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Loons adapt, overcome Red Bulls in final away game before opening Allianz Field

Two key absences and a change of formation did not prevent the Loons from have success in their final game before opening Allianz Field

MLS: Minnesota United FC at New York Red Bulls Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

After a lackluster last time out of the Loons, even the most bullish of fans could have been excused for having qualms about the trip to the Red Bulls. The first 20 minutes of the game did nothing to belay the fears that fans had that this would be a repeat of last week. Poor turnovers, misplaced passes between the midfielders and center backs, and a couple slips at inopportune times in attack smacked of today being ‘just one of those days.’ Absences from Darwin Quintero, Miguel Ibarra, and a less than fit Rasmus Schuller meant that Ethan Finlay, Brent Kallman, and Abu Danladi got their first starts of the season, and the made the most of it.

MLS: Minnesota United FC at New York Red Bulls Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Without Quintero, the Loons didn’t have a natural focal point to their attack. Instead of trying to shoehorn another player into the role that he played so well for the last year, Adrian Heath opted for a different setup entirely. Kallman joined Opara and Boxall in a 3-man backline while Finlay and Danladi flanked Angelo Rodriguez up top. That left Gregus and Ozzie alone in the midfield, responsible for shuttling back and forth and covering a lot of ground. This lineup wasn’t set up to control the game and create a lot of chances, they were set up to frustrate and stymie the Red Bulls. The speed of Danladi and Finlay on the wings came into play with the excellent holdup work of Rodriguez.

The first goal came off of a ball swung in from Romaine Metanaire onto the chest of Rodriquez and into the path of Danladi. After having a shot blocked in the first 20 minutes, Danladi didn’t allow the defenders any time to close him down by dispatching his first time shot into the bottom right corner. At the time the goal went in, the Loons only had four players within 35 yards of the goal: the three involved and Finlay. The Loons may have set up like they were playing for a point to hit Heath’s mystical seven point target, but their play suggested otherwise. Half a week of preparing sans Quintero did well to prepare the team to hit the Red Bulls on the counter.

At halftime, Heath opted to switch Danladi for Romario Ibarra at halftime. Their weren’t any signs of injury and he was on the field after the game celebrating with the team The commentary team alluded to the possibility that the coaching staff was trying to limit Danladi’s minutes as he comes back from injury.

Five minutes into the second half, Danladi could have had his second, which would have been a great tally on his return to the starting lineup. Nevertheless, after another brilliant piece of holdup play from Rodriguez, Romario was on hand to spectacularly volley home after the rebound fell to him 8 yards from goal. This goal was essentially a mirror image of the first: cross from the wingback into the chest of Rodriguez, finish by the left winger. The difference was that on Romario’s goal Rodriguez took on the shot himself and the ball fell to Romario, rather that it being a deliberate pass. Again, the only three players in the box were Romario, Rodriguez, and Finlay.

After the goal, the Loons’ tactics didn’t a whole lot until the subs came in. They were already sitting fairly deep and not trying to possess the ball high up the field. While falling into a shelling and letting the team come at you time and time again doesn’t normally bode well, the extra centerback meant that one could track Bradley Wright-Phillips, another could make a play on the near post cross, and there was still a free player to pick up knock downs. The downside of this was that all the first time clearances lead to a lot of corners for the Red Bulls, and it was through a corner than the Red Bulls clawed their way back into the game. Mannone spilled a header from the corner and Cristian Casseres managed to squeeze the ball between Mannone, Calvo, and the post.

Shortly after the Red Bulls made it 2-1, Rasmus Schuller and Hassani Dotson came on for Rodriguez and Finlay as the Loons really shut up shop. Rather than deploying Dotson and Schuller higher like their predecessors, they sat underneath Romario, now at striker, but slightly higher than Gregus and Alonso, allowing the Loons to put a little more pressure on the Red Bull midfielders, without pulling Gregus and Alonso higher and giving the Red Bulls space in front of the centerbacks.

The Loons hadn’t played with three centerbacks since the 2-0 loss against Sporting KC last August. Miguel Ibarra and Darwin Quintero will presumably be healthy next week, meaning that at least one player could be dropped from today’s Starting Eleven. Every player on the field today proved that they deserve to start in the Allianz Field debut match, particularly the four across the midfield, giving Adrian Heath the kind of selection headache that every coach would love to have.