Tactical Analysis: USMNT versus Azerbaijan

A win is a win, and 2-0 is a decent win, but the USMNT did not look all that good against Azerbaijan.  Azerbaijan packed the box, at times playing with 11 men behind the ball.  The US resorted to a number of long balls, which got caught in the swirling wind at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.  However, Mix Diskerud came on in the second half and got the scoring going with some great work in the box and then Aron Johannson finished them off with a header off a corner.

Overall Impressions

The team looked like they were playing at times to avoid injury.  Which makes sense, with only 15 days until the start of the World Cup.  At the same time, it left the game last night looking sluggish and slow.  The team was unable to break down the defense of Azerbaijan during the normal run of play, with both goals coming from set pieces.

Formations and Reflections

The US again played a 4-4-2, with the midfield in a diamond formation.  However, unlike against MexicoBradley was unable to put his stamp on the midfield.  Some of that was due to long balls that bypassed the midfield, some of that was Azerbaijan focusing on Bradley, but with the formation the US is playing, it will be vital that Bradley has a good game, both on the ball and making runs.

The fullbacks did a fantastic job pressing forward, and both sides made good runs into the box.  There were some scary moments defending though, and the back line will need to firm up their defense before the next game.

Wondo and Johansson looked great on set pieces, but the two forwards seemed to struggle to find space and get good looks on goal during the run of play.  Altidore still needs a goal or two during the World Cup warm up.

The way the US lines up and plays is much more attack-minded than in years past.  This should make for much more entertaining soccer, but it will be interesting to see if the US will be able to hold their own against Portugal and Germany playing such an attack minded formation.

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Better Know a Foe: Des Moines Menace

Those of you at the cold and rainy stadium in St. Paul last spring know, the last time Minnesota faced Des Moines Menace is a match we’d rather all forget. In case you’d like to relive the sadness of crashing out of the US Open Cup, please feel free to watch the highlights below.

What is the US Open Cup?

The US Open Cup is a knockout tournament featuring 80 teams this year, competing for glory and the chance to lose to a Mexican team in the CONCACAF Champions League next year.  It’s basically the NCAA March Madness tournament, if the March Madness tournament featured NBA teams as well.

Lower level teams love the Cup, because it gives them a chance to face off against bigger opponents and have the shot at upsetting the team.

Who Are The Des Moines Menace?

The Des Moines Menace are a amateur soccer club in Des Moines who have a wide variety of teams, including a USASA and a PDL team.  It was the USASA team that qualified last fall, but expect many of the college PDL players to be featured on the team that Minnesota faces.

Some people were curious how a team could qualify with one set of players, and then play a different set of players in the tournament.  So long as the players are declared to US Soccer before the game, and don’t play for another team during this year’s US Open Cup run, the team can have any player play with them.

The only issue for them would be if playing on the Des Moines Menace US Open Cup team would disqualify them for the PDL team or their College team due to professionals playing on the US Open Cup team, but I highly doubt they have any players they are paying.

Expect the team to feature a lot of young, college players.  Hopefully, the professional players on Minnesota United FC will be able to exploit the youth

Records in the US Open Cup

Minnesota United FC( includes Stars statistics): 

Overall(W-L-D): 3-3-0 | Home: 1-2-0 | vs. Amateur: 2-1-0

Des Moines Menace: 

Overall: 9-7-1 (1-0 PKs) | Home: 5-3-1 (1-0 PKs) | vs. Amateur: 4-1-0

Head to head, Minnesota United FC and Des Moines Menace are 1-1-0, with each team winning away at their opponents home.  Hopefully that streak will continue this week for Minnesota. 

Who might start for Minnesota?

That’s a great question.  With a big league matchup this weekend for Minnesota, expect some starters to sit.  We will definitely see Dias, as he will be sitting this weekend with a red card.  We might see Daley get a chance to redeem himself.

I also expect Watson, Polak and Prindham to get starts.  Ibarra, as the motor of the offense, might get the start, as well as Jordan this week.  Pitchkolan will likely get a start as well as the captain.  

Fan favorite Takada will hopefully get a start as well, or at least playing time, if only so the traveling Dark Clouds can sing to him.

