Offering up one of their worst performances of the season, Minnesota United lost 2-0 to the Colorado Rapids on Wednesday night, bringing their seven game unbeaten run to a deflating end while also showing the fragility of the team.
Displaying quite a bit of frustration after the game, head coach Adrian Heath was not pleased with his team’s performance. “There’s two sides to every game of football,” Heath said in a short post-game press conference where no players were available. “One of it is with the ball and one of it is without. And we only wanted to do the with tonight. And we still wanted to play comfortable and safe football with the ball as well. Didn’t want to get out of our comfort zone. Didn’t want to play the ball forward without the ball. And, didn’t do enough when the opposition had the ball. All in all, very, very poor and disappointing evening.”
Not willing to blame his ad hoc defensive line, which featured DJ Taylor in for the still in France Romain Métanire, a centerback pairing of Brent Kallman and Jukka Raitala in for the injured Bakaye Dibassy and Michael Boxall, and Chase Gasper and Tyler Miller as the only two regular defensive players in the starting XI, Heath emphasized in his post-game comments the team’s lack of effort. “Doesn’t matter,” he said of the reconfigured defensive line. “Doesn’t stop your running. Doesn’t stop your fighting. Doesn’t stop your being first to the ball. Winning first headers. Winning second balls. It doesn’t matter who plays. Obviously, you would prefer to keep a balanced team. You would prefer to keep so called better players, but, that would be an excuse this evening. And I’m not giving excuses out.”
So no excuses given or accepted. And these Loons, over the last two and half seasons, do seem to win or lose on effort. But effort was not the only problem on the night.
Although Heath did not offer a reasoning for his line-up choices, giving Ozzie Alonso and Ján Greguš the start in midfield seemed to be a defensive gesture, as both provided extra coverage to the back line. But as has been seen this season and last, that midfield configuration playing that way often leaves a large gap between the back six and the front four, as Greguš often finds himself stranded in a defensive in-between that is at best redundant and more often an absence. On Wednesday night Greguš was mostly absent as the team had a difficult time generating any movement through or purposive control of the middle of the field.
On the night Colorado was willing to allow that absence and lack of purpose. Conceding possession, allowing Minnesota to hold 54.3% possession, the Rapids rarely looked troubled or overly concerned by the Loons attack. Except for a brief period early in the second half when conceding possession became a little too comfortably lax, the Rapids absorbed what little pressure the Loons were able to mount before moving quickly through often wide-open space in the midfield, left empty on their end by the injured Jack Price. The Rapids were more than willing to wait for Minnesota to run out of ideas before quickly transitioning into a counter-attack, a strategy that worked often by nothing more than an out-pacing and out-running of the Loons defense.
At the end of a rather uneventful first half Colorado’s first goal came in the 45th minute and was exemplary of their plan for the night. Picking up the ball at the halfway line, Nicolás Mezquida cleared the midfield with a long pass to Michael Barrios, who was easily able to settle the ball and turn to face Taylor. Although Minnesota was able to get numbers back, they could never find their assignments, chasing the play the entire sequence. Given too much time and space Barrios made an easy centering pass to Diego Rubio who was also given enough time to cycle through a few options before finding Braian Galván who was also given enough time to line up a shockingly good finish to the far post. In the end Miller was able to get a finger on the ball but never had a real chance at making the save.
The Rapids second goal came late as the game spiraled out of control for Minnesota. After a lazy give-away from Reynoso, Andre Shinyashiki played a beautiful through ball to himself as Greguš, Kallman, and Raitala all enjoyed the show.
In striking contrast to Minnesota’s lack of purpose, Colorado appeared to have a plan, one that often ran through Kellyn Acosta, that they were able to execute. On the night Acosta had an excellent game for the Rapids, his last before joining the USMNT for the Gold Cup, keeping Colorado organized, slowing and disrupting any forward movement from Minnesota, and quickly finding the right outlet after turnovers.
Luckily for Minnesota Colorado wasn’t able to consistently execute their plan. On the whole the Rapids were very sloppy and played very tired. “We weren’t as sharp on the ball tonight in the beginning as we needed to be,” Rapids head coach Robin Fraser noted after the game. “As a result, we were under a bit of pressure. Combine that with the fatigue, I didn’t think we were incredibly sharp early on, but still just such a great effort to keep ourselves in it.” That sloppiness made for a much closer game than it should have been, and allowed the Loons to stay in it for much longer than their play deserved.
With the return of Robin Lod Minnesota started the night with high expectations for their new offense. Those expectations were not met. Lod “looked tired,” Heath observed after the game. “Obviously hasn’t done a lot since the end of the Euro’s because he’s been injured and waiting for his green card process to go through. So, wasn’t ideal. But, you know, we thought we needed to freshen it up.” Without an explanation of what needed to be freshened up after a run of seven games unbeaten, this looked like the offense that Minnesota has been working towards for quite some time.
Avoiding any league discipline after the MLS disciplinary committee was not able to corroborate Diego Chara’s claims of racial abuse, Fragapane again got the start. Evincing frustration with a desire to do better, Heath earlier in the week wished to “move on” from any questions of racial abuse and justice, saying that “the process was taken, people made a decision after they got all the information, which is rare these days. Normally you’re guilty from the beginning.”
Diego Chará, meanwhile, asked that MLS and MNUFC should try to do better.
1/3 I am proud to have been part of Major League Soccer for 11 seasons. During my time in the league I have received tremendous support and kindness from fellow players and the entire MLS Community.— Diego Chara (@DiegoChara21) July 7, 2021
2/3 However, during our recent game against Minnesota United I was the target of an insult where the color of my skin was used to offend me. I don’t think anyone should experience this, there’s no place in any culture where using your ethnicity to insult you should be ok.— Diego Chara (@DiegoChara21) July 7, 2021
3/3 No one should experience this. Despite the inconclusive findings by MLS, it is my hope that Minnesota’s organization will address the issue with the player and their team to ensure that this will not happen again.— Diego Chara (@DiegoChara21) July 7, 2021
Able, then, for the first time to showcase the new front four of Fragapne, Adrien Hunou, Lod, and Emanuel Reynoso the offense seemed to have one idea: move the ball up the flanks to Gasper and Taylor and overload that side. In theory, then, Hunou, Reynoso, and either Fragapne or Lod would be able to quickly move through short spaces breaking down the Rapids’ defense. Unfortunately Lod and Taylor were unable to find their rhythm while Gasper remained hesitant and indecisive, which allowed time for Colorado to get organized defensively. Whether it was from a lack of effort, as Heath argued, or a frustration with the off timing, Fragapane, Hunou, Lod, and Reynoso were mostly ineffective.
Continuing his streak of American-style substitutions, Heath brought Ramón Ábila on for Hunou in the 65th minute, followed by Niko Hansen, Ethan Finlay, and Hassani Dotson in the 67th minute for Lod, Fragapane, and Ozzie, using his final substitution in stoppage time to bring on Jacori Hayes for a cramping Taylor. Unfortunately all the substitutions made little difference as the night was already done for Minnesota. The only real impact the subs had on the game was when Ábila tried to sneak a punch into Rubio in’s side during a set-play scrum and received a red card, leaving his teammates to play out the game a man down.
With a doubly-disjointed offense Minnesota ended up with a lot of possession without purpose. But with a short break the Loons have some time to try and sort things out before Seattle comes to town July 18 for a Sunday afternoon game. Hopefully last night’s game will be an anomaly in the midst of an otherwise good run of results and not a return to form for a team that had been overachieving.