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How to Beat Seattle

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Hint: It’s a lot easier with players like Reynoso and Molino

November 8, 2020 - Saint Paul, Minnesota, United States - Minnesota United midfielders Emanuel Reynoso (10) and Kevin Molino (7) celebrate a goal they scored together against with FC Dallas at Allianz Field.
(Photo by Seth Steffenhagen/Steffenhagen Photography)

The power of mentality is pretty powerful, huh?

There is a famous quote by Benjamin E. Mays, who in his many accomplishments is credited with laying the intellectual foundations of the American civil rights movement.

Our failures aren’t our personal tragedies, our complacency is. Not because we do too little, but because we choose not to live above our abilities. It’s a stretch to compare a soccer team advancing in a playoff to an under appreciated American leaders effort for civil rights. However, motivation comes from all places and the urge to “pinch yourselves” and not reaching above your ability is a true tragedy in life.

Will Minnesota United reach above their perceived abilities against Seattle Sounders on Monday? Maybe, but if they do they won’t be reaching as far as everyone seems to believe.

If you ask my boss it comes down to scoring more goals then the opponent, and he is right. How you go about doing that becomes more complex. However when you have players in the run of form that Emanuel Reynoso and Kevin Molino are in, it becomes a bit easier.

The second Molino goal wasn’t even the most impressive one for me from a team evaluation stand point. Molino has a bit of creativity to get the ball to Reynoso who fins space in between the lines. When Reynoso gets the ball in this space this triggers everyone to try and get in behind the Sporting Kansas City defense and you can see the verticality of the Loons attack engage. The entire SKC backline is caught in “no mans land” where they are too high up where there is nothing they can do to force Molino into a difficult shot, but also too far back where they allow the Loons attackers to run into space at full speed.

This is how the Loons attack, and its very difficult to defend even for the best drilled defensive units (which Seattle is not).

Okay... you can watch this one too...

The first 10’ were the most crucial stretch of the game for the Loons on Thursday, and it will be a similar story against Seattle as well. Dayne St. Clair kept the Loons in this game, and has been so far this post season. The great part about this, is how he makes a difficult save look like a simple save. It is very difficult to keep his feet as disciplined as he does when he goes across the line and get them set so he can make this save. However he needs to make these early saves like he did against SKC and similar ones he had against Colorado, if the Loons are to continue in the playoffs.

So how can the Loons “upset” Seattle on Monday night? Simply, the same way they have been winning all post season. As Dallas showed us, when Raúl Ruidíaz drops to find more of the ball in possession this is the time to press. He often turns the ball over in situations such as these and Seattle becomes vulnerable to a counter attack, because of how they love to push numbers forward. I’ll stick to analyzing just the first half here, because I think it has the best clips to unpack.

The interesting part in this clip is how much Seattle’s backline drops off. Looks similar to what SKC did on the first Molino goal, huh?

These are the early moments when the Loons need to have that mentality of a champion and be ruthless and put Seattle on the backfoot early. This chance will happen early on for the Loons and they need to capitalize. I talked about complacency earlier, and you can see this often in how a team gets back into shape to win a second ball. Watch Seattle’s players who are higher up the field react to the ball go over their head, casual walking pace to a second ball. I’m noting that if I’m the Loons, because if Dallas was more aggressive here it’s an opportunity in the final phase.

If you don’t take your chances early against Seattle their possession builds and builds as you defend deeper, they get these moments where they can start to dissect you. Control the moments you can control. Track your runners and defend well in your 1v1, 2v2, and 3v3 situations.

The one moment of the game the Loons need to be most wary about is when Jordan Morris gets the ball out wide in a 1v1 situation with space between him and the next defender. Seattle’s offense starts to move quickly with a runner trying to imbalance and confuse the defense. This is how Morris gets his goals, or creates wide open opportunities for others. You negate this by staying disciplined and taking away the angles, similar to what Dallas does here

If you’ve noticed I haven’t talked much about the threat of Ruidíaz, despite how much I talk about how the Loons need a player like him. Dallas did a great job of limiting his space and time on the ball in and around the 18. The Loons will look to replicate that, but tracking someone like him consistently is a nightmare.

Enter Ozzie Alonso, this is the space Ruidíaz loves to exploit, and it is the space Ozzie is primarily responsible for covering in these moments. This will be the matchup to watch for the Loons, simply because it is always fun to watch Ozzie be consistently excellent in frustrating the opposition in and around the 18.

If you let Seattle get into a set defensive shape, good luck. They are coached very well, and know how to defend in blocks. Your chance is to try and hit them in transition where they are most vulnerable and make the most mistakes in defensive situations.

Seattle will give up moments that the Loons have exploited all season. I don’t see how this game ends with Seattle having a clean sheet, unless Stefan Frei has one of those days like he has had in previous MLS Cups.

It’s not about parking a bus or pressing like crazy, it’s about finding that balance between defensive in moments where you need to be and recognize triggers to press. When the moment is right sending numbers forward, recognizing these moments fall on Heath and his staff. Not to shout them out and “joystick” from the sidelines, but to make the players aware of these moments and recognize them for themselves.

“We are off to see (and beat) the Wizard(s)” was great, but following the Yellow Brick Road to the “Emerald City” is even better. With what 2020 has been, the Wizard of Oz storyline seems fitting because this all seems like a dream.

Three Keys to the Game:

  1. Consistently Relentless
  2. Defend as a unit, and protect the cut backs
  3. Live in the moment