That was not a good game for Minnesota United FC. A lack of quality possessions for Minnesota and decent chances for NY meant that it felt inevitable when Senna scored off the corner. Looking at the formation and tactics Minnesota chose to employ, the reason for Minnesota‘s struggles all game seem to become clear.
Minnesota came out in a true 4-4-2 formation, with Ibarra and Ramirez up top. The midfield, particularly on defense, lined up in a line across the field. Last week, I mentioned that sometimes, there is little difference between a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-4-1-1. This formation was a radical departure.
There are a variety of 4-4-2’s that can be played. A popular one, and one employed by the USMNT in their friendly against Mexico is the 4-4-2 with the midfielders in a diamond. Two midfielders are wide, with one midfielder playing the defensive role, and another one playing up beneath the forwards. The attacking midfielder often becomes a box to box midfielder, playing a major role in both the attack and defense.
Another way to implement a 4-4-2 is also often called a 4-2-2-2. 2 midfielders become the defensive midfielders, with the two wide midfielders push up and provide a connection between the back and the two attacking forwards.
Defense and the Formation
On defense, this difference becomes abundantly clear which formation that the Loons ended up choosing. It was neither of those formations. Instead, it was a 4-4-2, with a straight line across the midfield.
In weeks past, either Pitchkolan or Vicentini would push forward to challenge a midfielder looking for the ball in the middle of the field, while the other fell back in support. The wings would cover any fullbacks coming forward.
This week, the midfielders stood in a straight line, relying on just Ibarra and Ramirez to chase down the back line of New York as it moved the ball from side to side. This kept the two defensive midfielders playing farther back than they have before.
New York was able to exploit the passing lanes that this defensive formation opened up. A midfielder would drift back towards the defensive back four of New York and receive the ball, and then find a player that had moved between the defense and midfield of Minnesota. Minnesota was constantly trying to close down space between the themselves and the player with the ball and wouldn’t challenge for the ball until it was entering the defensive third of the field.
This was a very different game plan from previous games for Minnesota. In previous games, even the game against Indy Eleven where the counter attack was so important, Minnesota challenged those first and second passes up field, before the ball had been moved into their defensive third of the field. Against New York, the strategy seemed to focus more on not getting caught out on a break away, which led to New York controlling the lion’s share of possession for most of the game.
On the Attack
Minnesota’s attack looked weak. As many people noticed, for much of the game, the offense focused on long balls up the field. After the goal, the team got much more aggressive, and there were many more men going forward.
Fans rightly complained about the long balls in the game, but part of the issue lay in the formation and how Minnesota would get the ball back. Minnesota started many of their possessions either from a throw-in or from a goal kick. When they would win the ball back in the run of play, they would often need to get rid of the ball quickly because they were in a dangerous location on the field.
These clearances were a direct result of the formation the team played. By placing the midfield so far back towards their own goal, Minnesota won the ball in locations very near their own goal which would necessitate a long ball up the field.
When they would win the ball with time to make a pass up field, the midfielders would be so far back towards their own goal, they wouldn’t be in a good position to receive a pass from the back four. The back four would often times be left with the long ball as the only decent option.
Tough team, tough game
Minnesota appeared to be looking for the draw, based on the formation they were playing. With the poor luck on shots the NY Cosmos had been having, The Cosmos were bound to score some time. While the Loons fought hard, it would have been great for the team to have fought harder for chances on goal, instead of looking to hold on and get the 1 point.
Now with 12 points on the season, we are level with Ft. Lauderdale Strikers, with a game against them at home this weekend. With the success early on with the 4-2-3-1, it would be a surprise if the team didn’t bring that formation back for this game.