It’s already been established that Minnesota United got their tactics wrong against Portland on Friday, but what are the correct tactics for the club? The short answer is that there is no “right” formation for any club. Tactics need to be adjusted on a per match basis, so you shouldn’t have just one functional formation. Below I evaluate several different options for Minnesota United, ranging from probable to wishful to exotic in a comprehensive look at what might suit the Loons. A note on the lineup mock-ups: These are merely examples of what the formation could look like. The purpose of this article is not to ponder the merits of individual players, but rather to ponder formation options.
This was the formation Minnesota United appeared in during the Portland match. This formation can certainly work well with the right player personnel and coaching (as can most formations), but the Loons are not well-suited for the style of play suggested by the 4-3-3.
Proper execution of a 4-3-3 requires individual strength at every position. As opposed to other formations such as the 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1, the 4-3-3 is a spread-out organization that often allows only one player to fill a certain area. Midfielders must be able to fulfill attacking, defending, and width-based roles—something Minnesota’s midfielders aren’t equipped to do. Manager Adrian Heath deployed three central-based midfielders, two of whom could have been classified as defensive midfielders. This approach sacrificed width for centrality, which isn’t always a bad thing, as long as other players can cover those positions.
In order to compensate for the midfield positioning, Heath needed fullbacks to be able to play farther up the pitch and also have wingers Bashkim Kadrii and Kevin Molino to track back into deeper roles. Again, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it detracts from the fullbacks’ defensive responsibilities and wingers’ attacking roles. With Minnesota currently utilizing a less than stellar defense, our right and left backs need to play with a defensive mindset; however, the 4-3-3 requires them to attack. A similar dilemma occurs with the wingers when forward Johan Venegas ends up isolated at the top of the formation. If our outside players were able to fulfill two roles at once, this formation would be entirely plausible. Until players of that capability are brought into the squad, this formation needs to be ruled out.
These two formations are nearly identical in shape and style, so I’ll discuss them as one. The midfield is a solid mix of centrality and width as well as defense and attack. It enables players such as Mohammed Saeid and Collen Warner, who have proven themselves in the middle of the pitch, to play in the positions best suited to them. The same goes for Bashkim Kadrii, Kevin Molino, and Miguel Ibarra, players who excel on the outer edges of play, to give them space to advance forward into attacking positions.
Perhaps the biggest asset of the 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 is the organization of the forwards. Minnesota United has two different types of forwards in Christian Ramirez and Johan Venegas. Ramirez is best suited to play as the farthest-forward attacker, a sort of target forward (though he has more mobility than a traditional target forward, which is a huge asset). Johan Venegas, on the other hand, seems to fit into a looser attacking role in which he can track back into the midfield. Their playing styles were perfectly exemplified in Christian Ramirez’ goal against Portland. Johan Venegas threaded a pass to Ramirez from central midfield and CR21 calmly put together a beautiful finish. Deploying the two together would suit them both well, especially if Venegas is set farther back (more of a 4-4-1-1 than a 4-4-2). This formation was utilized in the preseason and should definitely be considered as a regular formation.
Adrian Heath has been known to favor this formation in his coaching past and he would be wise to continue. The 4-2-3-1 would function similarly to the 4-4-2 in that two midfielders could have a defensive mindset (likely Saeid and Warner, though Rasmus Schuller would be an option as well). The three person attacking midfield would be optimal for Kadrii/Ibarra and Molino. Their skill on the wings, as well as Molino’s ability to cut inside, would provide a dangerous attack when given to freedom to do so.
Johan Venegas could likely play the central attacking number 10 role. It may be a bit of a shift for the forward, but his skill set mentioned in the 4-4-2 section shows he would be up for the task. Christian Ramirez could also be the ideal lone forward. His finishing ability speaks for itself and he is also capable of the movement required to stay involved in play and avoid isolation at the top.
This was the formation Minnesota United switched to late in the Portland game. It produced the lone goal for the Loons (though some costly defensive mistakes allowed goals as well). The 4-2-3-1 seems to give the right mixture of defense and attack as well as centrality and width that the 4-3-3--and even the 4-4-2 at times--can’t provide. This would ideally be the go-to formation for Coach Heath, with adaptations as necessary.
Before you dismiss this as a tactic that should have stayed in the 1930s, hear me out. Minnesota United has several players who would be well-equipped to the positional demands of this formation. Francisco Calvo’s unique attacking ability makes him an ideal center-half (the middle of the back three), while Molino/Gatt and Kadrii/Ibarra would be dangerous as outside forwards. Either Christian Ramirez or Johan Venegas could play as the central forward.
The four players in the middle of the formation are where things get muddled. A lack of talent in the Loons’ central midfield would limit their performance in the W-M. Playing Kevin Molino as an inside right (the right of the front two) could be one of the greatest tactical decisions ever made.
Who's up for some tactical debate? Let's hear your thoughts in the comments section about which formation is best!