Let’s get this out of the way: That game was bad. A top-division team should not be losing 6-1. A functioning defensive unit should not concede six goals in a match. But we did.
This was always going to be work. We all knew (or thought we knew) that it would take time. We’re trying to build something here that’s going to last, and that doesn’t happen overnight. Mistakes are going to be made.
But the most important thing about mistakes is that you learn from them. Making a mistake is fine, but doing it over and over is not.
So, here is what went wrong for MNUFC on Sunday.
First and foremost, the above image shows that Josef Martinez (green, top) was offside for the first goal. This frame is from right as Miguel Almiron (green, bottom) was playing the ball. Martinez is beyond the Loons’ backline and is in an offside position. The goal should not have stood.
However, this freeze frame also shows how Almiron was able to carve through Minnesota’s defense so easily. Jerome Thiesson (blue), in his first action for the club since joining late last week, is caught up-field slightly. Vadim Demidov (red) steps to Almiron, but Calvo (black) is on the wrong side of Martinez to stop him or get the ball.
As a result of the well-weighted ball from Almiron (and Martinez being in an offside position), the Venezuelan forward was able to get behind the Loons’ back line and beat Alvbage one-on-one.
Here, Julian Gressel (green, right) is playing a through ball to Miguel Almiron (green, left). You’ll notice that Almiron is sitting in acres of space. That, of course, becomes problematic.
Calvo (black) is tightly marked on Martinez this time, prepared to get between him and goal and effectively marking him out of the play.
But for some reason, Demidov (red) has stepped out of the back line. Thiesson (blue) is caught between Almiron and Atlanta left-back Greg Garza, and is too far from either to effectively mark them.
Because of all the space he had in the channel between Demidov and Thiesson, Almiron was able to race in and smash a close-range shot in to the top corner at the near post.
I’ll show this image before I mark it up because, by now, you might be able to figure out what happens yourself. See how Martinez is running in to the space between Demidov and Calvo? It’s becoming a trend.
In case you couldn’t see from the last shot, Yamil Asad (green, right) is playing a ball between Demidov (red) and Calvo (black). It looks like Demidov is stepping up to intercept the ball and Calvo is covering him by marking the runner.
That’s not how it went. Martinez got through and placed his second of the game in to the bottom corner.
While trying to get back in to the game with the score at 3-1, Minnesota United started committing more players forward, and that strategy came back to bite them on Atlanta’s fourth goal.
There is a gaping hole evident here on Minnesota’s left defensive flank, which Atlanta’s players are exploiting. Jermaine Taylor (blue) is caught way out of position when Atlanta begin this attack. Center-back Calvo (black) is also far further up the pitch than he should be.
Demidov (red) is in the best possible position he can be at this time when facing a likely two-on-one, and midfielder Collin Warner (purple) is hustling back to help out on defense. Jerome Thiesson (aqua) is likewise tracking back on the back side of play.
Atlanta ends up playing the ball wide to the left, but Captain Demi tracks Atlanta DP Hector Villalba well and blocks his attempted cross.
Demidov did his job by blocking the initial cross. But unfortunately, Minnesota’s defense had not yet regained its shape after being initially caught out.
Calvo and Taylor are still trying to catch up to the play. Warner has successfully gotten back and is marking Martinez in the center of the box.
But the problem comes at the back post. Thiesson is still in recovery mode and hasn’t spotted Almiron (green), who is in plenty of space when the ball falls to him and makes no mistake with the chance.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Atlanta plays a through ball in to gaps in the Loons’ back line and scores.
In the picture above, it might look like Demidov (red) has position on Martinez (green, right), but...
The Atlanta forward is able to blow past the Norwegian center-back. A good touch would bring Martinez past Calvo and allowed him to complete his hat-trick.
Sixth Goal: Bonus Round
In this super special bonus round, I’m going to post this picture, and I want you to tell me who you think Minnesota’s players are marking. Good luck.
In the danger zone where the cross is being played to, there are four Loons plus the goalkeeper to cover three Atlanta players. That seems doable, right?
Demidov (red) looks like he’s covering Kenwyne Jones (green, left). Jacob Peterson (green, middle) is between Jerome Taylor (blue) and Calvo (black). Finally, Bashkim Kadrii (purple) is diligently tracking Julian Gressel’s back-post run.
It looks like should be able to defend this fairly straightforward 95th minute cross, right?
It’s a bit hard to tell from the quality of this image, but here’s what’s happening: Garza is allowed to get in an unopposed cross from the left and Peterson (green) is about to head the ball (green dot) in to our goal. Demidov is watching it happen. Calvo doesn’t even jump despite Peterson, who is directly in front of him, already being in the air. Taylor appears not to have moved since the cross came in.
Goal. Game. 6-1 Atlanta.
So, what did we learn from all of that?
There were many, many individual errors by the men in grey and blue on Sunday. As this blog has already discussed, John Alvbage didn’t exactly cover himself in glory before he had to be stretchered off late in the game. But the defense in front of him did him no favors.
Three of Atlanta’s six goals came from them splitting Minnesota’s center-backs. Calvo and Demidov have not had long to work together, and it is showing on the field right now. It takes time for an understanding to develop between defensive partners, and Sunday showed that Calvo and Demidov do not have that familiarity yet.
Minnesota’s fullback play was likewise shaky. Jermaine Taylor simple does not have the pace to play on the flanks. He looked abject in both matches so far and should not be playing in that position.
To be fair to Thiesson, he only arrived stateside three days before the game. He’ll need some more time with his teammates before we’ll see the best of him, and he looked like he has the tools to do well.
Loons manager Adrian Heath acknowledged the team’s poor defensive performance after the match, and hinted that he may be looking to change up some individuals on the back line.
Justin Davis, captain of the NASL iteration of United, could still do a job at left back. He didn’t do fantastic against Portland, but he certainly wasn’t the worst player on the pitch either.
Likewise, NASL standout Kevin Venegas could get a chance at right back. “Viva” has always been a skilled attacker, but at times his defending leaves something to be desired.
In the center, youngsters Joe Greenspan or Brent Kallman could get their chance soon. While largely unproven at this level, both are impressive athletically and could bring more pace and power to the defense than Demidov has.
The captain, for his part, has not been great. Perhaps he needs more time to adjust to the league. But it would certainly not be unwarranted if he were to be benched for a while in lieu of another option.
Things will get better; they have to. These are the growing pains of a team that was largely assembled in two months. I believe that they are going to figure this out. While they do that, hopefully we aren’t subjected to another game like this.