I wasn’t planning on starting this recap until post-match, possibly re-watching it in hopes that I could point out the differences from last week to today. I was hoping that I could be pointing out how we improved and where we improved. I was really wanted to do that, but here we are, typing away thirteen minutes into the match. The reason why? The Loons conceded another goal, at the beginning of the match, again. Nine minutes in and Alberth Elis nodded home a simple tap in from a cross along the 6 yard box. It sucks. It really sucks to concede early and have to play knowing that you messed up, I get it. I have personally been there - conceding an early goal and having an uphill battle to climb, it is intimidating and extremely difficult. The thing is, is that it just keeps happening, again and agin, week after week. When will it stop? When will we learn to start a game with energy and know that we have the ability to score that first goal? I don’t know; we have to wait and see, which again, sucks. Today marked the eight match of the season for Minnesota. Prior to today's match, the Loons had conceded eight(!!!) goals with in the opening 30 minutes of a match, home or away. One can only say “they had a slow start” so many times until you realize that the phrase is being repeated week after week by the technical staff. Nothing is changing. The results are not factoring into our favor, and for the life of me, I can not figure out why things are not changing. This could be a problem with assistant coach Mark Watson in training, a problem with the tactics Inchy uses, there are too many possibilities and too many people to blame. You can blame Heath, you can blame Calvo heck you can blame Manny. It does not matter; placing blame does not fix the problem, it just enables you to find a solution to that problem in your mind. The excuse of “slow starts” and “not following the match-plan” is getting old; I am honestly dumbfounded by it. A team should have more than 1 plan going into a match, they should have near a dozen scenarios to start off with. They should be prepared for whatever comes, every match and every practice. Adrian Heath acts astonished in every interview that his squad did not follow his tactics, and i have a simple response to that.
Adrian Heath: Those tactics? They are not, and again I repeat, they are not, working.
Something needed to change starting four weeks ago and Adrian Heath has not recognized that. I do want to clarify though that I still have belief in him as a coach, I do not think it is time to call for #HeathOut. That hashtag and that thought is premature; you have to realize that Heath and the rest of the staff built a team in three months and are just now getting the players they would have been able to get last year if they had more time. For the most part, this lineup is exactly the same as last year, with two or three starting-caliber additions. The fan-base needs to wait until the summer transfer window arrives, that will be after the World Cup and it will be the mid-point of the season. If the Loons don’t break twenty points on the season at that point, then yeah, those thoughts could surface with probable cause. I fully expect a second DP in the summer window as well, which will presumably bolster this teams strength. So in a wrap, Adrian heath needs to take a hard look at his tactics and realize that they are not working; he needs to orchestrate change but accompany it with his confidence as well. The biggest part of the change needs to be Heath showing confidence in his roster, the team looks up to him as a leader, someone who guides them; without his confidence they are lost.
Now, I got a little carried away with that rant, but it’s time to talk about the match. As I already stated, Houston scored first. Nine minutes in and Alberth Elis tapped it home after a lackluster attempt at defending by Jerome Theisson and Francisco Calvo. The two of them left two men unmarked and open at the back post leaving Bobby Shuttleworth with nothing to do but attempt to make a save that was never going to work. That goal was completely avoidable and preventable, it was a simple counter attack from Houston that every team pulls off every week. A winger beats a fullback(Manley) who then slots the ball across the six to the back post where he presumably thought his striker would be. The thing about that play though, is that it rarely ever works. A ball should never have the ability to be slotted across the six untouched by the defense from any team; there should always be a foot on that ball accompanied by an attempt at a clearance. A stupid mistake haunted the team early on, again. Following that goal, it was Houston who was the prominent threat of the first half. Elis ended the half with three shots on target where as his striker partner, Quioto launched a rocket off the woodwork near the end of the half. The Loons looked brilliant during a few spells of possession, with one highlight being a near wonder-goal from Christian Ramirez after he launched a ball from just past the half line, only to see it pawed away be the keeper.
