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Principles of Play: The Final Phase

As the Loons prepare for Phase 2 of return to play, we take a deeper look into how the team played tactically in the first phase. Next up is why we all show up to the game, goals.

September 6, 2020 - Saint Paul, Minnesota, United States - Minnesota United midfielder Kevin Molino (7) flicks the ball back to Raheem Edwards (44) which leads to a goal scored by Jacori Hayes (5) at Allianz Field
(Photo by Seth Steffenhagen/Steffenhagen Photography)

Yesterday we looked at how the Loons like to find the attackers in space to attack.

Today we get to look at how they exploit that space and try and turn it into goals.

The final phase of attack can be made pretty simple, find open people in positions where they can score. It can also be made very complex as the decisions are made in split second scenarios, where decisions have to be fast due to the congestion of people in a more confined area of the field.

MNUFC has a general shape that they leave build up play in, with the full backs occupying the wide areas and charging forward. When this happens the 6 is dropped between the two center backs. Given the in game situation, sometimes the 8 will stay a bit further back closer to the back line and the non ball side outside back will stay 5-10 yards further back then normal.

Normal is nearly everyone committed forward and in the center of the field, to try and exploit the space the opposition chooses not to defend. Every team will take away the center of the field, so it comes down to attacking the half space, or finding an outside back out wide to find service into the box.

Attacking in the final phase isn’t complex, the movements are simple, what makes it difficult is having to adapt when situations collapse around you. This cannot be coached and comes down to experience and talent.

The recent acquisition Emanuel ‘Bebelo’ Reynoso was one that was a drawn out process, but now having see how he fits into the group, you can see why the Loons were so insistent and patient to get him in Minnesota. He is not a Darwin style 10 where they are more focused on the spectacular and scoring goals, while that is very entertaining and is a viable strategy. With the surrounding player Minnesota needed a 10 who would be more involved in link up around the 18, specifically in ‘Zone 14’.

The underlying advanced statistics on Reynoso’s first 200’ don’t look that impressive. He isn’t creating expected goals, which you hope a 10 would do, but it’s a very small sample size. What you are seeing is the creation of opportunities like this, where he intelligently finds the space and set up the attack by making the simple play.

Some people may hate on Doyle, but he described the simple in a simple way. Nothing about the goal is complex, but that is how the Loons play in front of goal. It works for this team, they are 9th in xG as a team, and have scored more goals then they are expected to according to American Soccer Analysis. Reynoso’s xG may not be that high of a number come the end of the season, but he will contribute to the Loons continuing to create better goal scoring opportunities then their opposition.

Think back to when the Loons played at SKC without a true 10 and how they struggled to create many meaningful chances. That was down to a variety of things, but not having a central play-maker high up the field was a huge part of that. 2.49 compared to .36 is almost insurmountable, the Loons were lucky it was only 1-0 in SKC.

Many people think the final phase comes down to the play of the 10, and neglect the role of the 9 in creating chances. When you play with a central striker alone up top, the movement of everyone depends on the movement of the striker. When the 9 checks to the ball, everyone is looking to find a lay off underneath the striker to then take the space or play a ball forward to someone else into space. When the striker tries to get in behind the back line, the rest of the supporting players look to go as well. Just as when a team presses, when the striker goes you go as well.

The Loons haven’t had a dominant 9 in MLS. They have had lots of players that were above average, but nobody that you would trust to dominate game in and game out. Those players are rare on the world market for a reason, because they win you trophies.

Amarilla looked like the real deal until the shut down, and honestly might remind some people how good he was IF he gets healthy for the playoffs. There is also the possibility he just isn’t as good as his form through those two games showed, who knows. Toye has been playing more of late, and we know Heath loves him. He has once again added another dimension to his game, last year was his hold up play that ended up being just as good as Angelo at that facet of his game. This year Toye has added the direct run making that Amarilla does so well. Toye is getting lots of minutes right now, and I trust Heath in developing him, even if he benches Toye again at the end of the year.

The best option in a must win game right now to start the game for 60’ might be Aaron Schoenfeld, and I can’t believe I’m saying that. He is not a pretty striker but he is the most effective in making movements in the final phase to create space for himself as well as his teammates. Let alone his threat on set pieces.

At the end of the day, I do believe in order to win MLS Cup the Loons need a striker someone would value around $10 million. I don’t think the Loons would spend that much, but maybe they are able to find someone on the cheap or develop them from within. Maybe Toye is that striker next year or two years from now, but right now if you want to win this year he is not that guy.

Seattle is dominant because when they get to the final phase they have Raúl Ruidíaz. It may seem simple to simplify the final phase to having a good striker and a 10 that fits the system, but the final phase really is that simple.