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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Minnesota United FC Spring Season Average of Loon Rankings

What a great Spring Season!  After an amazing preseason that included trips to England and to LA, the team started the season off strong, winning the first 4 games, and finishing the season 6-1-2, with 20 points and finished 1 point above New York Cosmos.  The fans clearly had their favorites and their goats, but this was a team that played together and worked as a unit.  As such, there wasn’t a ton of differentiation between the best and worst rated players for the Spring.   chart_1 (4)



Player Average
Matt Van Okel 7.57
Hildebrandt 7.50

Minnesota is blessed with two very quality goalkeepers and that is shown in the Loon Ratings, with only a slight difference between the two.


Player Average
Venegas 7.25
Tiago Calvano 7.00
Cristiano Dias 7.14
Justin Davis 6.83
Brian Kallman 6.20
Brent Kallman 6.00

The fans agree with Manny Lagos, as the original starters of Venegas, Calvano, Dias and Davis are rated a point higher than the two Kallmanswho started the season on the bench.  

Venegas was the Defender of the Spring Season, but only played 4 games due to a broken jaw.


Player Average
Vicentini 6.13
A. Pitchkolan 7.28
Bracallello 6.20
D. Mendes 6.50
Miguel Ibarra 7.63
Watson 7.13
Daley 6.33
Greg Jordan 7.00
Franks 5.50

I think there are many fans who would agree with Pitchkolan and Ibarra as the two best midfielders on the team, but from there the arguments will commence.  Many consider Vicentini as one of the best midfielders, with his touch and passing an underrated asset to the team.  Watson gets rated highly, but only was on the field in 6 games.  Jordan was another polarizing figure, but his high work rate and goal earned him a high score.  


Player Average
C. Ramirez 7.44

Ramirez was the only forward to start in the spring season, and he didn’t disappoint.  In fact, he just won NASL Player of the Month for June.

Player of the Spring Season

Ramirez had a great season, but Ibarra edged him by a small margin as the fan’s Player of the Spring Season.  Ibarra’s ability to play anywhere on the field and to be a catalyst of the attack, as well as his amazing runs made him a favorite among the fans.


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Substitute of the Spring Season

Jordan, Ibarra and Dias all tied with an average of 7 on their substitute appearances, I’m going to give the Substitute of the Spring Season to Jordan as both Ibarra and Dias only appeared in 1 game as a substitute, while Jordan appeared in 6 games.  

Do you want to see each players ratings for each game?  Check them out below the cut!

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Loon Rankings Results: Tampa Bay Away (3-3 Draw)




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Was the game last Saturday Minnesota United’s most dominating performance?  No, definitely not on defense.  The offense had some great goals, but the defense let up some equally awful goals.  Ultimately, it doesn’t matter because Minnesota has punched their ticket to the post season.  It’ll be interesting to see how Manny Lagos reacts to having less to play for in the second half.

Player of the Match

Miguel Ibarra was the player of the match, with an excellent goal, and disruptive runs in the attacking third.  I’ll go back through and figure out how many times he has won the player of the match when I do my Spring Season Loon Rankings summary.

Defender of the Match 

Justin Davis had some great runs in on goal, including an excellent goal, so it’s no surprise that Justin Davis was the fan defender of the match.  On top of that, he wasn’t necessarily directly to blame for the goals, so in a game where the defense was poor, he definitely was a bright spot.

Additional Questions

I included a couple of additional questions for the fans.  The answers are below.


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I think I agree. I’ll be taking the bus down to KC to see this game.  Hopefully Minnesota represents themselves well.

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Someone had a great response: “Good Product on the field to attract more fans.”  Wish I had included that as a choice.  Screen Shot 2014-06-10 at 10.32.38 PM

Ramirez by a landslide.  I just want to say that I called it back before the season started.

Stats for the stat nerds below the cut!

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Tactical Analysis of a Championship: Minnesota draws the Rowdies, 3-3

Minnesota United FC won the North American Soccer League (NASL) Spring Championship which gives the team a home game to start the playoffs at the end of the Fall season.  It might seem strange that the NASL is already crowning a champion only nine games into the campaign, but there is a method to the madness.

Unlike other American soccer leagues, but similar to some Central and South American leagues, the NASL is divided up into two seasons, the spring and fall seasons.  This allows the league to take a break for the World Cup.

