I went to the Nomad this week to watch a soccer game, but all I found was rugby. Or at least, if I was watching the same game as Wynalda, Atlanta’s coach, I would be saying that.
Instead, what I saw when the feed was working and the camera was wide enough to see most of the field (seriously, that was terrible camera work from Atlanta), was a team in Minnesota that played a high press for much of the game, controlled much of the game, but got lucky with Atlanta being unable to put away the chances that they had.
So let’s look at how Minnesota was able to beat Atlanta, and maintain their 3 point lead in the Spring Standings.
Atlanta played a 5-2-1-2, which is a formation focused on defense and counterattacking. It also has a tendency to struggle with width, and that showed with Minnesota having a lot of success along the sidelines. On defense, this formation did flex a bit, with Roushadel pushing forward from his defensive centerback position to close down the space between the midfield and the defensive line.
This formation made a lot of sense for Atlanta. Atlanta needed to shut down Minnesota’s offense, and the crowded center of the field allowed Atlanta to move the ball through the middle. Almost all of their chances came from attacking the middle or the middle-right of Minnesota’s defense, which is where Brian and Brent Kallman started.
Ultimately, Minnesota was able to break Atlanta down with a combination of sharp passing and great crosses in, with the far side of the goal providing a number of opportunities for Ramirez.
Hildebrandt had the game of his life, and might have made Van Okel‘s spot as the number 1 goalkeeper a little less solid. It’s great to have such depth at goalkeeper as Minnesota does.
The back four were much more suspect, unfortunately. The Kallman’s, in particular Brent Kallman, looked out of their depth defending some of the attacks of Atlanta. With the injuries and suspensions that Minnesota suffered this week, it was clear that there was going to be a step down for the back four. Next week, with the return of Dias, hopefully there will be a bit more confidence back there.
With both Calvano and Dias out, it became very clear what these two players bring to the defense, and offense, for the team. Dias is great on balls in the air, and confidently tackles opposing forwards, dispossessing them of the ball. Calvano, while also fantastic in dispossessing opponents, has become a key part of the moving the ball out of the back. In many ways, he has become a 6th midfielder, allowing for another option in breaking down a team’s high press and moving the ball through the middle third.
What Position does Ibarra Play?
The NASL match center again put Minnesota as a traditional 4-4-2, but their formation was definitely more of their typical 4-2-3-1 or a 4-4-1-1. The key difference between a 4-4-2 and a 4-4-1-1 is where Ibarra plays. A true 4-4-2 would have Ibarra playing even with Ramirez, but instead Ibarra often drifts back into the midfield and definitely plays behind Ramirez.
This is often what a player in a False 9 role does, drifting back into the midfield, forcing the defense to decide to leave him unmarked or follow him and lose their shape. Sometimes Ibarra has drifted way back, even at times being even with defensive line to receive the ball.
However, I think he is actually more of a false 10. A false 10 is a attacking central midfielder who has license to drift wide with the ball to support the wide midfielder’s runs, or to make those runs himself. This position is also sometimes called a Central Winger, due to nominal position in the center of the field, but that the player will drift wide frequently.
Ibarra definitely makes runs up the side, and doesn’t just remain in the middle of the field. It’s interesting that this has ended up as his role, as he did play last season for at least part of it in the wide midfield role, but rarely seemed as effective as he has lining up in the middle of the field. He has the speed and technical skill to make excellent runs from all over the field and that creates mismatches in the attack.
Of course, with this flexibility for Ibarra to move out of his position in the attack, the rest of the team does a great job reacting to where he moves to, and the space he creates with his overloading runs. On Jordan’s goal, Ibarra made a fabulous pass to Mendes along the sideline, then drifting wide to give room for Jordan to push forward into the box for the header.
A Win is a Win
Ultimately, the team, while shaky on defense, did enough to win. Any result this week (a win or a tie) means that Minnesota wins the Spring Championship and guarantees themselves a home game in the playoffs. Not bad for a team that plays rugby.