When I sat down to look through film from Minnesota United’s three preseason games in the Portland Timbers’ tournament, I found myself thinking of a quote from Loons manager Adrian Heath that regularly popped up in his press conferences during my time covering the team: “Goals change games.”
He’s certainly not wrong about that, so that’s my approach to this little analysis. We’ll break down all of the goals – scored and conceded – from the three final preseason matches and speculate as to what those game-changers might mean for the 2020 season.
A big ol’ note of warning: Preseason is not a good time for good analysis. Non-competitive games are, rather obviously, not a good indicator of what will happen in competitive ones. There’s a reason no one remembers what happened in preseason come November, or even April. By only looking into the goals from these three games, our sample size is ridiculously small.
That doesn’t mean we can’t have a little bit of fun, though. Onto our breakdown, in chronological order by game:
MIN  - 0 NE (Luis Amarilla)
This goal made a pretty good start to things for new forward Luis Amarilla.
Kevin Molino is given plenty of space on the left wing, and his in-swinging cross is hit pretty much perfectly as a result. He’s able to lead his target – Amarilla here – nicely, and the ball reaches its final destination in ideal fashion. It demands mention that the Revolution defender marking Amarilla, Michael Mancienne, should probably get to this ball first. He was in a decent position to do so, but was caught slightly flat-footed and was only able to flail a leg at the ball.
Amarilla’s finish is exquisite here. Because of Mancienne’s presence, it becomes difficult for him to perfectly track the ball and where it will come to him. He’s timed his run perfectly from an offside perspective, and is actually able to catch up to the cross. New England ‘keeper Matt Turner’s positioning isn’t fantastic – he’s a bit far off his line and too close to Mancienne – which allows Amarilla to simply hit the ball to the other side of the goal, which is wide open.
Crossing regularly felt like a futile strategy for the Loons last year, so plays like this would be a welcome change.
MIN 1 -  NE (Adam Buksa)
In all honesty, this goal says more about the Revs than it does the Loons – pressing’s a nice strategy.
Tyler Miller makes the right move in passing the ball rightward to Michael Boxall. From there, it’s mostly great offensive defense from New England. Boxall takes what might be a touch too many, getting himself into a pickle:
This screengrab isn’t from moment when Boxall would necessarily be able to pass the ball, considering he’s trying to get past an opposition player, but notice there are eight New England players on United’s side of the field (or, well, the frame). Also, and quite importantly, they have just about every Minnesota player closed down. There aren’t any attractive options for Boxall to pass to, which is why he tries to dump it off to Chase Gasper on the sideline.
Gasper, for his part, does not receive the ball in an ideal situation. He takes a touch to send the ball back inside, presumably to then turn up the field, but that touch is harder than optimal, and results in a turnover.
Whenever the opposing team recovers the ball 30-some yards from goal, switching to defense mode is going to be difficult. Jose Aja is the defender left on the opposite side of the field, and a centerback can only cover so much empty space. He marks up on Buksa, but there are multiple threats, and Aja gets beat with a dump-off pass in a two-on-one situation.
Miller’s goalkeeping on this play is actually a positive. As soon as the Revs switch the field, Miller stays on the far side of the goal, not coming too far off his line or anchoring himself. Buksa’s shot glances in off the post, likely out of necessity. We don’t have a camera angle from behind the goal, but it looks like Miller’s positioning only gave Buksa a very tight window to place the shot – a good recovery. Aja’s probably close enough to the ball that he could have deflected it, but he looks to be off-balance and actually tries to get out of the way, perhaps thinking the shot was on a trajectory out of bounds.
To be clear, this is a phenomenal press from New England. Look back at that freeze frame and admire the spacing of the Revolution’s midfield and how they’ve closed down so many United players. Tactical art.
MIN  - 1 NE (Luis Amarilla PK)
Penalties are straightforward: they’re a guessing game. That said, it’s great placement by Amarilla.
Forgive me for my lack of trigonometric skills, but this freeze frame looks like when the ball crosses the goal line, more or less. Good luck to any goalkeeper who wants to try and get to a shot placed here while diving laterally.
