We know how the Loon won’t try to “disorganize the opposition” with possession. That will not and should not change. Minnesota United will be compact defensively, because when they give up more then one goal they tend not to win. We know how they play in most phases of the game, but the one that Heath has always tinkered with is the final phase of attack.
A week ago I would have said the options were limited up top, but now Heath has a full set of attackers to choose from on Sunday night. That should have Minnesota fans excited, because it is something we haven’t seen in a long time.
Disclaimer, for the purpose of writing this I am going to be just focusing on the front attacking four Heath generally plays with in this system. I do not neglect that a lot of the players behind them have a sizeable impact on the final phase of attack.
As good of a year Kevin Molino has had if I’m Colorado I’m circling Emmanuel Reynoso’s name as many times as possible to underscore the importance of slowing him down. If a team successfully shuts down Reynoso, the Loons will find it nearly impossible to win. This is due to his uncanny ability to find the pass into space that allows the Loons to counter. Do not let him turn up field without fouling him at your own peril Colorado.
That being said, you would be naïve to not talk about how successful Molino has been this year. Not many expected the season Kevin has displayed, but looking back, nobody should surprised. The talent was always there with Molino to have this quality of a season, and I’m looking forward to seeing how he performs in elimination games.
What makes Molino special the ability to find the pockets of space between the midfield and defensive lines, but also in the half space. Many players can do this, but not many time it as well as Molino in MLS. In addition to this, he has the ability to stretch in behind the backline if needed. However, it is in the final phase this year where we see why Heath has always stood up for Kevin, he has been ruthless.
The addition of Reynoso has shown the best in Kevin Molino, but he isn't the biggest benefactor of the transfer. That honor belongs to Robin Lod. There was plenty of criticism thrown on Lod, and I go back and forth for whether or not it was valid. However, he has been playing very well as of late. I won’t go much more into him here as I just wrote about him the other day, so click here to read that.
If you’re noticing a trend of what attackers I’m talking about first, get ready for that to continue. Ethan Finlay does so many little things well, from the way he can trigger a counter pressing situation from out wide to his movement in transition and how he can flow between a multitude of roles from that right hand side. There’s a goal from MLS is Back, where Eli Hoff caught the sky angle from. Watch his recognition as the counter attack starts to take the space vacated by the striker and draw the left back in. This frees up space for the Loons to attack into, he then turns into a center forward mindset and continues to occupy the center back until the exact moment he knows the cut back is coming in.
#MNUFC scores off a counter-attack.— Eli Hoff (@byEliHoff) July 23, 2020
This is amazing ball movement from start to finish — and a great finish it was from Ethan Finlay to get solid contact on this one. #COLvMIN pic.twitter.com/MuzlWhlDcC
When this combination of players played the front four against Dallas, they were able to pull defenders all over the place and create havoc. I’m not sure if this is the right mix of players for consistent success, as I think any competent coach can prepare for that over two weeks going into the playoffs. It was really fun to watch though and some of the best attacking soccer the Loons have played all year. If I see this front four line up against Colorado, I will be very excited, and it could work.
The reason it works is due to the Loons have intelligent attackers who know they all can’t be on the ball at once. They make runs for each other and open up spaces for each other to fill. If a centerback is forced to step into midfield, someone exploits that space. This only works if everyone is on the same page to work for each other off of the ball. This was in part what Heath was going on about a few weeks ago. However, if they do not do this for each other it looks really bad. A well drilled, and generally veteran team, just sits back and let the opposition have advanced possession it can fall apart when there is no “Plan B” without making a substitution.
Heath loves making attacking substitutes, and the one to watch this post season will be Aaron Schoenfeld. This won’t take any Loons fans or the opposition by surprise, but it will catch some casuals by surprise when they watch Aaron play. He is an impactful substitute when uou need a goal, the relentlessness he presses with energizes everyone around him. Plus he is pretty good in front of goal, and is a threat off of corners (remember those from MLS is Back) as well as when it is desperation time to put it in the box. While seeing Aaron generally means we need a goal, seeing him come off the bench gives me confidence one is probably coming soon.
This leads me to Kei Kamara... and this is tough. I love the personality of Kei since he has joined the team late this year, and respect what he has done in the league and for his country in his time here. I’m unsure if the Loons will bring him back next year, and they have the option to if they want. If you don’t know some of Kei’s story it is well worth the watch.
I’m unsure if Kei is the right fit to start every game in the playoffs. That being said what he does offer could be the difference between winning and losing every game in the playoffs. Being a striker can be one of the most challenging positions in sports mentally. There is a ton of pressure associated with the position, being in the right spot at every moment literally allows your team to play it’s style. When you make a wrong step or are a second slow everyone knows. I have talked about the $10 million striker, and Kei isn’t that. Kei is a veteran, and a very reliable goal scorer over most of career. That has changed, and I think Kei has realized he can still play, but his role has to change to the guy who gets you the big goals when you need it. He knows now is that time.
So how does Kei do it, well generally he stays pretty central and gets involved in build up play. This causes movement from the center backs and dictates what the Loons do next. Kei is fantastic at this aspect of the game, and it truly does help the Loons to have this style of a “traditional 9” in this part of the game. When it comes to off the ball and defensively, Kei is good.
Where Kei would probably self admit is that he hasn’t scored. That takes time for most forward, but Kei’s situation wasn’t blessed with time so he had to figure it out for now. This is when we get to judge Kei Kamara, and here’s what we should be looking for.
Earlier in the season I talked briefly about Kei’s movement in the box and where he looks for the ball. He loves to a pass from the half space, to the area between 10-18 yards out. That’s where strikers score goals, the problem is that is where everyone else on this team likes to score goals. The Loons need someone to attack the front post in these situations. The Loons need to figure that out if they are going to play Kei, because it’s literally what defines the ceiling of this team.
I’d start Kei on Sunday for a variety of reasons, old team included. I know this may not be a popular decision based on what we saw versus Dallas, and I’m not sure who Heath leaves out of the Starting XI between (Reynoso, Molino, Lod, and Finlay). No matter what Heath chooses for Sunday, someone is going to feel hard done and disappointed.
That is ideal for a manager, and Heaths man management skills will come into play for this one. It should be a good one, and I’m excited to see the direction the Loons take this postseason.