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Three things: #PORvMIN

A disappointing end to an inconsistent season leaves MNUFC with a lot to think about

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SOCCER: NOV 21 MLS Cup Playoffs - Minnesota United at Portland Timbers Photo by Diego Diaz/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

1. In a recently published interview with Jeff Rueter, Adrian Heath returned to a favorite topic: respect. Rueter, the reporter that he is, acknowledges his role in instigating the conversation, but Heath doesn’t shy away: “Does our club, as a whole, get enough respect? No. I can name three or four clubs that get more headlines and more publicity who have had nowhere near the last three years that we have. When I look at what we’ve done in five years, what we’ve built, you can’t help but be impressed. We were incrementally better nearly every year. The ownership group has built the best stadium in the country, which consistently sells out. The fans and the atmosphere is as good as anywhere we ever go - and the team has gotten better. I don’t read much about that.” Which remains, of course, a strange concern, one usually reserved for good comedians and bad politicians. A sporting club, it seems, ought to be more interested in their performance on the field and impact in the community. But, respect and its lack is often used in a sporting context for motivation, which, if that was the purpose here, failed miserably on Sunday night as Minnesota United were bounced out of the playoffs after being outworked by the Portland Timbers for most of the game. They were also outplayed and outcoached and, unfortunately, outwatched. Of the weekend’s soccer, Portland-Minnesota had the lowest ratings of nationally televised games.

A set of numbers that should probably be taken simply as an argument for the joy and quality of women’s soccer, even as the league’s and federation’s behavior has continued to be undeserving of either. But, for MNUFC, it is, in this final moment of the year, hard to take the demands for respect seriously after the team’s capitulation with a 1 goal lead and their behavior in the 85th minute.

2. In the post-game media availability, Andy Greder asked Heath about the team’s inability to close out halves and games, conceding 22 goals in the last 15’ of the first and second halves this season, a point raised here in our game preview. It was clearly a frustrating point for Heath: “I don’t know. I didn’t know that stat, but at the end of the day, you know you’ve got to see the game out in full 45. Maybe we let a little bit of concentration levels go down. I don’t know….But it’s something we’ll have a look at in the offseason and see if there’s something we’re doing differently. But I couldn’t tell you the answer to that now.” Elsewhere in his post-game comments Heath spoke of the team’s inconsistency, both within games and across the season, something also brought up by Wil Trapp in his post-game comments. “I think this game is a little bit of a microcosm of the season, right? You have good moments, you have not so good moments and ultimately, we didn’t come out where we wanted it to be. And I think the course of the season showed that in our group.” Trapp also wasn’t sure why the team was so inconsistent, but a few moments later, answering a different question, he offered this possible explanation: “I think, if I’ve seen anything this year, we’re a rhythm team, right? We’re a group that when we’re playing consistently, we seem to be a little bit sharper. And obviously we have two weeks off and that’s, in a way, not ideal for us as a group because we like to be playing games as much as possible.” Which is to say that this is a team that gets itself into form by playing, and not through training and preparation.

3. In his post-game comments Heath also offered a brief and off-the-cuff evaluation of the season. “Well, we were better than three quarters of the league, weren’t we? Everybody can’t make the playoffs and everybody didn’t. And so, pleased for the player’s efforts. I think we didn’t give ourselves much room for error with the start… So, you know, the players are certainly responding. I think that one of the words I’d use is inconsistent. I don’t think we’ve been as consistent as we can be with the group that we’ve got. And obviously we’ve had, you know, large chunks of the season where our front players have not been available.” Then, looking to the future, he dreamed again of the ever-elusive two or three new pieces: “But we’ll dust ourselves down, you know, the players have some time off. Let them recharge the batteries and we’ll come back again. And we’ll come back hopefully stronger. For certainly this is the best group we’ve had since I’ve been here. So, if we can add to it, which is going to be the objective in the offseason, to add one or two pieces with it, make us stronger in certain areas, then that’s what we’re going to do.” Certainly a stronger roster would be a good thing. But on the night and after a game in which Emanuel Reynoso was not extra-ordinary the structural problems with the team, the lack of fit between roster and tactics, remain glaringly unaddressed. In their preferred 4-2-3-1 with two midfielders who want to play deep, one with defensive grit and the other with the game in front of him pushing forward, the team tends to revert back to a gappy positioning, opening a hole in the middle of the field between the back four and the front four, flanked by the two backs out wide, a structure that is easy for teams to counter by forcing Chase Gasper and Romain Métanire to be better than they are. When he is at his best and motivated and interested, Reynoso fills the gap in the middle by dropping deep to receive the ball, turning, and pushing forward. Before he was Ibarra’ed, Ján Greguš, when playing next to Ozzie Alonso, could at times close the gap from the double pivot, and Hassani Dotson, with a bit more coaching and training, seems like he might be able to as well, especially when he plays alongside Trapp. But on a night when Reynoso was unable or unwilling to do all that compensatory work, the only reliable way forward for the Loons was the counter-attack. And so, yes, one or two new players would be nice, but figuring out that structure would be better. All of which is to also say that Diego Chará is an exceptional player and had himself quite a well-deserved night.