Ramirez had a few shining moments early on, highlighted by that play. Hid half did not end as he had hoped though, as he was taken out in the 30th minute after pulling up and clutching his hamstring in the 30th minute. With backup Striker Abu Danladi already out with an injury, rookie Mason Toye stepped up to replace Ramirez for what would be the most minutes he had played all season. The Loons eventually equalized through the one player who had been lively all half, none other than Darwin Quintero. The DP attacker flew down the field with speed and launched a shot that deflected off the hand of a Houston defender in the box; penalty! Quintero stepped up with brute confidence and slammed the penalty into the top corner. Other than the penalty from Quintero, nothing else really highlighted the end of the half for the Loons. I don’t know if you can call it mediocre, but it was very blatant soccer.
The second half was a lot different from the first half, we decided to start this half by playing soccer(huh, where have we seen this before). The Loons came out with fire, a similar recollection to the few past weeks. A huge part of the scoreline in the second half was a vast improvement of physicality and communication on the back-line. Michael Boxall and Francisco Calvo seemed to be much more coherent while playing off of each other, rather than against each other. Their partnership has been spotty all season, but for the majority of the second half it saw improvement. From an overall defensive perspective though, Bobby Shuttleworth deserves the most recognition. The goalie made a miraculous, world-class save in the 66th minute to keep the game level.
Shuttleworth with a great save on Manotas. pic.twitter.com/Kuju9RyRl0— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) April 29, 2018
Building off that save came a series of possession, probably the best we had seen all game to be honest. That series of possession gave the team a confidence boost, you could see it in the way they passed with caution while back tracking and making runs to benefit their teammates. One run in particular came from Ibson, and you already know where this is going; Ibson ended up on the ground. There were slightly different circumstances revolving around this goal though, he was on the celebrating the exquisite backheel goal he had just scored. Ibson put the Loons ahead in the 70th minute with what turned out to be the match-winner.
Prior to Ibson’s goal, Collin Martin came on for his 2018 season debut, replacing Sam Nicholson. The midfielder had a solid 35 minute debut, without making any noticeable mistakes on the screen. Martin was involved in a counter that nearly led to three goals for the Loons, but Mason Toye could not get the shot off in time. The Loons looked a bit shaky in the last five minutes of the match, with Houston missing a great opportunity in the 86th minute through Manotas; the attacker skied an open shot on net. In the midst of the last 20 minutes, Minnesota used their third substitute on Alexi Gomez in the 78th minute, giving the recently acquired Peruvian his debut with the club. His showing was short, but he looked to bring solid pace to the midfield with great movement and transitions up and down the field. All-in-all, a much improved second half saw the Loons cap off a four-game losing skid by taking three points at home against an injury plagued Houston side. Tonight's match ended with a 2-1 scoreline in favor of the Loons, but it was an ugly match.
An awful start to the game is nothing new, and I already discussed that earlier in this article. The question on how to fix that relies on the conscience of a player post-match as well as a managers mind. Adrian Heath has a lot to think about over the next week, with there being questions on lineups, injuries and the roster tactics. A few of those questions to highlight might be:
- What’s the status of the hamstring injury Christian Ramirez picked up in the first half
- When will Abu Danladi and Tyrone Mears return to full-time first-team training?
- Where will Alexi Gomez play? After two decent performances from Carter Manley, do we look to play him instead of Nicholson?
- Would a formation change benefit the “slow start” the team has been having in matches? what kind of change? who would play where?
- When will Maximiano be ready to debut? has he fully recovered from his knee injury?
- Lastly, with the transfer window ending this week, do we make a late addition prior to the deadline?
There are so many questions that need answers, and so many answers without questions. The Loons have five home matches out of their next six; the month of May will be the easiest home stretch of the season as well, I fully expect that they win three out of their next six matches while tying to of those last three as well. This side should be in playoff position after the month of May, they really should be. I know there are a lot of thoughts on the current situation of the team, a four-game losing skid is hard to watch. Tonight ended that, tonight was the lighting of the match and next weekend will be the ignition of the fire. The month of May will have a burning flame, and that flame will hopefully stay lit from there on out. If you have any questions or comments, my DM’s are open as well as the comment section on this article! We would love to hear from you, and as always, #COYL.