Loon Rating Results for Mexico U-21 (July 4th Friendly)

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It’s been a long mid-season break, but July 4th saw the Minnesota United FC play the Mexico U-21 National Team in a friendly. At times it was less than friendly, what with 3 red cards given for a confrontation in the second half.   The team played with some new tactics and gave us a peek at what Manny Lagos might try once the season kicks off again this weekend in Ft. Lauderdale.

Player of the Match

Miguel Ibarra picked up another player of the match, with his high work rate and his new position as a forward.  My favorite highlight of the night was his rainbow pass to Ramirez.  With him pushing forward allows more room for other midfielders to find space in the midfield.  The last two games have seen Lagos experimenting a lot with positions and formations.  Will he go back to the 4-2-3-1 of the Spring Season or continue with the experimentation?

Defender of the Match

Kevin Venegas had a great game, although in one sense to call him a defender is a misnomer, as he spent much of the game pushing far forward along the sideline.  If Minnesota had heat maps for their players the darkest portion for Venegas would be right along the halfline.  The new formation of 4-3-3 gives a lot of space for Venegas to make overlapping runs.  

Sub of the Match

Hildebrandt was rated really highly by the fans this week, but we still saw his struggles with goal kicks and passing.  If he could improve on this area of his game, he would definitely find himself starting somewhere in NASL, if not here in Minnesota.

This week

Ft. Lauderdale away this Saturday.  Game time is 6:30 local time. 

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Tactical Analysis: Minnesota vs. Mexico U-21, July 4

A friendly is a time for experimentation, which made the line-up that was trotted out for the first half both surprising and expected.  Expected, as the formation was different from anything we’ve seen from Minnesota this season.  Surprising in that the starting eleven is likely to be similar next weekend when league play starts up again.

Minnesota came out in a 4-3-3 with a lot of fluid movement between the midfielders and the forwards.  Wes Burdine thought it looked like a diamond at times, which a 4-3-3 can slip into quickly if the center forward falls back into the midfield.

Starting Line-up for Minnesota vs. Mexico U-21

Formation (7-4 v Mexico U-21)

Looking at the formation, the 3 midfielders tended towards the center of the field, which gave a lot of room for Davis and Venegas to push way up the field, both on offense and defense.  When the fullbacks pushed forward, one of the midfielders, usually Vicentini, would slip back between the centerbacks, creating a 3 centerback look.

In some ways, this looked like some of the 3 back formations that have been popular at the World Cup this year for Chile and the Netherlands.  

An Evolution

This formation is an evolution of the 4-2-3-1 that Minnesota had been playing, as the fullbacks in that formation also pushed forward.  In the 4-2-3-1, there were 2 midfielders wide in the formation.  In the 4-3-3, the 3 midfielders were in the middle of the field, meaning that the fullbacks were required to provide the width along the sideline.

The 4-3-3 also allows the 11 best players to find their best place on the field.  The game against Kansas City showed that Jordan is better coming out of the back than playing up in the midfield.  Also, Watson in the middle allows him to play to his strength of distributing and passing in the attack.  In addition, Venegas has looked fantastic in his overlapping runs, and with 3 center midfielders, there is always someone to slip back into the back line to cover a run.  

Overlapping runs and Total football

This game continued Minnesota’s growth in fluid play and interchanging play.  The three forwards were given the freedom to roam around the field, making diagonal runs through each other’s zones.  By being able to switch sides and find space where it exists in the attacking third, Minnesota will create a lot of opportunities in the Fall Season.

The Midfielders were also given a lot of freedom to move around the field, with both Jordan and Pitchkolan moving from sideline to sideline to provide support and spring the attack.

The Second Half

It’s tough to get much out of the second half when substitutes were brought on because the team went down to 9 men fairly early in the half.  It was great to see the team still push forward and have chances on goal even a man down, including an amazing rainbow pass from Ibarra to Ramirez near death.

