The bird was the word at an empty Allianz Field on Saturday night, when Minnesota United emerged with the club’s first ever MLS playoff win, a 3-0 victory over the Colorado Rapids.
Even though Colorado came away from the game thinking it should have won (OK then...) the Loons were the better team for the bulk of the game, save the early minutes of each half.
Let’s look at our takeaways from this game.
Dribbles create goals
Those of you who listened to Jacob Schneider and I talk about United’s MLS is Back Tournament run might remember how much I love Kevin Molino’s ability to advance the ball on the dribble.
It’s immensely valuable, and Molino isn’t the only one able to do it now, either.
Emanuel Reynoso is also a heck of a dribbler (and passer, but we’ll get to that), and the two put on a show for the Loons’ first goal.
Gonna leave this as an example of why skilled dribblers are so valuable in traffic in the attacking third… and #MNUFC’s used both of theirs here. pic.twitter.com/zXRp5U4p9D— Eli Hoff (@byEliHoff) November 23, 2020
There’s a lot going on here, and some of it is the classic cross-sports tactic of luck, so let’s break it down.
This goal sequence comes right off a throw in, which isn’t something you see every game.
The throw goes to Molino, who’s strength makes him remarkably good at holding off defenders for someone his size. He’s got a player right on his back, which is pretty typical on a throw sequence — throw ins give the defense time to reset and mark up. Usually, he would play the ball back to the thrower, who’s rarely marked when stepping back into play.
But Reynoso starts cutting in toward the top of the penalty area, which Molino picks up on and foot-shoves him the ball. (The pass could be a nutmeg, actually, from the angle above.) It’s a difficult pass because Molino lacks much (any) space at all, but he gets it off and Reynoso’s on the run.
Once Reynoso is on the ball, we see why skilled dribblers are so valuable in the attacking third. Watch how many Rapids players move out of position to follow him. I count three that fully commit, plus another two that drift in his direction. By moving mostly horizontally, he keeps dragging them away.
Normally, this is valuable for that reason: there’s more space for other attackers if a pass is played. But Reynoso shows off the other value, which is drawing contact and hopefully a foul. He decides to cut almost 90 degrees to run straight toward goal right when he’s got a defender on that side of him. Why? Because turning into and tripping over a defender’s outstretched leg is a good way to draw a foul.
That’s what Reynoso tries to do, it looks like. He goes down and the defender — Lalas Abubakar — puts his hands up to plead not guilty. That’s normally where this sequence would stop.
Molino, being the smart and shifty attacker he is, moved through a couple channels to make the type of run that would allow Reynoso to slip him the ball as he burst through the back line. The timing was such, though, that when Reynoso went down, Molino just picked up the ball, shot, and scored.
“If Robin Lod, Reynoso and Molino are fit and healthy and all playing well, I don’t think there’s many better attacking midfielders behind a striker in the league than them,” United coach Adrian Heath said after the game. “I really don’t. I thought some of our combination play and imagination to play with each other and to get people in on goal.”
Dimes on dimes on dimes
There were some tremendous passes to be had, like Reynoso’s second assist:
Something of a case for Robin Lod as an inverted winger?— Eli Hoff (@byEliHoff) November 23, 2020
Also Reynoso is handing out dimes tonight for #MNUFC.#MINvCOL pic.twitter.com/muJTFP7J6d
Reynoso was 34 for 39, which is a really good percentage for an attacking midfielder. And three of those were assists, so yeah. Pretty good.
Another highlight on the passing front was centerback Bakaye Dibassy, who went 57 for 58, only missing on a long ball.
Least involved in the passing game for the Loons? Ethan Finlay, who only misplaced one ball, but attempted just 15 passes, three of them in a forward direction.
Interesting among passing trends was the emphasis on the left side for the Loons. While a Romain Metanire-Finlay right usually gets more action, the Chase-Gasper Molino connection proved much stronger.
United’s top two passing combinations were Dibassy to Gasper and Gasper to Molino.
Hassani Dotson put in a decent shift at right back, especially since the Rapids targeted that flank with the occasional overload:
#MNUFC’s right side defensive struggles shown perfectly in this clip. Acosta’s overlapping runs have been problematic all night.— Eli Hoff (@byEliHoff) November 23, 2020
(Really great interception from Hairston, channeling his inner Ozzie, though.) #MINvCOL pic.twitter.com/pZ06MO9M0A
“They were (overloading that side),” Heath said. “But sometimes that’s not to do with the fullback — that has to do with people in front. They moved the ball well down the side of the field.”
Curious how those people farther up the field operated? Minnesota’s fluid front four ended up looking a bit like a narrow 4-3-3 in average positioning data from WhoScored. It’s a flawed metric in terms of fluidity, though, since spending time on both sides of the field would give a central average position.
Have thoughts on the game? Drop them in the comments below!