That was a fantastic win on Saturday. Minnesota was by far the more deserving of the two teams, and dominated almost all of the game. Making the win all that much sweeter was the tactics employed by Ft. Lauderdale.
Recently, there has been a name given to a type of soccer on display on Saturday: Anti-Football. Anti-football is where a team plays incredibly negatively, setting up defensively, delaying the game, making hard tackles and throwing themselves on the ground at the slightest touch. A classic example is the Dutch team in the World Cup final in 2010 against Spain.
On Saturday, the fans up at Blaine got to watch another great example of anti-football from the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers. Minnesota will need to get used to those tactics being employed by their opponents more and more this season. Minnesota is bigger and better physically than most other teams in the NASL. Other teams will try to employ those tactics to slow down the Loons offense and throw them off their game. Fortunately, this time, Minnesota was up for the task.
Minnesota went back to the 4-2-3-1 that they had had so much success with earlier in the season, but actually started the same starting 11 as against the Cosmos. Vicentini and Pitchkolan were the defensive midfielders, which meant that one typically pushed up farther in the field, and the other supported behind.
Minnesota looked like a different team this week, with Ibarra, Bracalello, Mendes and usually Vicentini pushing up past the midline to create a high press. Last week, the Cosmos were seldom harried until Minnesota’s defensive third of the field. This week the team was able to recover the ball in much more advantageous positions on the field and could counter much quicker and more effectively.
In the back, Kallman was much more steady making no obvious mistakes, and after Dias went off with his head injury, Pitchkolan stepped in and played admirably in the center back position.
Against the Strikers, the defense was much more willing to hold onto the ball and find an open man, rather than booting it up field and turning it back over. Calvano had one of the best games of a centerback this season, both on defense with tackles and recoveries, as well as on offense, controlling the ball on the dribble and making excellent passes.
The goal by Strikers’ Nunez was unfortunate, and can be chalked up to the team being flat coming out of the half, as well as miscommunication between the centerbacks. With Pitchkolan not seeing any minutes this season in that role, I have a feeling that was what led to Nunez not being marked.
Midfield: What position was Ibarra Playing? Or, overlapping Fullbacks
More so than any game before, the two fullbacks, Kallman and Davis pushed way up the field along the wings, playing in the role of overlapping fullbacks. They are called such because they are going into the space normally occupied by the wide midfielders. This enabled Bracalello and Mendes to push in towards the center of the field, or up the field, creating marking issues for the back four of Ft. Lauderdale.
On many attacks, the team would end up with a 3-1-5-1 or 3-3-3-1, with one of the defensive midfielders playing the holding midfield position, and able to get back to help on defense until the fullbacks were able to rush back to their position.
The team was able to do a lot of triangular passing, because with a fullback, a defensive midfielder or two, Ibarra or Ramirez, and a wide midfielder all on the same side, there were not enough Strikers to mark everyone. If you look at the 4-2-3-1 of Ft Lauderdale, it’s defensive strength lies in the center of the field. By bringing the fullbacks up the field along the sidelines, there were more men in a space than there were defenders.
The most interesting part of the fullbacks pushing up was where Ibarra sometimes ended up. He would move into the space vacated by the fullback to receive the ball from the defensive midfielders. This meant that our fastest player with the ball at his feet would receive the ball at least 20 yards from the nearest defender. Giving Ibarra this flexibility to find space anywhere on the field opened up a number of options in the attack, and allowed more players to more forward.
Vicentini had a fantastic game, both defensively and in the attack. With Pitchkolan conscripting to centerback, he had a lot more flexibility, and pushed up farther in the attack. In addition, his ball skills allowed him to open up passing and dribbling lanes, giving his teammates a chance to find open space to receive a pass.
Forwards: Ramirez or Campos
Ramirez is quickly becoming the most exciting player for Minnesota. Not only was his goal fantastic, he continues to create opportunities not only for himself but for other players. My favorite moment though wasn’t his goal, nor his backheel that Ibarra finished into the back of the net. It was his shot on goal from 40 yards out when he noticed the goalie had come way off his line. That confidence and awareness of where everyone else is on the field is fantastic, and is why the offense has looked so potent this season.
A number of people have started suggesting that Ramirez is better than Campos, which I’m not convinced is true. Nonetheless, the offense looks much more complete than it did with Campos in the striker position, so I definitely see their point. What do you all think?
I will say, I called Ramirez as our best offseason acquisition, which is making me feel pretty smart (or lucky) right now.