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What to Expect on Sunday

Colorado comes to town, but the only team everyone should be talking about is the Loons.

November 8, 2020 - Saint Paul, Minnesota, United States - Minnesota United midfielder Kevin Molino (7) dribbles the ball as Minnesota United head coach Adrian Heath looks on during the match against FC Dallas at Allianz Field.
(Photo by Seth Steffenhagen/Steffenhagen Photography)

There is a saying in other sports about beating a team three times in a season. While that doesn’t apply directly here because of the 2-2 draw in “MLS is Back”, the concept of playing a team three times certainly applies.

Enter the Colorado Rapids for the third time, and here’s what I thought last time. Seriously, look at it because I’m not going to talk much more about them given they haven't changed their identity in the past month... except they have gotten results now.

Colorado has stability in the middle of the field that clearly defines their style of play. Colorado’s midfield three with the ball is arguably just as good as a fully healthy Minnesota. Where Minnesota United has the x-factor is how well they defend off the ball, and if they are able to get even one of Ozzie or Greguš cleared for Sunday the Loons should be able to easily counteract Colorado in possession. However, if Colorado wins this game it will because of their midfield three.

Last time we talked the players responded after Heath’s comments post game, where he personally went after me for talking about tactics and not about effort. I’ll try not to talk tactics, but playing a fluid front 4 worked for this group against Dallas. It worked because it gets the best out of your best attackers this year (Molino, Reynoso, Lod, and Finlay). When you watch Lod for Finland they are very fluid as a front 4. The big takeaway from international break is how well Lod looked, but the huge negative is how many minutes he had to play. Then you add that Finland played down a man for nearly the whole 90’ against Wales and Lod never stopped running, and you have a difficult recovery window ahead of Lod. However he did everything you’d want to see from him going into the playoffs, and showed again why playing him in a role that allows him to roam free and switch with Finlay on the right might be the best look for the Loons.

The cut away ruins this goal, but it is a quintessential Robin Lod goal.

The lack of a quarantine required if players are chartered back and test negative, is obviously huge for MNUFC. If that wasn’t going to be the case I had already started diving into solutions to the problem. Including a false 9 type system similar to what the USMNT did against Wales, where the two central 8’s pressed the wide spaces when the center back looked to switch to the outside backs (which Colorado will try to do). However, that isn’t needed and for all clarity there is no clear answer on who the Loons should prioritize if they can’t charter all four players back (Lod, Greguš, Kamara, and Métanire). The team is injured, and losing any more players would have made it very difficult to field a line up without using one of the new USL signings. So I reached out to people who had coached them and here is what they had to say.

Sam Gleadle was primarily played out of position as a left back, but was very serviceable there rather then on the wing, and is one of the fastest players in the USL. I would not have been surprised if Heath viewed Sam as a possible filler at right back, if Métanire was unable to be cleared for Sunday instead of playing Dotson or Hairston at full back. From talking to some of the coaches, they speak highly of Gleadle’s “engine” to go along with the speed, and has end product in the USL. Which generally means he could possibly make it in this league as a right back. this goal shows the type of player he is according to coaches and is exactly the type of players that work out wide in the final phase as an outside back for the Loons.

Kevin Partida plays well in the center of midfield who is known for being able to switch the point of attack, and press to win the ball back. Whether he is good enough to fill in for Ozzie Alonso is unlikely, maybe long term as a depth player and the Loons wanted to get a look now and add depth just in case. Trusting a new player in the middle is a lot more of an ask from a manager then trying a player out wide.

Finally you have a player who is really tough to define in Foster Langsdorf, who was a goal scorer in the USL who relied on his movement and well timed runs. Coaches, especially Heath, love those type of players in and around the box. Trusting him in a playoff game would have been huge, especially if Schoenfeld isn’t cleared to go, but as stated earlier the Loons looked good without a traditional 9 up top. So we will see what Heath does, especially now with the possibility of not having to quarantine after international duty. Kei Kamara was apparently chartered back, and would not be subjected to quarantine if he does not test positive in the meantime.

None of these three players are polished enough for a full season, and does not fill anyone with hope in a single elimination playoff game. However from talent acquisition late in a season to provide “break in case of emergency” type of players and having them fit your system are great if you find yourself in an emergency and could play a role next season if they are retained.

How Heath wants to approach this from an attacking shape will be intriguing. Without a traditional number 9 (Kei Kamara, Aaron Schoenfeld, or Foster Langsdorf) the Loons were able to manipulate the Dallas midfield and backline and cause them to step out of shape. One would assume Colorado would not do this, however there are opportunities to exploit the midfield defensively and find yourself in 1v1 situations with the center backs. This becomes more difficult, but not impossible with the more traditional number 9’s. What those 9’s do offer is the ability to attract both center backs when they make a run in behind and really open up the space for your midfield three. Assuming everyone is cleared, Heath will have some interesting line up decisions for Sunday night. If everyone isn’t cleared to play it starts to force his hand in other spots, but this group has proven time and time again it has the depth to beat teams like Colorado. The Loons seem as prepared as they can be given the circumstances, and that is something that should give you some room for hope. I have hope the Loons can do better then expected this post season, and yes I know hope is what kills you.

Anyway here is three points for Sunday:

  1. Force Colorado to play into 50/50’s off of the second ball
  2. Apply pressure on their outside backs in build up play
  3. Everyone enjoy the moment a career is only so long, and 2020 has been an adventure to end all adventures