It isn’t too long before the 2021 MLS season kicks off, and this year the Loons might have some more tactical wrinkles then in years past. That doesn’t mean we won’t see them in their traditional “1-4-2-3-1” shape with a double pivot in midfield, an advanced 10, and aggressive overlapping fullbacks. What it does mean is this 2021 roster has the most tactical flexibility we have seen since MNUFC joined MLS. That flexibility is, in part, due to two players. How and when Heath chooses to utilizes these players determine this teams ceiling, as well as it floor.
Shocker I know, but Emmanuel Reynoso’s ability allows this team to do a lot of different things in terms of positions when in possession in different phases of the game. Reynoso can drop into midfield to pick up the ball and turn to run at defenses or recycle possession to a new spot. However Reynoso is also just as effective at pulling defenders away from the middle and opening up space for other attackers.
Emmanuel impacts this team in so many ways, but everybody knows that who has followed any of the league this offseason. Dubbed the “Assist King” before the season already started by some, Reynoso has a lot of hype to live up to this season. (Yes I acknowledge I wrote the piece saying we don’t need Reynoso before the signing. I’d argue at that point I didn’t believe the impact would be so quick, but that type of player was always needed in Minnesota.)
The tactical flexibility that Reynoso allows is simply down to what space you choose for a player like that to occupy. This can depend on matchups, but for Heath will most likely depend on the relationships and player profiles of the players who would be involved in patterns of play. Reynoso can play as a traditional 10, doing so would allow Lod and Finlay to play on both sides. This allows Reynoso true freedom to roam the field, and drop in when needed to pick up the ball.
However the other option is to play Reynoso on one side and still allow that freedom in a pseudo inverted winger role. This would alleviate some defensive responsibilities, but would keep one of the wingers out of the lineup. I fully expect to see Heath moving Reynoso around to allow for some tactical flexibility this season.
Yes, Hassani has just returned after a less then ideal Olympic qualifying tournament. However the tactical flexibility that Hassani’s game offers is crucial for the Loons this season. We are all no strangers to the variety of roles Dotson’s game offers, but this years depth will test Hassani in new ways.
Minnesota United made an interesting move when they picked up Wil Trapp this offseason, given central midfield in that double pivot is one of the teams strongest positions of depth. Ozzie will play games this year, and if you think anything otherwise you haven’t followed Ozzie’s career. Then once you add in Ján Greguš, Jacori Hayes, and Hassani Dotson one would assume the Loons wouldn’t need Trapp. The Loons pulled the trigger though, which means something is up in the Twin Cities. This could mean many things, including a more traditional single pivot, however Dotson’s flexibility makes Heath’s tactics intriguing.
The Loons brought up an MLS veteran back up left back in Jukka Raitala, which could take away rotational minutes from Dotson. Especially considering that Dibassy could also play out there if the team wants to change the roles and responsibilities from each position. In addition, one of the more uncovered signings was DJ Taylor from North Carolina FC. When USL players are given opportunities generally they take time to get their legs with the team, which will allow some opportunities for Dotson if the Loons need cover there during the season. However, I would not be surprised if Heath decides Taylor is good enough to cover for Metanire later in the season.
What does this mean for Dotson? There is no clear answer, but once again Hassani will have to compete for minutes, which is great for individual development. Mentally recovering after failing to qualify is tough on a player, but there is no time to rest if Hassani Dotson wants minutes in this Starting XI. Which ultimately is exactly what Adrian Heath wants.
The biggest weakness of Minnesota this year will be when teams are able to keep an organized defensive block. Luckily not many MLS teams are able to do that consistently. When these teams are organized and can absorb the pressure the Loons will keep committing the outside backs. If they still cannot score, the counter will be open and could be how this team loses games this year. What enables this style of play is the organized defensive structure that bends but does not break.
Even with Reynoso’s brilliance, and the new signings up top, I question this teams abilities to break down that structure. Should this scenario play out, the Loons will need individual brilliance from several of their attackers. While I do not question the ability to occasionally do that, the ability to consistently do it in the games that matter is a new challenge.
In that respect, this season will come down to how the Loons are able to beat the teams who do not try and beat the Loons. The tactics in these games are almost more important then the tactics against the other elite teams. These games will feel different, because we will feel like the more dominant team more consistently then we have in the past. That will be a new, but welcome change in Minnesota.