The Spring Championship also creates some excitement during a time of the season it can be tough developing story lines for teams in the league.  The league was able to promote 3 of its games this weekend, including one involving the Cosmos, the league darlings, as having implications for the Spring Championship.  The final three teams in the playoffs at the end of the season will be decided during the Fall season, one the team with the best record in the Fall season, and the last two spots to the remaining teams with the best records over both seasons.

The Lineup

Manny Lagos, coach of Minnesota United FC, put out a line-up with a couple of interesting changes.  First, Watson got the start over Bracallello on the left wing.  The Italian Bracallello, a long-time player for Minnesota, has been trading the starting spot with Watson all season, but after starting a couple games in a row, looked like he had the spot locked down.

However, with the team struggling to create offense against Carolina and a very weak Atlanta, Lagos gave the nod to Watson. I’ve written before about the difference between the two, I look at the difference in play style and talents that each player brings to the team.

The second interesting lineup choice was starting Thiago Calvano and sitting Dias.  The Brazilian Calvano had been injured, but travelled with the team, and got the surprise start.

The real suprise was that the big Dias, whose head has proven vital to get balls out of the box or off the goalline, did not start.  Instead, Captain Pitchkolan started next to Calvano, giving space in the defensive midfield for fan favorite Greg Jordan to get the start along side Vicentini.  This defensive choice ended up costing the team at least 2 of their 3 goals.

The Formation and Tactics – The Offense

Minnesota started in a 4-2-3-1, with the league goal leader Ramirez at the top and Ibarra beneath him, and Watson and Mendes on the wings.  The two fullbacks, Davis and Brian Kallman provided a lot of support for the team, coming way up the field, including Davis who had a goal from just outside the box.

Against the 4-4-2 of Tampa, with a straight line midfield, the team found a lot of success with quick passes into the midfield and then out to a player making a run along the wing.  The Rowdies pushed up the field, looking for changes on goal, and that left them exposed on the wings.

After Davis’s first half goal, Minnesota found the back of the net in the second half with two great team goals.  On Mendes’ goal, it starts with great pressure on the goal kick, causing the Rowdies goalkeeper to kick it into touch.  After a long throw from Kallman which was first headed by a Rowdie,  Ibarra makes a quick pass to Ramirez who crossed it to Watson on the far side of the goal, who found Mendes at the penalty spot who slotted it home.

The third goal was set up by great midfield pressure and a quick counter.  Miguel Ibarra made a nice pass to Mendes along the sideline, who found Ramirez in the middle of the field, who made a quick flick on to Ibarra who had kept running up the right side, who shot it through the legs of the goalkeeper.

These goals displayed two aspects of Minnesota’s offense that has played a part in Minnesota’s success this year.  The first is that the front 4 players, while with assigned positions, are given a lot of freedom to move around the field.  Ibarra, the center attacking midfielder, took his shot from the right side, while Mendes, the right winger, scored from the front of the goal.

This interchange and movement allows Minnesota to make use of space and also causes matchup issues for the back four of the opposition.  It also is reliant on the players to be very selfish.  Watson had a shot, but it was from a difficult angle.  Mendes knew that Watson would see him in front of the goal, and it was an easy shot for Mendes after Watson made the pass.

The second is that the team relies on good pressure to create offensive opportunities.  Both goals came on pouncing on balls in the midfield that Tampa Bay had done a poor job of controlling.  The front four sees these opportunities open up, and are already making runs down the field and finding space to receive a pass.  The press of Minnesota is a big part of the success that they have with their offense.

The Defense

The first two goals were poorly defended.  On the first, Pitchkolan, the converted defensive midfielder missed a chance to intercept a pass, which gave the Rowdies the ball on the endline, then Brian Kallman moved inside to sandwich the Rowdie in front of the goal, leaving Wagner open on the far side to take the shot.  Hildebrandt got a hand on the ball, but that was not enough as the ball went just inside the far post.

The second goal was a product of a back line that hadn’t played together.  Tiago Calvano kept Mkosana onside, and Hildebrandt was slow coming off his line.  No one was able to make it back to the goalline in time to keep it out, and the Rowdies led 2-1 going into the half.  This was reminiscent of last year, when Minnesota would let in goals near the end of the half, not playing the full 45 minutes.  This was the first one of the year.