For the future

Will we see the 4-3-3 again this Fall?  It seems likely because it allows Jordan, Pitchkolan and Vicentini all to play in their favored positions.  With the 4-2-3-1, Lagos didn’t have room for all three.  The 4-3-3 also pushed Ibarra farther forward, allowing him to be involved in more attacks, while pushing Watson inside, which seemed more natural for him than the wing.  

Final Thoughts

Don’t expect Minnesota to be as dominating this Fall as they were in the Spring, but expect them to be competitive in every game.  They might experiment a bit, but Lagos should be able to keep the team engaged and ready.

 

 

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Why you should be a Minnesota United FC Fan

This is for all those people who watched the World Cup and had a blast cheering on the players in the red white and blue with thousands of your closest friends in bars and viewing parties throughout the twin cities. Now that the USMNT were unfortunately knocked out of the World Cup, you might be thinking, is there any way I can still watch some soccer I’ll care about now that this is over?

Start watching (and supporting) local soccer

Sure, you could listen to those people who say that they can only watch European soccer, because the “quality” is so low in the US. But it’s not like you were watching the USMNT team because they were the best team in the World Cup, you were watching them because they are your team.

So it goes for local soccer.  So why not start following your local soccer team?

Reasons why you should support your local soccer team, Minnesota United FC

1. It’s local.

There’s nothing quite like seeing live soccer, particularly when you have thousands of fans around you cheering them on with you. Live, you really start to appreciate the ebb and flow of the game, as one team, then the other begins to take control of the game. Finally, when the ball finds the back of the opponent’s net, the release of all that pent up energy whips the crowd into a frenzy.

Also, unlike any other major American sport, the games only last around 2 hours, and there’s no overtime. So you know exactly what you are getting into.  Plus, there’s no commercial breaks that you have to sit through. The game is still designed to entertain the live spectator, not the TV broadcasters.

2. You’ll actually get a chance to meet the players.

If you are a fan of other professional sports teams in Minnesota, you’ll be lucky to meet a player or two a season.  With Minnesota United FC, you’ll have to try hard to avoid meeting players.

At viewing parties at Brits team players have been known to show up and chat it up with the fans. Players become fan favorites because they are geniunely good people, who you’ll have a chance to know. In addition, there are countless other opportunities to see the players, as Minnesota is really good about getting players out in the community and interacting with the fans. In addition, the team will come and sign autographs and shake hands after each home game.

3. The supporters are amazing.

My wife went to Michigan State, and she talks fondly about her days going to MSU football games and standing in the student section. Or at least she did, until we started standing with the Dark Clouds. The songs, chants and cheers are a blast to sing. Think of it as a cross between a flashmob, a punk rock concert and a college homecoming game.

Plus, there’s always a tailgate before the game and most are really friendly and willing to talk, particularly about the team.

4. Minnesota United FC are actually good

The team almost went bust two years ago, but Bill McGuire purchased the team, and immediately started investing in the team. While the team struggled last year, this year they’ve looked great.

In fact they won the Spring Championship, so they are guaranteed a place in the playoffs at the end of the season.  Sure, you’ll be jumping on the bandwagon of a winning team, but trust me, none of the fans care.

Alright, I’m hooked, what should I know before I come out to my first game?

There’s a lot to know about Minnesota United FC, the Dark Clouds and soccer in Minnesota in general. I’m going to avoid talking about the rules of soccer, because there are a number of great introductions to soccer out there to read.

Who are the players I should pay attention to (and can you relate them to USMNT team players)?

On the offensive end, watch Cristian Ramirez, he leads the league in goals. He’s our Clint Dempsey or Jozi Altidore, the man the farthest forward who leads the attack.

Miguel Ibarra is one of the best players we have, and plays a bit like a more attack minded Michael Bradley, plays in the center of our midfield.

Pitchkolan is our captain, and typically plays like Beckerman as our defensive mid. Venegas takes most of our free kicks and plays out wide in the right fullback position, but you’ll catch him pushing forward a lot, much like Yedlin and Johnson did for the USMNT.

