-1 draw in their ninth game, and first home match, in front of a good crowd.
1. Miscellaneous Notes. People have started to notice Métanire. He got a brief discussion on Extra Time Radio last week. He’s on track to be an all-star, and should be in the early defender of the year discussion as well… …The yellow card that Ján Greguš earned for an elbow to the head of Christian Roldan was silly. There’s a line between taking head injuries seriously and recognizing that when tall players and short players make contact, the arm of the tall player really has nowhere else to be but in the vicinity of the short player’s head. Saturday’s incident involved Greguš on a breakaway moving like a normal human being with Roldan firmly behind him. I don’t think the Seattle player deliberately ran into the area of Greguš’ arm, but the fault for the contact was entirely on Roldan, not the guy who wasn’t even looking at him. Right after the half, Seattle immediately tried to get Greguš sent off by drawing contact with his arm again. Happily the referee ignored it, but come on… …That said, what a goal by Roldan though. Can’t even be mad about that… …If you think Minnesota’s field isn’t in great shape, please go watch the Montreal match.
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