Looking back on this Spring, I thought long and hard about why Minnesota was able to win the Spring Season Championship. I came up with three reasons.
They played a high press.
Minnesota played a high press in 8 out of 9 of their games. The only game they lost was the game that they sat back and tried to counter. The high press is particularly effective in the NASL because of the skills that are needed to beat a high press.
One way to beat a high press, you need either centerbacks and central midfielders who are very strong on the ball. For most NASL teams, they do not have enough players with these skills to effectively beat a high press. Instead, many of Minnesota‘s opponents were forced to try long passes up to attacking midfielders or forwards. Fortunately, Minnesota’s defense was able to deal with these runs and passes, which leads us to the second reason for Minnesota‘s success.
The center of the defense/midfield were solid.
The central defense of Dias and Calvano were fantastic. Dias became the long ball defensive specialist, heading a number of balls out of danger every game. Calvano would tackle any player that managed to break through the high press. They were able to focus on these roles more effectively because Pitchkolan and Vicentini provided such support in front of them, cutting off passes and forcing opponents to seek the long ball pass that the two centerbacks could easily deal with.
In addition, Calvano and Vicentini proved to be very adept with the ball at their feet, allowing Minnesota to break down the high press of the opponents. Minnesota proved to be one of the few teams who could deal with the high press effectively, with many of their looks on goal starting with 4 or 5 one touch short passes to get out of their end.
The players understood the roles on the field.
By this I don’t mean the players understood their roles on the field, although that was certainly true. The players were able to be interchangeable to a degree that Minnesota fans haven’t seen before. Calvano was able to carry the ball up from his centerback position, and one of the holding midfielders would take his place.
Or the fullbacks would make an overlapping run, and there would be a player sliding back to take their place. By the last game, Justin Davis was scoring from just outside the 18 yard box.
On the attack, the 3 midfielders and the 1 forward would make runs into each others spaces, switching sides and providing a number of different looks against the opponent’s defense.
The offense was incredibly smart.
This builds off the previous point with the offense’s attacking runs. While Christian Ramirez was a revelation, the rest of the offense was incredibly well-disciplined as well. The team took shots when they needed to and passed in the right moments. There were few times when it felt like the team took too few or too many passes around the goal. While not every shot went in, obviously, the shots they did take were high percentage, good looks on goal.
What do they do in the fall?
This is the million dollar question, isn’t it? Do they wilt like Atlanta did, or do they power through the second half, possibly with a bit more squad rotation, and finish strong and ready for the playoffs? With the strengths they have, it would be a surprise if they faltered significantly in the second half.