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Three things: #SJvMIN

Organization and joy and the other skills of professional soccer

MLS: Minnesota United FC at San Jose Earthquakes Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

It is hard to take too much from Tuesday night’s game against the San Jose Earthquakes. Played on short rest with an already depleted roster further limited when Chase Gasper and Dayne St. Clair were both ruled out under health and safety protocols, it was a rather unique affair. Made even more unique after Nathan was shown a red card in the 21st minute. But, with all of that, we can still find three hesitant take-aways.

  1. From the beginning, it seems, San Jose had the desire to exploit the late-replacement DJ Taylor. They consistently and with single-minded intent worked the ball quickly to Cristian Espinoza down the right side and almost immediately got a result. On the whole, though, Taylor had a good game and it is hard to know if San Jose’s desire would have been successful all game. After the red card San Jose was forced to switch tactics, which they did incredibly well. For the remainder of the first half they shifted mostly into a 4-4-1, coming out of the half in a 3-5-1 that often looked like a 5-3-1. The formation allowed them to control the width of the field while their history of man-marking allowed them the fluidity to shut down any attempt by Minnesota United to play more vertically or diagonally in space. A point that both head coach Adrian Heath - “I actually thought we played well the first half when they went down the man. Played more horizontal. Tried to switch the point of attack and spread them out a little bit. I thought second half we were too vertical and didn’t really make the man advantage pay enough…. I don’t think we play side to side enough. The overload is on the opposite side. The weaker side. When they only then start to play one up, and you keep playing in straight lines, you’re not really getting what’s in your numerical advantage.” - and captain Wil Trapp - “Our spacing was also too far apart. We allowed them to isolate players… You want to try and create numerical advantages by combining close at times and then springing players wide…. They are a team that likes to isolate and play man for man. Especially when they are down a man it really puts them in their shell more. We tried to draw them out but we didn’t do it in the most intelligent ways. We got our fullbacks on the ball, but now where does the danger come from?” - made after the game. Whatever else we might say about the game and Minnesota’s inability to capitalize on their numerical advantage, this much is clear: the difference on the night was in tactical awareness and organizational discipline; San Jose was able to adapt their form and style to the game and Minnesota was not.
  2. Soccer Twitter, like all of Twitter, is an ambiguous thing, full of laughter and insight and community as well as darkness and anger and stupidity. One of the great joys of MNUFC Twitter is Bruce McQuire, aka @dunord. And one of the more helpful conversations of his account arises from his post-game player ratings. (His playlists are also quite fun, but let’s stay focused on the soccer.) Scaled from Great to Good to OK to Bad to Woof the most often populated category, after a quick and rather unscientific count, is OK. Which seems about right: Minnesota is, at the moment, a middling team of mostly solid if unspectacular players. This was especially apparent on Tuesday with the absence of Robin Lod and, with a bit of speculation, Franco Fragapane, against a team that is anything but middling. To say this might be, of course, to conflate quality of play and creativity, but the two are quite closely related and aside from Lod and Reynoso and the occasional banger from Hassani Dotson, and it really is quite impressive to pop a ball mid-game, there is no one on this team who consistently tries to offer up the spectacular, the joyful, the beautiful. And the team, on the whole and in their organization, rarely provides the conditions for greatness. Maybe, of course, that is to ask too much and we should be happy with the results, as this is again a playoff team that could very well make a long post-season run. None of which is true for San Jose. But isn’t there something simply fun in a team that is willing to bring on Chris Wondolowski for Eric Remedi in the 86th minute of a game that has been played almost entirely shorthanded? A team that is willing to play with a little organized chaos and to try the outlandish?
  3. It remains a joy to get to watch Reynoso play this game every week. His control, his vision, his touch are simply delightful. And although not yet Neymar or Arjen Robben levels of skill, he is world class.