The Loons began their first ever home winning streak (knock on wood) on Sunday with a 1-0 win over the Colorado Rapids at TCF Bank Stadium. The match was a closely contested one, but once again NASL holdovers helped to make the difference in the match.
Many wondered before the season if players from the NASL squad could successfully make the step up to the next level. However, when they have played this season, the United veterans have generally contributed positively. This is also showing on the score sheet.
#MNUFC have scored thirteen goals in MLS. Ten of them were scored by players who began their careers in NASL/USL.— Alex Schieferdecker (@alexschief) April 24, 2017
This week we’ll take a look at the contributions of two longtime Loons, Miguel Ibarra and Ibson.
Miguel Ibarra shows his worth
Last week in this piece, some prescient writer made the case that Ibarra should play more. Adrian Heath selected him in the starting lineup against Colorado, and Ibarra rewarded his manager’s faith with a game-winning goal.
As discussed last week, Miguel is a true “chalk on his boots” winger who likes to play tight to the sideline. A map of his touches shows just how much he likes being out wide.
Each dot represents a touch and the two solid lines represent shots, with the shorter of them being the lone goal of the match. Ibarra got up an down the right flank most of the match, aside from a few occasions where he switched with the other forwards (more on that later).
Ibarra was joined on the right side this match by fullback Jerome Thiesson, who also had a strong game going forward. The Swiss defender had more touches in the match than any other Minnesota United player.
The ability of the players on the right side of the field to both attack and defend allowed the Loons to overload that side. As a result, 43% of United attacks went down the right flank.
And, of course, Miggy got forward and scored the winner.
The team we saw against Colorado played Heath’s 4-2-3-1 system in a fluid manner that surely pleased the manager. Ibson (#7) was just ahead of Sam Cronin (#19) dictating play, Christian Ramirez (#21) featured at the point of attack, and Miguel (#10) pulled out wide.
But why were Johan Venegas (#11) and Kevin Molino (#18) so close together?
A few fans behind me at the match kept wondering why Miguel was “on the wrong side.” Longtime fans tend to fondly remember Ibarra’s marauding exploits on the left wing from the NASL, so it looked out of place to see him on the right so often.
But the beauty and the danger from the attackers in United’s front four lies in their ability to interchange fluidly. The attackers switching where they play mid-match confuses opposition marking assignments and creates opportunities.
Although Ibarra started the game on the right wing, his map in the last section showed him getting several touches on the left side as well. His comfort on either side allows him to switch as the situation calls for it.
As a commentor mentioned on last week’s piece, while I was advocating for Miguel getting playtime because he’s an out-and-out winger, he actually scored his goal after he moved in to a central position.
United are lucky to have many attackers who could play comfortable anywhere along the attacking line. While Kevin Molino has primarily played on the right wing for the Loons this season, he started this game on the left. As Molino’s average position shows, he also drifted centrally often to start attacks.
Johan Venegas is nominally a second striker who play centrally behind the lone forward. But the reality is that he plays all over the field.
Venegas goes wherever he’s needed, presenting an attacking option wherever the ball is. When he drifts wide, this means that Molino can occupy the space he vacated in the middle.
The interchanging of United’s forwards creates an element of unpredictability that helps to surprise defenses and allows the players to attack more creatively.
“Ibson o Metrônomo”
“Ibson the Metronome” found himself in the starting line-up this week and kept play ticking along as a more forward-thinking partner to the combative Cronin in midfield.
Ibson’s quality has never been in any doubt; his resumé speaks for itself. He has played for Brazilian giants Flamengo, Corinthians, and Santos, as well as in the Champions League for Spartak Moscow and FC Porto.
But his effort in the NASL could leave something to be desired at times. He wasn’t always the hardest worker, and he could sometimes look visibly disinterested.
Since moving to MLS, however, he has looked reinvigorated. Against the Rapids last weekend, Ibson went the full 90 and earned a distinction that some fans might find surprising: No player in grey and blue attempted more tackles than the Brazilian.
That’s right. You read that correctly. Ibson Barreto da Silva’s four attempted tackles was more than any other United player. And while that is impressive, the veteran midfielder had an ever bigger impact offensively.
The former Flamengo youth product got all over the pitch on Sunday. With his midfield partner Sam Cronin generally sitting deeper and breaking up play, Ibson was able to focus more on getting forward.
Ibson was crucial in attack for the Loons, as his presence upfield serves as a hub for attacks to move through. He’s very adept at receiving a pass and finding time and space to keep the attack moving forward.
The Brazilian’s influence on the game was apparent. Only Thiesson had more touches and passes than Ibson, but Thiesson wasn’t receiving the ball in the central congested areas like the midfield maestro was.
The 33 year-old was just about rewarded for his efforts with a goal, but his strike on the half-volley careened back off the post for Venegas to head in to the path of Ibarra for the game winner.
As the boss himself said after the match, United’s attack was not as sharp in this match as we’ve seen it in the past. But despite the fact that the forwards had something of an off day, the Loons still managed to snag all three points.
Hopefully, we’re treated to another victory this weekend and we prolong that home win streak.