Minnesota United have been, as you may have heard, pretty dismal in their first two games in MLS. They have lost 11-2 in aggregate against Portland and Atlanta over the past two weeks, and both games were even more humiliating than Arsenal losing 10-1 in aggregate to Bayern Munich in Champions League.
Losing 5-1 and 6-1 in consecutive games is unprecedented in MLS. Let’s not mince words: Minnesota has been utterly horrible and an embarrassment to the wonderful soccer community they have up there. Adrian Heath has made a number of dumb, avoidable mistakes in putting together lineups and making tactical adjustments. The backline has been been especially terrible.
Any kind of chemistry or cohesion has been nonexistent and while some issues are to be expected there for an expansion side, the players don’t appear to have any idea how to play together and it shows in their play. Strong center forwards like Fanendo Adi will bully the center backs, while creative runners and roamers like Josef Martinez and Miguel Almiron will ruthlessly carve them apart.
The amount of problems this team faces — tactical or mental or cultural or whatever else — is unlike any another club in this league has faced in a good while. I can’t think of a parallel, not even Chivas USA.
But I’m here to defend Minnesota United, because when you examine this team more closely, you find that they are not 5-1 and 6-1 bad, and they most certainly should not resemble a newly promoted side unprepared for top-level soccer. The amount of legitimate talent they have on hand from across the FIFA spectrum (close to a majority of players on the roster have made some appearance at one time or another for their national team) will set them up for better things in the future.
Don’t forget to give credit to Portland and Atlanta for going out and absolutely tearing it up offensively, and remember that their first game was in a classic Portland rainstorm and the second looked like the set of The Day After Tomorrow. These aren’t excuses, per se, but it wasn’t all their fault.
Their attack, if put together correctly, could be a fairly forminable one. Christian Ramirez has (relatively quietly) been impressive. Kevin Molino and Johan Venegas have showed up, to the extent they could given the circumstances. Some of the combination plays they were able to put together at stretches against Atlanta were impressive, and they could have easily gotten the game to 3-2 during the first half. They chased the game well, even if they could never truly devote numbers forward with Jermaine Taylor at left back.
Oh, and they have the former NASL MVP Miguel Ibarra and this year’s No. 1 draft pick Abu Danladi idling on the bench. Those two, if given an opportunity, could be helpful.
Now that we’ve established that Minnesota actually isn’t that bad, what can they do to fulfill their potential? Start by identifying the problems: 1) Vadim Demidov has looked lost at center back and needs to be replaced, and Taylor should never be a starting left back. 2) The midfield has often looked disconnected, and that has caused a big jumble of unwanted problems. 3) They have no cohesion at all, which is one reason why Almiron and Martinez had the field day that they did.
For the first problem, the simple solution is to find a new starting center back. Easy, right? No, it’s not. Just ask the Portland Timbers. Whether a bench player like Joseph Greenspan is the answer has yet to be determined, but I can at least tell you right now that the answer is not Vadim Demidov. As for the answer at left back, maybe Heath tries Josh Gatt there? That would be fun.
The second one may be even more complicated. The midfield three of Collen Warner, Mo Saeid, and Rasmus Schuller has not been the obvious problem, but they have combined to quietly add more problems for Heath to lose sleep over.
Let's check in on that Minnesota United defense… pic.twitter.com/yolgqXJrru
— ManeLandMichael (@ManeLandMichael) March 12, 2017
None of the three provide much of anything in terms of creativity, leaving a large gap that the attack has to make up for, no easy task when outnumbered the way they are. Warner is supposed to be the d-mid, but he gets overwhelmed and usually ends up nowhere to be found when someone like Almiron or Diego Valeri is doing their thing. A lot of times, the half-space between the midfield three and the backline is left empty, which is heaven for creators and hell for defenders, who face all kinds of positional challenges.
Eventually, some kind of cohesion will come. I’m not a manager, so I don’t know how to bring it, but common sense tells me that it arrives over time.
All three of these problems — and all the others — may make Minnesota look like Chivas USA, but don’t forget that there is talent and balance to the squad, and it’s just ready to come out.
They’re better than 6-1.