Should be a great game, and hopefully Minnesota will get to be the team that faces Sporting Kansas City in Kansas City on June 18th.

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Tactical Analysis: Carolina Railhawks Home

Sometimes a 0-0 draw feels like a win for a team.  Sometimes it feels like a loss.  This game definitely felt like a loss, even though with results elsewhere in NASL, Minnesota remains 3 points clear of second place.

The Big Question: Why couldn’t Minnesota Score?

Minnesota controlled the game, and dominated the shots on goal.  They still couldn’t find the back of the net.  There were three reasons that Minnesota couldn’t score, besides just bad luck.  It wasn’t just about a failure of the strikers to finish, but also a problem with touch and the defensive formation of Carolina.

Reason #1: Carolina’s Formation

Carolina came in with one thing on their mind, slowing down the vaunted Minnesota offensive.  Take a peek at Carolina’s defense on an attack early in the first half.  There are 8 orange jerseys in the box, and one just outside of it.

Carolina Railhawks parking the bus in the box.

Carolina Railhawks parking the bus in the box.

Carolina was hoping hoping to take a 0-0 scoreline late into the game when they could sneak a goal in and steal the win.  While they weren’t able to steal a win, they did walk away with a away point, which they have to be happy with.

Reason #2: Poor Shot Selection

Minnesota took a lot of shots, but with the formation that Carolina was playing, they had little hope of many of those shots going in.  On this attempt by Ramirez, you can see that there is a swarm of Carolina defenders around him and there is room for a shot to get through on goal.

Ramirez trying to play pinball with the orange jerseys standing in as bumbers.

Ramirez trying to play pinball with the orange jerseys standing in as bumbers.

Reason #3: Poor Passing and Touches

Too many passes were in bad positions for players to run on the ball.  On this pass, Ibarra just passes it over the box to no one.  Through balls were behind players, causing them to have to slow down their attack, which allowed the Carolina defense to get into position to stop a pass.

Ibarra skied it looking for the cross.  A shot might have been a better play anyways.

Ibarra skied it looking for the cross.

How do you beat a team focused on Defense?

Carolina sat back and looked to defend first, and counter-attack when possible.  Minnesota couldn’t find a way to break it down effectively.  FourFourTwo has a good video explaining one way to beat this kind of defense.  Basically, the team needs to move it in and out of the attack to get the defense to come out onto the midfielders with the ball and get out of position.

Jordan remains a super-sub

I know some people want to see Jordan get the start, and he might next week with Dias out with a red card and Calvano possibly out with an injury, but his game remains one of high energy and a lack of polish.  Nonetheless, he’s a great player to bring in off the bench, as he will fly around and put his stamp on the midfield, bringing a spark to the team late in games.

Calvano will be missed if he is out for long

Calvano has been an amazing asset for the team, not just on defense, but also in bringing the ball up from the back.  At least once Pitchkolan fell back into centerback to allow Calvano to push forward in attack.  With the fullbacks pushing way up in attack and Ibarra popping up anywhere on the field to receive the ball, the team is playing really fluid, attacking soccer.

Daley looked like he was playing a different game

Daley came into the game, and seemed to throw off the team.  Watson had been warming up, and probably would have been a better fit.  Daley pushed Mendes to the left, where Mendes disappeared, having little to do with the game after that.  In addition, Daley gave up the ball a number of times, and then had a terrible red card at the end of the game.  He just isn’t the player he was at the end of last year.  I’ll be interested to see how many more opportunities he gets with the first team.  

Midweek Game against Menace this week

I expect to see Dias get the start, with him missing the game next weekend, and Calvano resting, even if he’s ok.  With it a Cup game, expect the team to start a lot of bench players.  I’m interested to see if Ramirez gets the start as well.

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Weekly News Wrap-Up: May 24th

So Minnesota has had a slower news week, but big news for the US Men’s National Team this week with the 23 man roster announced.  The big question for Minnesota United FC fans, have you purchased your Swansea friendly tickets?

A great video of the Dark Clouds

The Dark Clouds from Philip Hussong on Vimeo.