While Matt Van Okel is not Tim Howard, he does have the greatest facial hair in American Sports.

Wait, Minnesota United FC? I thought the local team was [insert name here].

There’s been a number of soccer teams in Minnesota since the 70’s. Minnesota Kicks and then Minnesota Strikers played in the original NASL in the 70’s and 80’s. In the 90’s, the Minnesota Thunder became the local pro team. That team folded in 2009, and NSC Minnesota Stars took their place. That team was then owned by the league, and then by Bill McGuire, who changed the name to the current name.

Who are the Loons?

The Loons is the nickname of Minnesota United FC. Kind of like how the Minnesota baseball team is the Twins, but for many soccer teams, the nickname isn’t part of the official name of the team.

Who are the Dark Clouds?

The Dark Clouds are the inventive, strange and passionate supporters group of Minnesota United FC. They started out supporting the Minnesota Thunder, which is where the Dark Clouds name comes from.

Why do people keep referring to Nessie?

Minnesota plays at the NSC up in Blaine. Now, say NSC as if it was a word. Get it?

Where can I find out more about the club?

Besides mnunitedfc.com and following them on facebook, twitter and instagram, you can read news about the team here at The Relegated, at reddit.com/r/minnesotaunited where there is a lively and engaged group who talks about the team, at soccercentric at the Star Tribune or on the Dunord Podcast.

You can watch home games up in Blaine or on Channel 45 and away games on NASL live.

Hope to see you there!

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Loon Ratings Results for Minnesota vs. SKC USOC (6/18)

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What a tough loss.  Minnesota lost a game they could have won, but those of us who watched it could be very proud of how the Loons performed.

Player of the Match

Mitch Hildebrandt was the clear player of the match.  He kept the team in the game when they went down to 10 men and Sporting KC smelled blood in the water.  A great game by him.

Defender of the Match

Venegas got a lot of love coming back from his broken jaw and performing well both in his overlapping runs and in his defensive acumen.  It’ll be great to see Minnesota back to near full strength (no Campos) this fall.

Sub of the Match

Jamie Watson got the nod for Sub of the Match, but I have to disagree.  He was directly responsible for the second goal.  Granted, he was put into a position at left back that isn’t his usual spot, but still, he probably wasn’t the best sub for the game.

Was it a red card?

The completely impartial fans of Minnesota United FC said no, it should have received a yellow.

Next Match

The next match for Minnesota United is July 4th.  Have you seen the scarves the Dark Clouds will have for the match?

Check out the detailed numbers below!

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Tactical Analysis for Minnesota United FC vs Sporting Kansas City (6/18 – USOC)

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You might have taken the amazing Dethloon bus down to Kansas City.  Or you watched the game on youtube.  Or you read the countless news articles about the loss.

I could spend an entire article talking about red cards or the effort by Minnesota with 10 men, but I think everything that can be said has been said.  Instead, I’m going to focus on the first half, where we saw a new formation for Minnesota.

The 4-1-4-1

On the bus, we were talking about whether or not Minnesota would play a high pressing game.  I felt that they had to, to take advantage of the inexperience in the back line for Kansas City.  In addition, Minnesota has the ability and talent at the back line and at holding midfield to react to a team that beats the high press.

The 4-1-4-1 is designed for the high press, particularly when you look at where each player was playing.

Formation

With Vicentini as the only defensive midfielder, it allowed both Pitchkolan and Jordan to push up the field.  While Jordan was a bit too enthusiastic in his tackles and earned a yellow card early, these two were able to control the midfield and stop the team from building from the back for most of the first half.  

With the players Minnesota had in, this formation was a defensive formation, but defensive on their half of the field.  The team was looking for a quick turnover and counter, and they had a couple of great chances to get on the scoring sheet.  For the first half, Minnesota dominated possession and shot chances.

