Are they the underdogs yet? There have been plenty of Adrian Heath memes recently suggesting the poor start has been a ploy to claim the gaffer’s preferred underdog status. Heading into the midweek matches, plenty of sportswriters and soccer fans were ready to hit the panic button for Minnesota United. After a trip to the Western Conference finals last fall and some preseason predictions of a top-three finish in the West, the Loons opened the season with four straight losses before eeking out a win Wednesday night against the Vancouver Whitecaps. The question remains whether a positive result midweek was enough to raise their confidence levels.
What the stats say:
The numbers say there are problems at both ends of the field. According to Major League Soccer, on offense, Minnesota leads the league with 54 key passes (passes that lead to a shot) but they are near the bottom in terms of goals scored (4). Their percentage of shots on goal is dead last at roughly 20%. Similarly, they are near the top of the league in passes attempted, but clearly, the middle of the table in terms of passes completed. Yet even if they could find their scoring touch from the preseason and stop turning the ball over on offense, that’s only half the problem.
On defense, the Loons have given up a league-high 10 goals on nearly a league-high 26 shots on goal. That’s a save percentage of 61.5%, which puts Minnesota in the bottom quarter of the league (and no one below them has given up as many shots).
All of this has been a recipe for a disastrous start to the season. Heath addressed part of this issue by playing Tyler Miller in goal against Vancouver in place of previous starter Dayne St. Clair and the Loons earned their first clean sheet of the season. Miller made several excellent saves to keep Vancouver off the scoreboard and I expect to see him again.
What to Expect:
In their outing against the Whitecaps, Heath’s side played with desperation – they needed a result. They went hard into tackles and scrapped for loose balls. But now they will be playing their third game in a week and rotation may be needed.
Along the front line, expect to see Bebelo Reynoso orchestrate the attack from the left side for the guys in gray. Since signing, key acquisition Ramon “Wanchope” Abila has played limited minutes as he seeks full match fitness. While he’s averaging only about 30 minutes per appearance, after scoring the lone goal on Wednesday he could get the start. Or Heath could stick with Robin Lod up top with Hassani Dotson on the right wing. Ethan Finlay or Patrick Weah may also be in line for a start on the wing given their need for rotation.
In the middle, Jan Gregus has been playing the 10 role in their 4-2-3-1 with Will Trapp and Ozzie Alonso holding down the fort defensively. There have been whispers that Father Time is finally catching up to Alonso at 35. Don’t be surprised if we see Dotson line up in the box-to-box role so Alonso gets a rest.
In the back, Chase Gaspar and Romain Metanire are likely to start at the fullback positions. Both players like to get forward and contribute in the attack. Injury woes have limited the effectiveness of Minnesota’s center back pair: Ike Opara remains out for undisclosed reasons and Bakaye Dibassy has yet to play this season after suffering a thigh injury. Starting in the middle will likely be Jukka Raitala and Michael Boxall.
Keys to the Game:
1) Given that Minnesota’s outside backs like to get forward, I hope to see FC Dallas wingers Obrian and Vargas attack the spaces that they vacate. If either can pull a center back out of position, that should leave Jara or Pepi room in front of goal to attempt one of the multitudes of shots the Loons have been allowing.
2) Without Abila on the field, Minnesota looked far less dangerous. He’s active in the box and the likely target of Reynoso’s efforts. But again, his minutes have been limited due to fitness, and given that he’s listed at only 5’ 9” I’m hoping Hedges and Martinez can beat him to the headers. If Abila is not on the field, Reynoso’s opportunities to combine with other players are vastly reduced. He scored a brilliant free-kick against Colorado, but Reynoso is unlikely to put the team on his back against Dallas.
3) #PlayYourKids – Minnesota is a veteran team. With veteran legs. Playing on short rest. Early in the season. This should be a good opportunity for the kids to run right at them and force mistakes.
Reynoso – Gregus – Finley
Dotson – Trapp
Gaspar – Raitala – Boxall – Metanire
Let me know what you think.