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


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.


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.


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



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).


Continue reading

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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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World Cup Preview

The World Cup has begun and I finally find myself with the time to do a bit of World Cup previewing. To be honest, the World Cup is probably the worst place to start watching soccer. It’s a knockout tournament, with few teams wanting to concede goals, which leads to a highly defensive form of soccer. In addition, a single penalty or red card can change a team’s fortune in this tournament, so you will see more diving and analysis of the ref’s calls than any other tournament or soccer.

Which teams to support? The answer is of course the United States.  But most fans have a second or third team they are cheering on in the World Cup.  It could be a team from your ancestry, or a team that plays soccer you like to watch.

What types of tactics are the teams going to use? I’ve talked a bit about the United States tactics, but if you want to read about the formations the other teams are using, check out Zonal Marking or Outside of the Boot. both have great write-ups about the 32 teams at the World Cup.

Which Games To Watch? Once the knockout rounds begin, every game becomes one to watch, but during the the group stage, there are some games that are more interesting than others.  Soccer By Ives has some recommendations on what to watch.  For me, I’ll be watching games with teams I don’t get to watch very often, like South American and Asian teams.

I’m looking forward to watching these games and I’ll be posting on twitter @bill_mk all World Cup long.


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