MIN 2 -  NE (Gustavo Bou)
So, New England’s press wreaked a little bit of havoc in this game. This goal comes from a long sequence, and it’s an entirely chaotic one from a Minnesota perspective.
The Revolution’s press doesn’t look as systematic as it does on the earlier goal because this isn’t as much a situation of building out of the back on a goal kick.
It starts off well. Romain Metanire gets the ball after a field switch and has plenty of room to run. Ethan Finlay’s playing atop the formation in this particular situation, and Metanire sends it back inside to him. Instead of holding the ball up – an acceptable choice, considering Finlay isn’t a striker – the winger dribbles back toward his own goal.
Finlay runs into some traffic, perhaps the reason he decides it’s time to pass the ball off to Michael Boxall. There’s a Revolution player charging at Boxall, but that’s created an opening: fullback Chase Gasper is wide open on the left flank. Boxall looks to be lining up a one-touch pass in that direction, but Finlay’s dump-off doesn’t have enough pace on it.
Boxall, as a big defender, is actually able to recover the ball after a sloppy touch from the Revolution. Ideally, things would settle down after that, but they don’t.
Boxall has an opening to move forward after getting the ball back, but he doesn’t look particularly comfortable in that situation. Kevin Molino tracks back to receive a short pass, but then, for some reason, sends the ball down the right flank of his own defense. It ends up being a perfect assist to the Revs’ Gustavo Bou. Tyler Miller’s quick to charge off his line, but there’s not much he can do.
The core issue with conceding this particular goal seems to be attackers playing with their backs to the goal or while tracking back to receive the ball. Sloppy passes sent back toward the defense tend to create easy opportunities for the opposition – which makes a good deal of sense.
MIN 0 -  POR (Dairon Asprilla)
Holy guacamole. This is, to put it lightly, quite a hit from Dairon Asprilla. Defensively, it’s hard to criticize much from Minnesota United. He gets the ball onto his right foot and finds just enough of a window to get a shot off, even with a teammate about to cross in front of his field of vision. That effort happens to go right into the top corner.
Not much the Loons can do about goals like this.
MIN  - 1 POR (Raheem Edwards)
Ooh, this is a fun one. There’s a lot to enjoy.
First is a touch from Thomas Chacon that is quite simply not safe for work:
Silky. Of course, this isn’t a move that can be counted on all the time, but it does showcase the balance and ball control that Chacon has, meaning he’ll take advantage of defenders who overcommit while defending him.
His overall balance comes into play on the next part of this sequence. As he approaches the penalty area, he keeps his eyes up, not giving anything away to the Portland defender who doesn’t appear on the team’s current roster. This allows Mason Toye, who’s already separated himself from his marker, to slip behind the unidentified No. 76.
Toye only takes one touch in this sequence. He squares himself up, then sends what looks to be a blind cross on the ground through traffic.
Ordinarily, that type of pass might not be the most successful – it’s easy to deflect when it’s on the ground – but it clears a sliding Loon and accompanying defender to make it across the face of the goal.
That’s where Raheem Edwards is charging goalward to blast the ball in.
This is a sequence that feels like it wouldn’t have happened in years past. Had one of the now-departed attackers been on the ball, there would have been an errant shot arcing well over the crossbar. Edwards’ run also feels like something that wouldn’t have regularly happened in the past. Perhaps part of United’s crossing problems last season had something to do with a lack of secondary runs and crashing the goalmouth.
MIN  - 1 POR (Raheem Edwards)
The Mason Toye-Raheem Edwards connection is starting to look pretty promising. This play has a fairly similar set-up to the last one, with Thomas Chacon getting the ball to Toye, who then crosses it in to find Edwards at the far post.
This is quite the cross from Toye, especially for a striker. He gets around on the ball well and chips it enough that it’s the type of cross a player can square up on for a header. That’s exactly what Edwards does, sending in a header with enough power to go in with two defenders and a ‘keeper in the area.
Again, this type of play – straightforward – is what bodes well in preseason play. While fancy footwork and bangers from well outside the box get fans drooling with excitement for the start of the season, goals like this one show chemistry and fundamental solidity.
