After a promising start of the season, the Minnesota United has suffered four losses on the bounce. The four losses all felt painfully similar, yet nothing changed from game to game. The hope that briefly flickered in the hearts and minds of Loons fans has been replaced with the dark foreboding shadow that eventually pervades the soul of even the most altruistic Minnesota sports fans. The promise of a DP was fulfilled. The promise of young players was fulfilled. The promise of fun, exciting soccer was fulfilled.*
* Only for a maximum of 45 minutes in non-consecutive intervals.
Unfortunately, all of those promises are worth a grand total of six points through seven games, one point more than at this point last year. The last four games have brought about frustration, anger, hope, and frustration. To paraphrase something from Red in Shawshank Redemption, “Hope is a good thing...and no good thing ever dies.” In order for that hope not to die and be replaced with a third frustration, something needs to change. The way to end this losing skid is not to put out the same plan as in previous weeks, but at home. There are three options, without being too drastic and changing the entire front office: change the formation, change the tactics, or change the manager.
Original? No. Creative? No. Exciting and Bold? No and no. The straight 4-4-2 is quite frankly pretty boring. It does, however, offer the chance for multiple strikers to be on the field at once. Up to this point in the season, we haven’t been able to see two of Danladi, Ramirez, and Toye link up very often, if at all. Playing two up top would allow the Loons to play long balls up to Ramirez or Toye, and rather than immediately turning the ball over to a pair of centerbacks, have a partner to play the ball off to. Two players holding the ball up would allow time for the rest of the midfield to work their way out of defense and up the field and allow the Loons to have a more patient attack.
The downside to this approach would be the lack of defensive cover without dedicated holding midfielders. The lack of a true #10 means that the creative responsibility is shared between the central midfielders and without discipline they could both be caught up the field on a turnover. Variations of the 4-4-2 could have two holding midfield players and staggered forwards, which would mean essentially reverting to the 4-2-3-1 we have now Another option would be to stack the midfielders and play a holding midfielder and a more advanced midfielder that would sit under the strikers, but still have some duties on the defensive side of the ball. Colin Warner could play in the holding role with Ibarra or Darwin on top. The injury to Ethan Finlay means there’s a hole on the right that the other could fill. The arrival of Alexi Gomez as an offensively and defensively solid left sided player and the impending return to fitness of Maximiano should give the Loons a little more flexibility in the future.
Run Fast, Try Hard:
This on hurts the most. Towards the end of last season the Loons started picking up more points, but it wasn’t due to necessarily stout defense, clever runs, or silky smooth passing. The thing that got them over the line was individual moments of brilliance and a fair amount of grit. This season the quality of play has improved, the defense is (slightly) sturdier than at this point last season, and the offense has created many more chances, even if the finishing is lacking. Rather than just shots on target, the focus may need to change to quality shots.
If nothing else, the Loons have a lot of speed in the attack. Even without Molino and Finlay, Nicholson, Danladi, and Darwin have speed to burn. Slow and methodical buildup works if you have a player who can play that final pass to break down a defense. The first few looks at Darwin have been positive, but the Loons lack that true creative threat that can get on the ball and dictate an offense.
So with no one to unlock a stubborn defense, how are are we going to get the best opportunities? Shorten the field.
In one of the preseason games the Loons experimented with pressing high up the field so some impact against Atlanta. Preseason results should be taken with a grain of salt, but it was enough to earn a penalty. A front three of Nicholson, Danladi, and Darwin would have the speed to put a backline under pressure and the midfield three of have never been shy to get into the attack, so higher starting positions are not out of the question. Defensively the Loons could drop deeper and play for counter attacks.
Rather than trying to win a shootout 11 v 11, the Loons best bet would be to break the game into small sided games. Counter attacks can result in 2v2s or 3v3s and pressing can also result in a numerical advantage in the attacking third. Defend in numbers, attack with speed.
Earlier this week, Arsene Wenger announced that he would be stepping down from Arsenal at the end of the year. This announcement brings to an end the five year reign of #WengerOut banners that adorned the Emirates, as well as Wrestlemania, an anti-Trump rally in London, and even our very own Snowpener.
If this proves one thing, it is that supporters have a voice and can influence the direction of a club. A change in manager would likely mean a change of formation and tactics, but it doesn’t mean immediate success either. There could be a learning for the new tactics and formation, as well as players having to buy into the system. The transfer window closing in the next week means that a new manager would have to make due with what they have, including a growing injury list. Heath brought Molino with him from Orlando and a new manager bringing a key player in that they are already familiar with might ease the transition process.
There are a handful of managers with MLS experience that are available right now, notably Caleb Porter who left Portland before the season started. My personal choice would be Herb Brooks, but that isn’t possible for a variety of reasons. My second choice would be the ghost of Herb Brooks, but he’s busy haunting the Hockey Hall of Fame. Due to all the roster rules and regulations in MLS, it may be prudent to get a manager familiar with MLS, thus greatly reducing the pool of available managers.
The other option would be to look outside of the US for a manager. Atlanta succeeded with a high profile foreign manager, however, at least some of that success is down to the amount of cash poured into the roster and Carlos Bocanegra serving as Technical Director. The Loons have Manny Lagos and Amos Magee serving in technical roles, but haven’t shown the willingness or ability to splash large sums of money for talent. All that could change if the Benedetti deal rises out of the ashes this summer.
Overall, changing managers seems a little extreme at this point, and Heath deserves the benefit of the doubt, for now. Darwin is here and a pivotal season for the club is underway. The rookie excuse is no longer valid. It’s time to adapt or die.