The wait is almost over! Fresh off of a tough 5-1 road loss against a talented Portland Timbers squad, Minnesota United will play their MLS home debut on Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. CT against Atlanta United.
With the kickoff rapidly approaching, we’ll take a look at the potential starting lineup for Minnesota against Atlanta, predicted by yours truly.
As far as the formation goes, I have to believe that manager Adrian Heath will have his team come out in a 4-2-3-1. Heath switched formations to the 4-2-3-1 late against Portland and the team looked significantly more dangerous in attack and they were able to create a goal within ten minutes of switching formations and making substitutions. With the Loons set to make their home debut against another expansion squad, this game is a great opportunity for Minnesota to come out and attack from the opening whistle. I think that going with the same 4-3-3 formation that they came out in against Portland is a surefire way for the Loons to find themselves struggling on offense against an underrated Atlanta backline.
Goalkeeper: John Alvbåge
Nothing that I’ve seen recently would lead me to believe that Heath is ready to make a goalkeeping switch after just one game, so I believe that John Alvbåge will be inbetween the sticks on Sunday. The Swedish keeper managed to stop just one out of the Timbers six shots on target, and he ended up getting beaten embarrassingly on both of Fanendo Adi’s stoppage time goals. Alvbåge’s starting keeper role seems to be safe for the time being but if he continues to struggle in net I would not be surprised to see Heath turn to Bobby Shuttleworth at some point in 2017.
Left back: Justin Davis
Davis looked to be a jekyll-and-hyde player at Providence Park last Friday as his questionable header back to the keeper almost gifted the Timbers an easy goal in the first half. The longtime Loon also had his bright spots as he made a couple of spectacular tackles in space. With no other true left back on the roster, I’m not exactly going out on a limb by predicting him to start.
Center back: Francisco Calvo
Calvo was an absolute rock at the back against Portland and seems as though he will be a dependable defender for the Loons for some time to come. Despite facing a tough attacking unit, Calvo had a calming presence and hardly made any mistakes. His ability to play the ball out of the back will undoubtedly come in handy for Minnesota at various points this season. As long as he’s healthy, Calvo’s name should be written in pen on the team’s sheet every game.
Center back: Vadim Demidov
The Norwegian center back struggled mightily against the Timbers, and specifically Fandendo Adi, as he conceded a late penalty and was lucky not to have given up another one in the first half. Despite his shaky start, Demidov is clearly the next best choice at center back after Calvo, and I don’t think Heath will opt to bench him after one bad game.
Right back: Jermaine Taylor
Taylor has been much maligned by the fanbase so far this season but I think that he will get the start at right back against Atlanta United. Taylor has looked out of his depths at times but his experience at the MLS level (this is his seventh season in the league) is enough for him to get the starting nod one last time while Jérôme Thiesson gets up to speed with the team. Thiesson is a shoo in to win the starting right back position from Taylor in the near future but he just joined up with the team a few days ago so I believe it’s too early for him to be in the starting lineup.
Central midfielder: Collen Warner
Warner’s performance against Portland didn’t exactly jump off the stat sheet but the seven-year veteran put in a solid shift last week. The midfield partnership of Warner and Saeid looked to be a competent unit defensively and they also showed the ability to contribute on offense as well with creative passes.
Central midfielder: Mohammed Saeid
The former West Brom youth product looked to be one of the better players against Portland, as he put in a good shift on the defensive side of things and had a couple of dangerous crosses that just missed players in the box. Saeid is a player capable of strengthening the team’s attack and defense from the midfield position, which is no small task, so I would be shocked if he wasn’t starting against Atlanta.
Right wing: Kevin Molino
The $650,000 man looked lost at times against Portland but that can largely be attributed to the fact that the team rarely was able to string passes together in attack. Molino did have a couple of nice link up plays with Johan Venegas, and I would expect to see him have a more prominent role on Sunday. His preseason form leads us to believe it’s just a matter of time before he finds himself on the scoresheet.
Central attacking midfielder/Second striker: Johan Venegas
Venegas was originally deployed as a lone striker against Portland and struggled mightily against the Timbers backline but he looked like a completely different player once he was deployed in the number 10 role. Venegas provided the assist on the lone Loons goal last week, and he has the proper skill set to play behind the striker in Heath’s system.
Left wing: Miguel Ibarra
I’m going out on a limb here and predicting that Heath will shake things up a bit by starting Miguel Ibarra over Bashkim Kadrii. Kadrii failed to impress against Portland and was eventually substituted in the 87th minute of the game. Kadrii’s performance wasn’t awful but I think left wing is the most logical spot for Heath to shake things up a bit and try to bolster the attack. Ibarra has been a fan favorite for years and I think he’ll get the nod for the Loons in their home opener.
Striker: Christian Ramirez
The one they call “Superman” gave the fans something to cheer about against the Timbers by providing the lone goal on a great strike after some solid hold up play. The 6’2” forward is the best logistical fit as a striker in Heath’s system as he has the size to be a target man and the goal scoring ability to threaten the defense on every run. His performance against Portland is surely enough to warrant him getting the start up top on Sunday.
Here’s a graphical representation of how I think the Loons line up against Atlanta, to provide a quick visual aid.
What do you guys think about this projected lineup? Do you think that the Loons will line up in a different formation? Feel free to let us know in the comments.