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Minnesota's talent gap can be overcome with better tactics

There is no question there is a difference in overall talent, but I think formation can overcome that

MLS: Atlanta United FC at Minnesota United FC Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve discussed this past weekend ad nauseam, so this will not be another recap article. Rather, give me the keys to Minnesota United. I have an idea about how to lineup this weekend against the Colorado Rapids that may confuse or surprise some of you. But maybe, just maybe, I can convince you otherwise.

We at E Pluribus Loonum have discussed linuos before (and that can be read here), but this formation that I am suggesting was not discussed.

I don’t think that this lineup will work to completely turn this season around, but I do think it is worth a try. I am hopeful about the makeup of the team. Talent does not strike me as the issue. The issue to me seems to be how that talent is used.

This is how I see the Loons lining up best. Not a traditional 3-4-3 formation, but it gives more options in the midfield than the current 4-3-3 that Heath is running out every game.

I do not expect you to be convinced just by looking at a picture of circles, so I will study this position by position.

Goalkeeper Change

MLS: New England Revolution at Chicago Fire Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

I have Bobby Shuttleworth starting out of both necessity and the possibility of a change. John Alvbage injured his knee late in the loss to Atlanta, but even if he hadn’t, a change to Shuttleworth may have been in order.

Shuttleworth is an MLS veteran, having spent eight years in the league. He spent the last four seasons in New England and was a very solid keeper when called upon, even helping the Revs to the MLS Cup Final in 2014 and U.S. Open Cup Final in 2016.

While, Shuttleworth likely starts because of the injury to Alvbåge, it would be worthwhile to change the starters regardless.

(It may not be out of necessity as Alvbåge appears to have practiced with the team)

Options at the Back:

MLS: Atlanta United FC at Minnesota United FC Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Through two games of their inaugural MLS Season, the Loons have allowed 11 goals. The defense has looked lost, confused, and at times out of their league. However, I do think that it has not been because of a dearth of talent, but rather I think if the scheme is altered, the defense can flourish.

Vadim Demidov is a great leader. That’s not in question. I do question his ability to be a quarterback on that backline. I counted around four times in the first half alone where he was unable to get his line to press forward. This led to a confusion and Atlanta attackers roaming free while remaining onside. If Demidov is given the freedom to patrol the center of the field alone, I think he can be more effective. I can hear the dissenting opinions now, though. “Demidov is slow!” I agree, and the theme of this lineup is speed. However, what Demidov lacks in speed, he can make up for in positioning. If he is given more freedom in the center, I think he will be more effective.
Francisco Calvo is a decent centerback, but I think he could be the best leftback in the league. He loves to push forward in attack, and he seems to be a great one-on-one defender. I say let him loose. Let Calvo dictate the play the way that he did in Saprissa.

Jerome Thiesson did not look great against Atlanta, but he had a total of around 3 practices with the team beforehand. Thiesson showed flashes of the rightback that he can be given more practice and games with the team. Thiesson needs time and he can be a solid MLS rightback. He may never be a gamechanger, but a solid rightback can go a long way.

If the backline is given more freedom to be led by Thiesson, Calvo, and Demidov, that could hopefully solve some of the defensive woes.

More Options in the Midfield

MLS: Atlanta United FC at Minnesota United FC Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

To run an effective 3-4-3, the midfield has to be strong. What I have seen through two matches so far, MNUFC has talent in the midfield. The question will be if that talent can translate to an effective 3-4-3 scheme. The way that I have it lined up, it would not be a flat line in the middle and that is purposeful.

Collen Warner is the key. Because of how bad the defense has been, a 3-4-3 would require a defensive midfielder who can help hold, while the attack presses forward. When Warner joined the team, I was not impressed by the pick. But, he has shown me that he can be a solid CM, and he seems more defensively minded than Mohammed Saeid. It was a close call to include Warner over Saeid, but Warner’s defensive prowess gave him the slight edge over the Swede to lineup a little more defensively than a flat midfield.

Rasmus Schuller has been consistent this season so far. He is a solid passer and seems to read the game well. The offense in this formation will likely need to run through him, and I think he is well suited to do that. The one worry that I have with Schuller playing in a 3-4-3 is that he has not shown a willingness to fall back and defend when needed. If Calvo is given more free range to press into the attack, someone needs to recover. That cannot always be Warner, so Schuller needs to pay attention.

MLS: Minnesota United FC at Portland Timbers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

It is time to unleash Miguel Ibarra and Bashkim Kadrii. Both are attack minded players, and I think both could be huge assets if deployed in an outside midfield role. Both are an asset when on the ball, both can be a weapon on the wings, but I think an untapped asset that they bring is speed. Ibarra’s main asset in the NASL was his speed, and Kadrii showed some speed in the preseason.

Speed can change the game. Kadrii has had limited minutes, but he brings the experience that playing at a club like FC Copenhagen can give to a player. He plays fast, and his play in the preseason showed an ability to shoot from anywhere around the penalty area.

I would never expect the four in the midfield to be stagnant in its play, either. I think all four of these players would work well interchanging where they are on the field.

Offense appears to be potent, let’s utilize that

MLS: Atlanta United FC at Minnesota United FC Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Starting with the right, I still think trading for Johan Venegas was a great move by the club. He seems to be confident on the ball, and he showed in the preseason that he has a nose for goal. I would give him him more range to run on the right side and the option to slot in behind Christian Ramirez when needed. My reasoning for putting Warner in a more defensive role would allow for Venegas to slot into the open field area if needed.

That reasoning can also apply to the $650,000 man, Kevin Molino. If Schuller or Warner are dropping deep, there is a lot of room for Venegas and Molino to slide into either a Center Attacking Mid role, or Center forward role. Molino, like Venegas, has shown through the preseason and his time with Orlando City that he has the skill to dictate the offense. Let Molino and Venegas dictate the offense to how they feel the game is going. Molino is a smart player, a great finisher, and great on the ball. Time to let him take control.

MLS: Atlanta United FC at Minnesota United FC Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Finally, we have Christian Ramirez. I want to believe he can be a gamechanging MLS striker, but right now, I don’t know. He does not always make the best run when trying to get open for a pass. I think putting him in the middle of Molino and Venegas can help his transition. There is no question that Ramirez can score. He showed the NASL that he could put the ball in the net an insane amount. The question that I have is whether or not he can be a true target (pun intended) up front. I have Ramirez pushed forward in my lineup like he has appeared to be to start the season, but I also believe that allowing Venegas and Molino to slide in below CR21 can help him.

I think it is a risk to employ the team as it is currently put together in a 3-4-3 formation. Risks this early in the season should be expected. The team needs something.

Maybe some will disagree, but I don’t think talent is necessarily the issue. There is a core number of players that have a large amount of talent. If used right, MNUFC can compete.