MIN  - 1 POR (Thomas Chacon)
Another straightforward goal that might hint at a new strategy for United. The key part of this play isn’t the build-up – it’s Thomas Chacon lurking in space on the opposite side of the goalmouth to mop up a rebound. He does just that, but also throws in a little bit of skill.
We already looked at Chacon’s footwork and balance – clearly that’s an asset – but yet another goal coming off a rebound here shows what might, hopefully, be a new trend for the Loons: following up on shots and deploying secondary runs.
Chacon’s positioning during this play isn’t really set up to be crossable – he’s a bit close to the goal for it. He is however, in a great spot to get a rebound. That all four goals in this game (sorry to spoil the next one) come off of rebounds is a testament to what can happen when a team places an emphasis on following up shots.
MIN  - 1 POR (Luis Amarilla)
At this point, I’m running out of nice things to say about Minnesota United and scoring off of rebounds. First, the initial shot from Ethan Finlay is actually a good one – it’s a narrow save – but Luis Amarilla’s supporting run is excellent. He stays close to Finlay for the purpose of mopping up a potential rebound, and he’s rewarded for that with an easy finish.
Let all four of the Loons’ goals in this second match serve as a reminder: the board man gets paid.
MIN 4 -  POR (Ken Krolicki)
In case you needed an example of analyzing a preseason game occasionally being meaningless, there’s this game. Both Portland goals are on the defensive fluke side of the spectrum. Michael Boxall does a good job of initially getting the ball – the problem is that Ken Krolicki wanted to shoot as soon as he got it.
Look at the size of the window he fit the shot in:
You can’t see the goal in the frame, but you can see the channel the ball went through. Again, not much that can be done about goals like this.
MIN  - 0 VAN (Ethan Finlay)
By this point, we’re starting to see a trend in United’s goalscoring: a lot goes down the left flank and results in crosses to the opposite post. That’s true in this instance as well. It’s also another Kevin Molino assist and another low cross.
Ethan Finlay’s finish on this particular goal is a little fluky. His slide is on point, but the path the ball takes into the goal seems a bit lucky. It’s still a play that’s likely to produce positive returns, but this is another instance of small sample size being a factor.
MIN 1 -  (Lucas Cavallini)
We’ll keep the analysis brief: it’s a penalty, and Tyler Miller guesses wrong.
That said, there’s something to take away from it:
Pardon the fuzzy screengrab, but this is more or less when the ball crosses the goal line. Look at the reach Tyler Miller has with his dive. He’s already realized he guessed wrong – notice how he’s watching it go in – so this isn’t quite full extension. Nonetheless, he’s sealed off a significant portion of the left side of the goal.
MIN 1 -  (Fredy Montero)
Situationally, this goal is a bit of a back-breaker, a 90th minute winner for the ‘Caps. It’s also tough because Minnesota does a lot of things right from a defensive perspective.
Romain Metanire keeps himself in good position, continuing to restrict his mark’s ability to turn inside. The Vancouver player is, however, able to squeeze off a fairly blind cross.
It’s really not a great cross, but Fredy Montero happens to be in the perfectly wrong spot on the opposite side of the box. He also happens to hit it first time toward the near post, and it happens to go in. Chase Gasper looks to close off the angle to send the ball back into the six-yard box, and Tyler Miller follows the cross well to that post. There’s just a lot of power behind Montero’s effort.
As a whole, the Loons execute well on this play. If this sequence played out 100 times, a goal like this would probably only happen a couple of times. As always, soccer is a big-picture, large sample size game, except for 90th-minute winners.
Once again, it’s not good practice to try to take much away from these three games. That said, a couple of observations:
Crossing suddenly looks like a viable offensive option for Minnesota United. Players making supporting runs and hanging around for rebounds make things look more promising.
Defensively, most of the goals analyzed above seem to be some sort of fluke, or there are positives to still be taken. Pressing might also be a concern, but that could be more a testament to the Revolution’s style or the nature of players shaking off rust and learning each others’ styles.
Thoughts on Minnesota United’s preseason performance? Let us know in the comments section below!