The final goal also was vintage 2013, with Minnesota letting in a goal on a corner kick.  A Rowdie was left open to go up to head the ball right in front of the goal, and while he missed or just touched the ball, his teammate was able to shoulder the ball in on the far post.

With the game at 3-3 late in the game, Dias came on for Watson, and Minnesota parked the bus in front of the goal, with 5 or 6 in the back line to preserve the tie and give them the Spring Championship.  Dias was his usual self, heading at least two balls out of the box, and keeping the Rowdies unable to find another goal.

A great game since it was the result they needed and included lots of offense, and a great end to the first half of the season.  Hopefully they can continue to play well and beat Kansas City in the Open Cup on June 18th.

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Loon Ratings Results for Minnesota United’s 2-1 Away Win at Atlanta (5/31)

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It was great to get away from Atlanta with the win, even though Minnesota at times looked very suspect, especially at the back.

Looking at the rankings, I was a bit surprised by the ratings of some of the players.  First, Greg Jordan, who has been a polarizing player in the past, rated higher than Miguel Ibarra.  I guess that’s what happens when you put one in the back of the net.  I think Jordan might be the first player to score who does not also have an assist.

Second, the two Kallmans, who were rated at a 7 and 6 respectively were rated much higher than I expected.  Brian Kallman was actually rated as highly as Pitchkolan and Ibarra, who I personally felt had much stronger games.   If anything, the play of Brent Kallman in the centerback role really reinforced to me how good Dias and Calvano are in that role.  

Player of the Match

Just like the Dark Clouds, the fans picked Mitch Hildebrandt as the Player of the Match, and with good reason.  He picked up his back four on a number of occasions, making fantastic stops and keeping Atlanta off the scoreboard until Minnesota’s offense could catch up and put a couple in.

Sub of the Match 

While not having a stand out game coming off the bench, it was great to see Richard Garcia, the Kookaburra himself, while not the centerback we need, he will be a great addition to our attack with Omar Daley likely on the outside of the midfield rotation.

Inflated Ratings Are Ok

I feel like the ratings are about a point, possibly two, too high for many of the players, but ultimately, I think that ends up being an argument of semantics than actually about the play of the players.  Relative to each other, the players were rated pretty accurately.

Thanks everyone for filling out the loon rankings this week!  Check all the nitty gritty statistics behind the cut!

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Tactical Analysis: Atlanta Silverbacks Away (2-1 Win for Minnesota)

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’s tactics

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.

The Defense

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.  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.

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Submit Your Loon Ratings for Atlanta Away (5/31)

Get your loon ratings in United’s hard fought and lucky 2-1 win against the Silverbacks!

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Preview for Minnesota United FC at Atlanta Silverbacks

Well, here it is.  Minnesota has had a charmed spring season up until now with few injuries and fortunate penalties.  Now, with the spring season in their grasp, Minnesota must win in Atlanta with 2 players on red cards and another 2 injured, bringing the total number on injured reserve to 4, including three in defense/goal.

Players out injured

Pablo Campos is out with an ACL tear, and is likely out for the whole season

Kevin Venegas got his jaw broken during practice.  Won’t be back until Fall.

Matt Van Okel twisted his ankle.  It’s unclear when he’ll be available again.  

Tiago Calvano tweaked his thigh and will be out for the rest of the Spring Season.

Likely starters

Expect to see a new look in the back for Minnesota.  Pitchkolan will start in the centerback position, with someone new in the back with him.  At the open cup game, Brent Kallman got the start.  There’s a good chance we’ll see him in that role again, which means fan’s will get to be really confused as to which B. Kallman just made the stop.  

In the middle Vicentini will get the start, with either Franks or Jordan next to him.  Jordan hasn’t started yet but has added energy everytime he comes on, so this might be his chance to start.

Up front, I’m not expecting much to change for Minnesota, although with the struggles to score in the last few games, we might see Watson in place of Bracalello.

Who is Atlanta, anyways?

Coached by a computer, or rather Eric Wynalda who did not give up his day job as an analyst for Fox Soccer to coach the team, Atlanta has not looked all that strong this season.  He doesn’t attend most practices and has also not been at all the games this season.

