Minnesota United’s season opening victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday night was, in many ways, about as good as can be expected for a first game from a team that had five new starters in the lineup.
So much of these early weeks is about learning, so here are five things we learned about United from the first match of the year:
Romain Metanire is the fullback of our dreams.
Metanire’s debut was absolutely fantastic. He was a constant presence on the right flank, from making three interceptions in defense to keeping himself involved in the attack. He flashed some of his speed as well, and it looks like the acquisition is easily going to pay off.
Francisco Calvo is a better left back than he is a centerback.
Calvo has now reiterated on a few occasions that he prefers playing as a central defender, but Adrian Heath deployed him as a left back on Saturday. Calvo likes to attack and move forward, something that’s easier to compensate for in a fullback role. His movement to the outside frees him up, which he took full advantage of. It was Calvo who went down to draw the first half penalty, and he ended up scoring the Loons’ second goal from the right post. That freedom to move suits him well.
*much* better FB than CB. One of the top LBs in the league to be honest.https://t.co/1ryeeCMqm9— Matthew Doyle (@MattDoyle76) March 3, 2019
Vito Mannone will be a solid goalkeeper.
Even though the Loons conceded two goals (more on that below), Vito was largely strong. He appeared confident throughout, which is important, considering he was playing in his first MLS game after spending a few days earlier this week back in England to sort out his papers. His distribution seemed good and his ability to catch and smother shots was an upgrade from Bobby Shuttleworth. Obviously, time will tell with Mannone, but this was a promising start.
Set-piece defending will have to wait ‘til Year Four.
This marking scheme leaves, uh, something to be desired.
GIF: Some things change, some things stay the same. Remade #MNUFC gives up an early goal on the road via free kick and trail Vancouver 1-0 after the sixth minute. Looked like Francisco Calvo and Jan Gregus were two #Loons far from on-point to start 2019 season. pic.twitter.com/BEAQCxbCNT— Andy Greder (@andygreder) March 2, 2019
GIF: #MNUFC concedes ANOTHER goal on a set piece. It's stunning how wide open Vancouver's Doneil Henry was able to get to for a header to cut #Loons' lead to 3-2 in 81st minute. Michael Boxall and Ike Opara were *nearest* defenders. pic.twitter.com/J6ZNZtbdIU— Andy Greder (@andygreder) March 3, 2019
Minnesota figured out set-piece defending eventually last year, but that transition hasn’t happened yet. With all of the new players coming on the defensive side (Jan Greguš’s height makes him a defender here), communication could be a factor. Hopefully this will be addressed in training before it becomes a problem like last year.
Ozzie Alonso will play exactly like you think he will...
...which is to say, aggressively. He picked up an early yellow card and racked up four fouls, including one that Vancouver fans thought warranted a second yellow. But, most importantly, he had seven tackles and was consistently closing down Whitecaps players. He showed the difference that a rock-solid defensive midfield can make for Minnesota.