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The Dichotomous Striker

Will the Ramón Ábila signing change the Loons relationship with strikers since joining MLS?

Angelo Rodriguez during a 1-1 draw between Minnesota United and the Seattle Sounders
Tim C McLaughlin

This won’t exclusively be a run down on what Ramón Ábila brings to Minnesota United, but this also won’t be a history of strikers who have moved to new teams under Adrian Heath. What this will be is a look into the psyche of a striker and why it has not worked for the Loons so far.

How did we get to the point where a striker coming in from one of the most prestigious (if not the most prestigious club) in the America feels like it could go either way? Well Minnesota sports in general is a dichotomy of optimism and pessimism to begin with. Then throw in the Loons with two seasons of being a doormat followed by two of being a playoff team, one of which could have resulted in playing in MLS Cup. You can see where opinions and feelings will divide.

So why haven’t any of the strikers worked so far?

Well this is a bit of grey area, I don’t think the talent we have had has been the level the manager needs to succeed. Heath being a former striker plays a role in this, but all of the strikers were missing “something”. You can point to technique for some, maybe a tactical understanding of where to be and when, others you could say they weren’t fit consistent enough, or you could say they weren’t prepared for the psyche required to be a professional 9 on a competitive team. This doesn’t mean those individuals weren’t quality strikers, they just weren’t the fit for Adrian Heath in Minnesota.

You can point to individual short comings for all of the strikers who have come and gone, but as we’ve been saying a lot lately this one feels different. I’ve seen some critique Ramón’s fitness, and it is difficult to validate or disprove these criticisms since we haven’t seen him play since January in a different league. My only response would be is would Club Atlético Boca Juniors really play a striker who isn’t fit in double digit appearances the past four years who wasn’t fit?

I have opinions on why Ábila will work in Minnesota based on what I see on film. First off he seems to strike the ball really hard (which sounds really dumb I know), but when you look the most effective strikers in the world they can all place a ball however they can also leather it - think the way Håland strikes the ball but maybe more like Daryl Dike in MLS last year. There was a goal against Club Atlético River Plate where he showed this to full effect, players who strike the ball hard score these kind of goals and they count the same as the ones which are overhead kicks.

The rest has been talked about as to why the Loons wanted this to happen. Heath mentioned that he believes he will score goals, that his physique and his technical abilities will allow him to succeed in this league. We have heard that before though and been let down, so why should we be optimistic? I’ll let Adrian tell you why.

“The fact that he and Reynoso played together — and you saw the reaction when he came into the building with Rey — it’s a big teammate of his, big friend of his. But most importantly, we know he’s scored goals, he’s used to playing under pressure. Being the number nine for Boca Juniors comes with certain sorts of pressure and intensity and he’s been able to deal with that and has coped well in living up to that. If he can score the goals we think he will, we think he’s going to be another great piece for us.

The reason this is different is because it is different!

We finally have a striker who seems to fit and compliment in a variety of ways with the playmaker and that is everything. A previous relationship, to a shared language, to a shared understanding of what each other wants on the field is a huge deal. Combine that with talent and you could have a recipe for success.

Strikers in many ways are as “weird” as goalkeepers, in many ways their jobs have similar psychological demands. Chris Wondolowski wrote about being a striker back in 2015 and the words are still messages I use when working with younger strikers.

I use this to say we do not know the psyche of any of these athletes, because it is an ever changing thing. However the psyche of the striker impacts the entire team and in many ways is one of those positions in sports that can win or lose you games. Some wise words about the mindset of “The Relentless Striker” from sports psychologist Dan Abrahams.

“Speed of thought is my rod and my staff. Speed of thought is my future potential. Speed of thought will determine my trajectory. Speed of thought will dictate my biography. I practice speed of thought everyday.

I love space. I yearn for space. I know the opposition will limit what I love, but I crave it more than they do. I will find it before them. I will reach it before them. And if they leave few gaps – if they are disciplined – I will trust my training. I will trust the hours of head up and scan, head up and scan. I will trust that I will see the small hole, the small space when it does open up. No matter how minute, no matter how small it is.

I love to take shots. I dream about taking shots. Powerful strikes. Incredible strikes. Head over the ball – low! Low and hard. Low and tough to save. Because that is what I do. I take ‘hard to save’ shots.

I know I can’t control whether I score but I don’t care. I know I won’t score in some games but that is fine. As long as I’m giving my best, giving my all, that is all I can ask for.”

This feels like a signing that will unite the fanbase, not divide it.

However in the dichotomous state that is Minnesota, if it doesn’t unite then questions will be asked as to why it continues to fail. People should and will want someone held accountable as to why it continues to divide. However, this signing seems destined to be a home run for the Loons.