The other advantage the formation had is an easier ability for players to switch positions on the pitch.  When Justin Davis came up the left flank, either Miguel Ibarra would slide back, or Dias would slide over and Vicentini would slide back to take a centerback role.

Forward

Ramirez had a couple great chances on goal and he just couldn’t get them on target.  This is a struggle he’s had at times during the season, but it was good to see that he never gave up on it.  With Pitchkolan and Jordan underneath him, he didn’t get as good of service from the middle of the field, but Mendes in particular was able to give him a couple of great passes that were just a bit too long for Ramirez to get to.

The Midfield

Miguel Ibarra was out wide, which unfortunately left him out of some of the plays.  He appears to be stronger and able to link up with Ramirez better from the center midfield spot, than from a wide position.  Still, by being wide, he was given space and made a number of great runs with the ball at his feet.

Jordan struggled in the second half when he was in the middle and had to lead the attack out of the back, but in the first half he was strong on his tackles.  Pitchkolan was similarly strong on his tackles, but both had a bit of trouble making those final passes into the box that a center midfielder needs to be able to make.

Mendes was fantastic out on the right wing, and found space and had some great passes and shots.  When he is out on the wing, as a fan you breathe easier.  You know he will tackle and track the ball well, as well as make some great runs with or without the ball.

The Defense

I know I said I wouldn’t talk about the red card, but I feel it’s necessary.  It’s hard not to get frustrated with Dias for the red card.  While it was harsh, it was not a completely unreasonable red card.

I want to point out where that play happened.   Because of the press, and the high line the defense played, Dwyer was receiving a header near midfield and Dias was tracking up that high.  That’s fantastic.

By pushing the on side line up near midfield, and trusting the fullbacks and centerbacks to be able to react to a run or through ball, the team condensed the field that they had to cover and defend.  When Sporting Kansas City had the ball, the game often looked bunched and crowded, which makes it much harder for the offense to move the ball effectively up the field.

Should they keep playing this formation?

I would like to see the team keep up with this formation.  I would like to see Miguel Ibarra move back into the center of the field however, giving him the flexibility to make runs all over the field.

Manny Lagos hasn’t found a left midfielder that he is happy with yet though as he hasn’t settled on Bracallello or Jamie Watson and this formation allowed all three of the holding midfielders to start.  Expect to see the team play a couple different formations during the friendly against Mexico U-21.  

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USMNT Ratings Results for their 2-1 win over Ghana

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As a fan, that game against Ghana had it all.  Players fighting through injuries.  A new player scoring the winning goal.  Clint Dempsey scoring a goal 39 seconds into the match.

One of the neat things to look at with these fan ratings is that the US team was rated similarly to how Minnesota United FC is typically rated.  Mostly 6-8’s.  I think we can all agree that the Loons, no matter how good we might think they are, is not playing at the same level as the US National Team.  

I think ultimately, when we rank the players, we are ranking them against the competition the team is playing, not against some objective ranking.

Player of the Match

By the slimmest of margins, the fans chose Clint Dempsey over Tim Howard.  Even though he scored in the first minute, after he got kicked in the nose, Dempsey was pretty much a non-factor.  He was nervous going into 50-50 balls, and did little to help with the offense.  It made sense, when you saw his nose after the game, as it was clearly broken.  Dempsey seems to have been overrated due to that goal and the rest of his performance was ignored.  

Defender of the Match

The back line held strong for almost the entire game, and the entire line was rated pretty similarly.  Geoff Cameron was the Defender of the Match by a nose.

Sub of the Match

Graham Zusi with the assist and Brooks with the goal earned them high honors for their work, but Brooks had the slight advantage in average and so wins Sub of the Match. 

If you want all the nitty gritty details, check below the cut! (If you’re reading this from the home page, that is).

 

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Reflections on a Spring Championship

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.

 

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United States against Ghana Tactical Analysis

The United States won their first match, and now have a much better shot at making it out of the group. It helps that Portugal were terrible.

So, the United States won with the diamond right?  

