After a disappointing start to the week, losing to the Seattle Sounders on the weekend and then being undone by Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday night, the Loons had fallen to eighth place, below the playoff line. Then they went and scored three on the LA Galaxy with a joy and swagger not seen in some time. “Carácter,” Emanuel Reynoso named it after the game.
“Mostramos carácter. Veníamos de perder el partido pasado. Veníamos con muchas lesiones. Nos están pasando muchas lesiones en el grupo. Pero tenemos que estar fuertes, unidos, todos juntos por el mismo camino. Feliz por el triunfo. Feliz por el triunfo que le dimos a la gente, por nosotros también que lo necesitamos y estamos muy cerca. Todos estamos todos juntos entonces tenemos que sacar puntos. Jugar local es muy importante para nosotros para sacar puntos entonces. Felicitar a todos mis compañeros que hicimos un gran trabajo. [We showed character, after losing the last game. We have had a lot of injuries, a lot of injuries in the group, but we have to be strong, we have to play together, we have to all be moving in the same direction. I’m happy for the win. Happy we could give the fans a win. We need this win, too: everyone is really close together, and we have to get these points. Especially playing at home, we have to get points. Congratulations to the team, we did a great job.]”
Unfortunately the celebratory mood was lost as Thin Skinned Inchy made another appearance. Taking every opportunity to swipe at the media Heath said, with as much resentment as can be mustered after a win, that “it’s incredible that when you get your best players on the field, good things happen. Maybe people should think about that when they write some of the stuff that they do…. Some of the stuff that was said, you would have thought that the season was over. May as well go home. So, the demise of Minnesota United is probably not as great as some people think.” But Minnesota is back in the playoff picture and can score again, so let’s leave that negativity behind and focus on the good.
1. It is hard to believe that the team that beat LA 3-0 on Saturday was the same team that lost to SKC 4-0 on Wednesday. Because, of course, it wasn’t. Robin Lod and Emanuel Reynoso are very good and very good together and very fun to watch. From the opening moments of the game it was clear that Lod and Reynoso have found their rhythm, feeling with an already developed instinct the game the other is playing. They also, together, make everyone around them better. Franco Fragapane is still struggling to find a connection with Chase Gasper and so has not quite been able to enjoy the full freedom that Lod and Reynoso might provide. Ethan Finlay, on the other hand, had his best game in quite some time on Saturday. Finlay, of course, has often found himself out of space on this team, pinched between a high holding 9 and Romain Métanire. His favorite run is down the right side, into the space about to be occupied or already occupied by Métanire. This year he has also started to make an inside diagonal run, one that is often into space already occupied by or about to be occupied by Adrien Hunou. On Saturday the inside run was available with the much more creatively active Lod playing as a false 9 and the intelligence with which Reynoso draws defenses out of the middle of the field. Finlay’s was a wildly opportunistic goal against the run of play as Greg Vanney’s second half substitutions were starting to allow LA to work their way back into the game, but it was still well deserved.
2. Ozzie Alonso and Wil Trapp have struggled to play together this season. But as Heath noted after the game, they were good on Saturday. “I’d like to mention the two midfield players,” Heath offered unprompted, “only because I thought Ozzie and Wil Trapp were amazing with the amount of distance they covered. It’s never easy when you’re playing against three in the middle of the park. Three technicians that they have, that can stay on the ball and move it, but I thought their determination to get behind the ball and defend the goal and close the ball down, and then play when it came, was a real platform for which we’ve built the performance.” The analysis here is a bit hard to follow, as LA’s midfield, especially in the first half, had an off night. More importantly, they had an off night because of Reynoso’s defensive work and pressure. Alonso and Trapp struggle because they both want to play deep, leaving massive gaps in the middle of the field. Reynoso’s defensive work acts, in a way, as a center of gravity pulling the defensive line up and compacting the team.
3. Finlay was right. In a mid-season interview with Michael Rand, Finlay, after being asked about the team’s identity, suggested that “[the team’s] identity for a very long time has been a team that first and foremost is very tough to break down defensively. And I still think that holds true with some of the results we’ve had and goals against that we’ve had. Where I think we don’t clearly have an identity,” he continued, “is the possession aspect and what we’re doing with it. Our possession numbers are up from previous years, but what are we doing with that, how are we taking advantage of that and is it an advantage for us.” Which can be read to mean that this team is at its best on the counter-attack, as it was last night. With a front four of Finlay, Fragapane, Lod, and Reynoso - and, when he is healthy, Niko Hansen - that counter attack begins very high up the field as Lod and Reynoso’s tactical pressing is very good, and that front four + 1 is very hard working. But this is still, at its heart, a counter attacking team. Of course, the team also rarely plays a whole 90 with the intensity or discipline required and the roster has been built, it seems, for something else entirely, so it is hard to call it a style or an identity. But we have seen all season, if in bits and stretches, that the high press counter attack can generate chances. The difference, on Saturday, was that Reynoso converted on two of the chances.