Minnesota vs. Carolina Railhawks Team Preview

This should be a great game, and I’m predicting a 2-0 Minnesota win.  Big question though, will Dias start, with his head injury?

RESERVES WATCH: United Reserves start their season

The Minnesota United Reserves started their season last weekend, with a loss against St. Louis Bordo 1-4 and a win over Eau Claire Airis 7-2.  There’s a home game this weekend on Sunday.  If you are interested in this team, check out the schedule.

US Men’s National Team News

Want to watch pre-World Cup friendlies on TV? This post has as many channels and times as can be found.

The big news is that Landon Donovan is off the 23 man World Cup Roster.  There’s some interesting commentary about the exclusion.  For me, this is overall a great team, but Donovan’s exclusion I don’t agree with.  I get it though.  He’s not one of the best 11 players on the team, and Klinnsman didn’t want him coming off the bench.  

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Better Know a Foe: Carolina Railhawks

The Carolina Railhawks (3-1-2, 5th place) are for me the forgotten team of NASL.  Other teams are flashier, or make bigger signings, but Carolina just keeps winning.  A beast to beat at home, they tend to be much tamer on the road.  Luckily, Minnesota gets a chance to defend their 1st place in the spring championship against this team at home.

Carolina have let in a lot of goals, which with offense of Minnesota promises to make the game this weekend a high scoring affair.  If they had been able to win on the road last season, Carolina would have been in the Soccer Bowl instead of Atlanta.  

Formation

Carolina seems to favor a more traditional 4-4-2, with Schilawski at the top and their main goal scorer and threat.  It appears that they play a more flat midfield, with two defensive midfielders rather than a diamond, with one of the midfielders pushing up.

Look for Carolina to come out compact and waiting for Minnesota to make a mistake and capitalizing on it.

Former Loons

Fan favorite Connor Tobin will be returning with the Railhawks. To understand why Turbo was such a hit with the fans, if you didn’t know already, check out this video from last season.

Prediction

2-0 Minnesota.  They should be able to take care of Carolina at home.

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Standard Deviation of Players Rankings from the Ft. Lauderdale Game

chart_2

Here’s the standard deviation chart for the players from this week’s loon rankings.  As you can see, Vicentini has the highest standard deviation, which means there is the greatest difference in ratings.

Interesting is that Jordan followed by Kallman.  The two highest rankings, Ibarra and Ramirez had very little variation in the rankings they received.

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Loon Ratings for Ft. Lauderdale Strikers Home

chart_1 (5)

When you win, and win convincingly, the fans respond in kind.  Overall, the team was rated an 8, which sounds about right.  One major mistake, and Minnesota controlled the match.

Players of the Week

Miguel Ibarra and Christian Ramirez were neck and neck for Player of the Week, with Ramirez won with a higher average.  I’ve already talked about what made these two so great this week, but it’s clear these two get a lot of appreciation for their ability on and off the ball and their highlight reel goals.

But what about those other players who had great games.  What surprised me was that Matt Van Okel was the third highest ranked player of the match.  While he had a decent game, what about the games Calvano, Pitchkolan and Vicentini?  Those three seemed to have games that were worthy of higher rankings, particularly Vicentini, who played a full game for the first time this season.

While Vicentini once again was ranked rather poorly, at least more fans are beginning to recognize what he brings to the game.  I’ll admit I was in that camp as well, particularly with the energy Jordan brings.

Defender of the Week

In an interest to support our defenders, who have had some fantastic games, but go unrecognized sometimes, I’m adding another award, Defender of the Week.  This week, it was Calvano, who had another fabulous game both on the ball and defending it.  After Altman and Tobin left last year, there were some concerns about the position of centerback, but he has stepped up admirably.  

Sub of the Week

Jordan is our sub of the week again, but it’s quickly becoming not much of a competition.  Manny Lagos, could you please use all three subs so we can have more subs to choose from?

Thanks for rating the players this week, and hopefully we can rate the players after Carolina just as high.

Detailed stats below the cut:  Continue reading

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Tactical Analysis for Minnesota United: Ft Lauderdale Strikers Home

That was a fantastic win on Saturday.  Minnesota was by far the more deserving of the two teams, and dominated almost all of the game.  Making the win all that much sweeter was the tactics employed by Ft. Lauderdale.