Yes, and no.  The team actually spent most of the game playing with a flat 4 in the midfield once Jozy Altidore left the game with an injured hamstring.  This explains a lot of what looked different about the United States, and why some of the common topics people are discussing about the US’s performance as slightly mistaken.

Michael Bradley had a bad game.

While it’s true that Michael Bradley wasn’t his usual ball distributing, game managing self, part of that was because he was playing in the central midfield next to Beckerman. He wasn’t playing underneath the forwards.  In fact, no one was, which meant he didn’t have great options to distribute the ball to.  Once the US went up right away, and Altidore went out, the US was happy to play defensively. The flat 4 in the midfield put 8 players in defense between the ball and the goal, but left them with few options going forward.

Beasley had a terrible game.

While Beasley did not have a great game, Jermaine Jones did not provide much support on the wing for Ghana.  While Ghana had a couple decent crosses, most were dealt with easily by the 4 in the center, Cameron, Besley/Brooks, Beckerman and Bradley.  The US’s plan was to shut down the center of the field, and they were able to do that for almost all of the game.

Aron Johannsson had a terrible game. 

In truth, Dempsey spent most of the game injured with a broken nose and unable to contest balls or press or really make many runs.  If the US hadn’t had to use any subs for the other injuries, Dempsey probably wouldn’t have played the entire match.  As such, Johannsson had no partner up top to play off of.  While Altidore would have had a bit more success, there was nothing they could do with Dempsey a non-factor.

The next game is against Portugal on Sunday at 5 CST.  Will the US be able to continue to find opportunistic goals?  Can they shut down Christian Ronaldo? 

 

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Fill out your ratings for the USMNT against Ghana

A great game, what did you think?  Fill out your ratings!

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US Men’s National Team Tactical Preview

The US has been playing a 4-4-2 diamond for most of the build up to the World Cup.  For newer fans of the US, or for fans who haven’t been following the team recently, you might not understand what this means for the team.  Of course, Klinnsman claims formations mean little in soccer, and that it is more about how the team plays together.  Still, understanding the formation will give a better understanding of the roles of the players and how they will play as a team.

What is a 4-4-2 Diamond?

The 4-4-2 diamond’s distinctive feature is the diamond shape in the midfield.  The two side midfielders play neither as central midfielders or as wide midfielders, but provide numerous ways for the midfielders to pass and move the ball up the pitch.

If you’d like a more thorough explanation of how this formation works, check out the links below:

The Foundations of the 4-4-2 (Diamond Midfield)

4-4-2 Soccer Formation

The 4-3-1-2 Formation: This is essentially the same as the 4-4-2 diamond

Why the diamond?

The two best players in attack for the US are Bradley and Dempsey. The Diamond creates a space for both players to play to their strengths.  For Bradley, he will be the playmaker in the middle of the field at the top of the diamond, with much of the US’s offense going through him.

For Dempsey, he will be able to play up even further in the field as a forward, and allow him to focus on scoring goals.  In the 4-2-3-1, Bradley was held back as a holding midfielder, and Dempsey was often on the wing, which does not play to either players current strengths.

Bleacher Report does a great job going into how these two players will benefit from this formation as well as looking at how the US can win with the diamond.

What to look for tactically?

Besides the diamond shape, which USA Today does a great job showing in pictures, there are other features that fans will be able to see when the US plays.  The first will be Bradley tracking box to box.  This means you will see him making plays on defense and offense.  Also, many of the passes forward will either be to him or from him.  He really will be the key to US’s offense.

The second will be the overlapping fullbacks.  The fullbacks are the two defenders who play wide.  They will both likely move very far up the field as they are the players most likely to provide width on offense.

Finally, watch how the formation will bend and flex on both offense and defense to create and close passing lanes.  The weakness of this formation can be on the wings, and how the team reacts to counter attacks along the sidelines will determine how successful the team can be in the World Cup.  

When is the first game?

US will play Ghana at 6 PM EST, 5 PM Central.

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