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The “Striker Whisperer” needs to get the Loons scoring

Coach Steve tells Adrian how to do that

MLS: Minnesota United FC at Orlando City SC Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

5 games in 18 days. That’s far from ideal, but so is only scoring 5 goals in those games.

However when you look at the table, you will see Minnesota United is in the top 10 for goals scored. So, what is going on up front?

Disclaimer: Every time I write about the Loons I try to be descriptive, rather then prescriptive. That may change today...

First off the Loons dip in form up front is mostly to blame on the ridiculous amount of fixture congestion MLS has implemented to try and cram in a longer season. It is inexcusable from Major League Soccer, in terms of health of the players and trying to have a quality level of play on the field. However, every team is dealing with that so why the slump for the Loons?

The underlying numbers over the course of the season say we shouldn’t be worrying. The Loons are Top 10 in Goals For, Expected Goals (xG), and Goals Added (g+). Goals Added in simple terms is how much each touch changes their team’s chances of scoring and conceding in the same statistical measure. So in essence it measures are you more likely to score or your opponent on every touch taken.

This tells me the Loons are advancing the ball up the field, creating chances, and scoring goals at a playoff team level over the course of the season. What about the last few games?

Last 5 Games xG

Opp. GF xG
Opp. GF xG
@ NSH 0 1.97
v CIN 2 1.79
v RSL 0 1.25
@ CLB 1 1.49
@ HOU 2 1.56
5 8.06
Data from American Soccer Analysis

Over the course if the season, MNUFC were scoring as many or more goals then they were expected to score. The past 5 games are a reversal on that, especially at Nashville. The question nobody knows is this current run of form in front of goal the outlier or was the beginning of the season where we out performed xG the outlier?

Here’s the part where I lose my discipline on being descriptive and start prescribing how to fix it, and it’s not complex.

Step One: Create More Chances

Play Kevin Molino and Emanuel Reynoso together, and I think come the knockout games Heath will. Whether you have Ethan Finlay or Robin Lod on the right based on opposition and what the moment in the game calls for.

Step Two: Score More Goals

Create more chances, and hopefully score more goals. Pretty simple math.

In all seriousness, the team is adjusting to a new striker up top and how to play underneath Kei Kamara. Yes there are similarities between Kei and other strikers on the roster, and the system of play are still the same. However there are subtle differences in the way Kei attacks in the 18. You look at Kei and assume he’s always looking to attack one of the posts, however in transition moments he is also looking for the ball played to the top of the 18 like on Molino’s goal versus Cincinnati.

When you go through the highlights on his home debut against Real Salt Lake (in my opinion the best performance from Kei so far), you see the similar pattern of looking for the ball at the top of the box for a moment and then making the movement towards the six yard box.

They say the best teams have a style or a pattern they are going to score from. Think Manchester City or Arsenal building from the back with progressive possession, or Liverpool counter pressing in key areas and exploiting the areas to attack with purpose, or Bayern Munich’s reliance on overloading in wide areas to create one on ones for their attackers.

The Loon’s have routinely tried to create mismatches out wide to find service into the 18 with a low driven cross, if the counter attack isn’t on. Finding the striker who will capitalize on these chances is going to be the key for how much they achieve now and in the future.

Once again watch how Kei moves against RSL near the 18, my guess is by the end of the season they are finding him with good service and he is finishing more then he has been.

So why have they been struggling to score goals lately if they have an identity and someone who fits it?

Congestion of games truly impacts the intensity a team attacks with, especially a team that looks to take advantage of opportunities in transition. However learning where a striker will make their movements and at what moments they will appear in the windows in and around the box also takes patience that sometimes we as fans don’t have. It sounds simple, but the speed the game is played at where windows are open and closed takes time and trust.

I’m not panicking about the Loons scoring drought yet, but I’m going to start getting very concerned really soon if they don’t turn it around before they play FC Cincinnati again in a few weeks (if they are playing in a few weeks that is...)

There is always one way to attempt to solve goal scoring issues, and fans love it. That way usually involves spending lots of money and using a Designated Player slot on a striker. The Loons are reportedly looking at bringing in another 9 this season, with the possibility of Luis Amarilla out for the year.

When it comes to acquiring a striker Heath should be concerned with the bigger long-term picture, and not a win all approach this year. Mostly because nobody is available at this time in a window and the timetable to be able to contribute is almost impossible for this year. Especially in a must win situation right now, given the time it takes to adjust to new strikers in systems of play. Let alone adjusting to a new league, and a new country in the middle of a global pandemic.

I’ve gone on about finding a “$10 million” striker, and it still applies. If you want to win MLS Cup you need a top striker in the league, with an organized system of play behind you. Whether that striker is coming from Europe or from Central and South America, it doesn’t really matter given the mix of backgrounds and cultures in the club already. What does matter is the fit within the system in the team, so the surrounding parts don’t have to change much.

We know the style of striker Heath likes, so if they do go in the market now, for next year, we know its probably for a more traditional center forward. This doesn’t mean abandoning Kei Kamara as an option in Minnesota, but supplementing him with someone who they want to be the star for the next few years. This person needs to be someone you can mention in the same breath as Josef, Pulido, and Ruidíaz but in the style that fits MNUFC. No offense to the strikers have had over the years, but none of them are even remotely close to that level. This is what is required to win a title, and that has to be the goal if the Loons want to be successful.

What does this have to do with the run of games the Loons have had? Not much, besides that what the Loons struggle with or succeed with now, impacts what they prioritize in the future. If MNUFC weren’t struggling with scoring goals, they wouldn’t be entertaining the idea of bringing in a DP striker. If they are truly considering it, they need to go big, and given everything is going on with global soccer economy the best time to get that player could be right now.