Recently, there has been a name given to a type of soccer on display on Saturday: Anti-Football.  Anti-football is where a team plays incredibly negatively, setting up defensively, delaying the game, making hard tackles and throwing themselves on the ground at the slightest touch.  A classic example is the Dutch team in the World Cup final in 2010 against Spain.

On Saturday, the fans up at Blaine got to watch another great example of anti-football from the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers. Minnesota will need to get used to those tactics being employed by their opponents more and more this season.  Minnesota is bigger and better physically than most other teams in the NASL.  Other teams will try to employ those tactics to slow down the Loons offense and throw them off their game.  Fortunately, this time, Minnesota was up for the task.

Formation

Minnesota went back to the 4-2-3-1 that they had had so much success with earlier in the season, but actually started the same starting 11 as against the Cosmos.  Vicentini and Pitchkolan were the defensive midfielders, which meant that one typically pushed up farther in the field, and the other supported behind.  

Defense

Minnesota looked like a different team this week, with Ibarra, Bracalello, Mendes and usually Vicentini pushing up past the midline to create a high press.  Last week, the Cosmos were seldom harried until Minnesota’s defensive third of the field. This week the team was able to recover the ball in much more advantageous positions on the field and could counter much quicker and more effectively.

In the back, Kallman was much more steady making no obvious mistakes, and after Dias went off with his head injury, Pitchkolan stepped in and played admirably in the center back position.  

Against the Strikers, the defense was much more willing to hold onto the ball and find an open man, rather than booting it up field and turning it back over.  Calvano had one of the best games of a centerback this season, both on defense with tackles and recoveries, as well as on offense, controlling the ball on the dribble and making excellent passes.

The goal by Strikers’ Nunez was unfortunate, and can be chalked up to the team being flat coming out of the half, as well as miscommunication between the centerbacks.  With Pitchkolan not seeing any minutes this season in that role, I have a feeling that was what led to Nunez not being marked.

Midfield: What position was Ibarra Playing? Or, overlapping Fullbacks

More so than any game before, the two fullbacks, Kallman and Davis  pushed way up the field along the wings, playing in the role of overlapping fullbacks.  They are called such because they are going into the space normally occupied by the wide midfielders.  This enabled Bracalello  and Mendes to push in towards the center of the field, or up the field, creating marking issues for the back four of Ft. Lauderdale.  

On many attacks, the team would end up with a 3-1-5-1 or 3-3-3-1, with one of the defensive midfielders playing the holding midfield position, and able to get back to help on defense until the fullbacks were able to rush back to their position.

The team was able to do a lot of triangular passing, because with a fullback, a defensive midfielder or two, Ibarra or Ramirez, and a wide midfielder all on the same side, there were not enough Strikers to mark everyone.  If you look at the 4-2-3-1 of Ft Lauderdale, it’s defensive strength lies in the center of the field.  By bringing the fullbacks up the field along the sidelines, there were more men in a space than there were defenders.

The most interesting part of the fullbacks pushing up was where Ibarra sometimes ended up.  He would move into the space vacated by the fullback to receive the ball from the defensive midfielders.  This meant that our fastest player with the ball at his feet would receive the ball at least 20 yards from the nearest defender.  Giving Ibarra this flexibility to find space anywhere on the field opened up a number of options in the attack, and allowed more players to more forward.

Vicentini had a fantastic game, both defensively and in the attack.  With Pitchkolan conscripting to centerback, he had a lot more flexibility, and pushed up farther in the attack.  In addition, his ball skills allowed him to open up passing and dribbling lanes, giving his teammates a chance to find open space to receive a pass.

Forwards: Ramirez or Campos

Ramirez is quickly becoming the most exciting player for Minnesota. Not only was his goal fantastic, he continues to create opportunities not only for himself but for other players.  My favorite moment though wasn’t his goal, nor his backheel that Ibarra finished into the back of the net.  It was his shot on goal from 40 yards out when he noticed the goalie had come way off his line.  That confidence and awareness of where everyone else is on the field is fantastic, and is why the offense has looked so potent this season.