It makes sense that Atlanta would be in a sort of personality crisis. According to match reports put up on nasl, they have played in a variety of formations, including a 4-2-4, a formation not seen since the 1970 World Cup.  They’ve also lost some games by large margins, including two 4-0 drubbings.

Atlanta are coming off a 5-0 win against Chattanooga in the US Open Cup, but they played most of their starters for that game.  It’ll be interesting to see who they start this game against Minnesota. 

Other Previews

Alex Schieferdecker previews the game at focusing on the adversity that Minnesota has going into this game and the lack of a clear formation and tactics for Atlanta.  

Jon Marthaler has a good preview up over at SoccerCentric as well.

The #TheKookaburraHasLanded

Richard Garcia is in Atlanta with the team.  No word yet on if he’ll suit up for the team, but it’s wonderful to hear that he’s finally arrived!


With the shambles that is Atlanta’s defense, and Minnesota’s current makeshift defense, this could be a high scoring game.  Dare I say it? 4-2 Minnesota. 


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Loon Ratings Results for Des Moines Menace Away USOC (5/28)

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Normally, when the team wins, particularly a knock out game, the team will get rated highly.  But with the team struggling with a team of amateurs, the fans didn’t seem to excited about the team.  It is great though that the team is able to play a team of almost all 2nd teamers and still win.  Would have liked to have seen a 2 or 3-0 scoreline, but ultimately, a win is a win in a tournament like the US Open Cup.

Well, I think the new requirement to justify low and high scores work, if only for some great commentary on the game.  But before I share some of them and look at the scores, here is one that caused the score to be deleted: “I just don’t think Jordan is that good of a player.”  If that’s your reason for a 1, I’m going to delete the 1.  1’s and 2’s are reserved for players who have a monumentally bad game, not players who you don’t think are that good.  Give him a 3 or a 4, but if he is just “not that good” I’m going to delete the score.

Player of the Match

While the winning score was made by a sub, there was one player the fans recognized as the player who got the team there, Mitch Hildebrandt.  Strong in goal, he kept the match level until Ramirez was able to come on and score.

Sub of the Match

Ramirez was obviously going to win the sub of the match, with his game winning goal late in the game.  Fans who were there talked about how the game changed when Ramirez stepped on the field.  It’s great to have a player like that.  As good as Pablo Campos is, it never felt that way as a fan last year, that Pablo Campos changed the tempo of the game.

Some of the fans justified his ratings thusly: “Christian Ramirez got the Winner coming on as a sub. Deserves a 9.” and “Ramirez lighted it up with the huge goal and all around great play.

Some other Feedback on players

“Kallman was a beast in the air and looked very solid both on the ball and defensively. Hope to see more of him on Saturday with the injuries and suspensions.”

“Daley had a bad game, but mostly it looked to me like he didn’t even want to be there.”

Details of the rankings for math nerds behind the cut!

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Loon Ratings for Carolina Railhawks Home (5/24)

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Well, it was an interesting week of ratings.  After tonight’s game against Des Moines, I’m going to include a spot to write the reason you gave a player a 9 or a 10, or a 1 or a 2.    This week in particular, it seemed like a number of people voted more than once to lower or raise a players score.  This isn’t a Chicago election, people!

I’m also going to get rid of the ability to see responses that other people have given.  Hopefully these two modifications should fix some of these issues.

In any case, on to the ratings!

Player of the Week

When you have a 0-0 tie, ratings are going to be a bit lower.  However, for one player, they were much higher than usual, as Justin Davis was the clear player of the week with a rating of 8.

Sub of the Week

The sub of the week was clearly Jordan again. While he might have had a couple mistakes, he was overall very strong, and also didn’t get a red card.

The Ubiparipovic Memorial Award for Terrible Red Card

A new this week award, the Ubiparipovic Memorial Award for Terrible Red Card, or Ubi for short, is given to a player who shows clear stupidity in earning a red card.  Named after a player Minnesota had last year who managed to come on in a game, and 45 seconds later, kick another player and earn a straight red card and was sent off.  By a clear majority, Daley has earned the first Ubi.  So, congrats Daley!

This week

Look for a loon ratings submission going up tonight for the Des Moines game!

Mathy math and numbers below the break!

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