A number of people have started suggesting that Ramirez is better than Campos, which I’m not convinced is true.  Nonetheless, the offense looks much more complete than it did with Campos in the striker position, so I definitely see their point.  What do you all think?

I will say, I called Ramirez as our best offseason acquisition, which is making me feel pretty smart (or lucky) right now.

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Weekly News Wrap-Up: May 17th Edition

What a week it’s been for Minnesota United FC.  The great news for this summer keeps on coming!

Minnesota to Play Swansea City (EPL) in a Friendly July 19th

This is pretty unbelievable news.  The team met the promoter for the Swansea City summer tour in England, and that set in motion this friendly happening.  Last summer we complained about the lack of marque friendlies, but this year, it’s a veritable bonanza this year, with a July 4th friendly and fireworks as well as the Swansea City friendly.  I’m pumped

Minnesota will travel to Des Moines for their Third Round US Open Cup Tie, May 28th

The Loons will be seeking revenge for last years loss against the Menace.  Unfortunately, the team will be playing away in Des Moines.  It’s a Wednesday, so start coming up with your work excuses now.  If United wins, they will play in KC against Sporting Kansas City.

Kevin Venegas out for 6-8 weeks

The right back, Venegas, is out for the spring season after suffering a broken jaw in training.  Kallman right now feels like a big step down, so he’s really going to have to step up his game.

Mall of America is now the sleeve sponsor for Minnesota United FC

As long as it is not called Mall of America Sleeve on Minnesota United FC Jersey, I’m excited about this.  A great brand to have advertising on the jersey.

Interesting Richard Garcia interview

Minnesota MLS Watch

A new report from Fox Sports North suggests that the Vikings are getting serious about their bid for an MLS team in Minnesota.  The only new information is that the Wilf’s took in a Seattle Sounders game.  An indoor soccer team sounds awful in the new dome being built, but competition is good, and hopefully will lead to the best ownership group getting a team in MLS.

FIFA Corruption Watch

In Europe, people are getting wise to the fact that the new Fair Play rules are really just designed to keep poorer clubs down.  In World Cup Qatar news, lots of people are dying building the stadiums, and Sepp Blatter has finally admitted it was a mistake.  Not to hold the World Cup in Qatar, oh no.  Just to have the World Cup in the Summer in Qatar.  And in Brazil World Cup news, protesters are saying that “there will be no world cup.” Not what you would expect from such a soccer loving nation.

For Your Amusement

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1DcDK79NREc

 

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Better Know a Foe: Preview of Ft. Lauderdale Strikers Home (May 17)

After losing on the road to NY Cosmos, Minnesota United FC come home to face the Ft Lauderdale Snuggies Strikers with first place on the line.

Check out their highlights from their win last week for a feeling on how the team plays.

Formations and Match-ups

Ft Lauderdale play a 4-2-3-1, much like Minnesota has in the past.  Assuming Minnesota sets up in a 4-2-3-1, we shouldn’t have any major weaknesses or strengths.

Looking at the highlights, it appears that Ft Lauderdale also tries for the counter on offense.  With Pitchkolan and Vicentini as defensive midfielders, it will be vital that they keep their shape and cut off counters before they develop.

With Venegas out for 6-8 weeks now, Brian Kallman must step up.  While he played decently against the Cosmos, he needs to help create more attacks from the back, and stay more organized on defense.

A question that the fans are sure to wonder about is if Jordan will finally get a start.  Vicentini has been a steady prescience in midfield, but Jordan brings a more energetic and attacking game to the field.  Does he get the start to help jump start what was an anemic offense against the Cosmos?

Minnesota will need to bring the ball up the side, as the middle of the field will be tough to break down.  It’ll be interesting to see who gets the start on the wings.  Will Daley see the field again this game, or has Mendes locked down the wing spot?  Bracallello or Watson? Both bring something to the table, and will be chosen likely based on the weaknesses Manny Lagos sees in the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers.  

Other Previews

Preview from the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers.

Preview from the Minnesota United FC.

Predicted Scoreline

2-1 Minnesota.  With Ft. Lauderdale‘s, pedestrian defense, Minnesota shouldn’t have much trouble finding the goal.

 

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