After two consecutive blowout losses, redemption is the only thing on Minnesota United’s mind as they head into a tough Week 3 matchup in Colorado this weekend.
“Didn’t defend the box well enough. Didn’t make good decisions. Didn’t go with runners at the appropriate time. Didn’t drop at the appropriate time. A lot of stuff that I thought was happening on the day was confirmed watching it,” Minnesota United head coach Adrian Heath said at practice earlier this week.
For those of you in need of a mental refresher of last week, see the below video. Warning, the content you are about to watch is graphic:
After conceding 11 goals in just two games — an MLS record for back-to-back goals allowed — United is looking for any sign of stability and life as they travel southwest to take on the Colorado Rapids on the road.
The Build Up
This week the obvious talking point has been Minnesota’s struggles on the field but at practice Heath may have revealed an extenuating factor causing some of the team’s issues.
“Now, as I said before, and it’ll sound like an excuse, but I said this before the Portland game: trying to get every one of these players in town and get settled has been really hard, it’s been tough for us,” Heath said. “With the weather and the training facility being renovated. It hasn’t been ideal.”
Hold on a second, many people will say, isn’t last week’s opponent Atlanta United an expansion team, too? Yes, but keep in mind that Atlanta was accepted to Major League Soccer in April 2014, giving it nearly three years to prepare for its inaugural season. Meanwhile, Minnesota wasn’t officially adopted into MLS until August 2016 and all the while still had to operate itself as a fully functioning club in the North American Soccer League.
So it’s no surprise one club may need to experience a more drastic learning curve than the other.
More hazards abound for Heath and co., however, as two of his three top goalies are incapacitated, as we wrote earlier this week, and top players Rasmus Schuller, Johan Venegas and Francisco Calvo have been called for international duty. Though the international trio will still be available for this weekend’s match, the thought of losing any players for any period of time, especially some of United’s best, is a cringe-worthy thought.
Heath maintained that, despite early returns, this squad can compete at this level and the primary objective of the coaching staff is to ensure the players believe that, too.
“I have a lot of faith in this group. Some people may say it’s blind faith after two games, but it isn’t,” Heath said. “I saw enough preseason. I’ve spoke to enough people within the game who’ve watched our games. Yeah, we’ve conceded far too many goals that’s easy enough to say. At times, I’ve seen some promising moments from us and I certainly haven’t given up on this group yet. One or two others might have, but I certainly haven’t.”
Know Thy Enemy
The Rapids have had a decent start to the season with three points on the board from a 1-1-0 record just two games in. While they aren’t lighting the world on fire, a zero goal differential is good enough for a spot in the middle of the table as early season ranking starts to take shape.
The Rapids started their season with a tidy 1-0 win in front of a home crowd at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. After a few first half chances, forward Dominique Badji put one in the back of the net at in 52nd minute with help from teammate Jared Watts. The tally came after a well-placed header that went just high and ricocheted off the crossbar.
Last week, the team traveled to meet the Eastern Conference powerhouse New York Red Bulls at Red Bulls arena, a contest that saw the Colorado side defeated for the first time this season.
In its first two matches, Colorado was the lesser team statistically when it came to passing, possession and shots. This tells us the Rapids are a defense-first team. This actually may prove to be useful for Minnesota as their primary struggle at present is offensively potent teams.
The Rapids surprised many MLS fans and pundits last season when they ended up second in the Western Conference with 58 points on a record of 15-6-13. Before the season began, a common storyline was one of concern for a Rapids side eyeing playoff contention. They ended up silencing the doubters in decisive fashion when they made it all the way to the conference finals before falling 3-1 on aggregate to eventual MLS Cup winners the Seattle Sounders.
The club will also field a resurgent Tim Howard who is back after recovering from a tear in his abductor muscle. Despite conceding the game-winning goal for the Red Bulls, Howard looks to be in solid form and will likely prove to be a formidable challenge for a Minnesota offense that is struggling to create service and finish on attacking drives.
What to Watch For
After back-to-back beat downs, there is clearly a lot the club needs to address this week before taking the field in Colorado. On of the many concerns bubbling to the surface after last Sunday is whether head coach Adrian Heath will be willing or able to adequately adjust his formation and lineup before facing the Rapids.
Defense is obviously a concern, as it should be following two score lines like the Loons have seen this season. Serious questions remain about Jermaine Taylor’s readiness to play LB in MLS, and it is looking more apparent each match that CB Vadim Demidov is not the cornerstone the team hoped he would be for the back line.
Perhaps the biggest unknown heading into the weekend is at goalkeeper, where backup Bobby Shuttleworth will take up the starting role after first-stringer John Alvbage and third-string Patrick McLain were both declared unavailable. Alvbage was injured in the final minutes of last weekend’s match against Atlanta while McLain is under the league’s concussion protocol.
Projected Starting Lineup
The harsh reality is Heath has very limited options when it comes to altering his defensive personnel. Brent Kallman was as steady as can be for United last season but that was in the second division and his MLS credentials remain to be seen. Fellow defender Jordan Greenspan is a no-go as he is currently in the league’s concussion protocol.
It was a shock to see Jerome Thiesson make his debut against Atlanta last weekend as he’d only been with the team a few days. Heath agreed.
“It was harsh. It was hard for Jerry, considering he got off the plan on Thursday,” Heath said. “It is what it is. We’ve seen enough of him to know that he’s going to be fine.”
The second part of that quote tells you a lot, though. It’s likely going to be “Jerry” again on Saturday and Heath felt the team needed the last-minute signing more than he’d probably like to admit. In fact, Heath was direct and told us at practice that he and the front office are still interesting in adding players, which, again, says that his confidence in the current crop isn’t necessarily absolute.
“I would be hopeful if the right player became available that we think we need, I would be hopeful that we’d do that,” Heath said. “At this moment we are looking for one or two. Whether [they become] available I don’t know.”
It was clear earlier in the week at practice that Heath has an inner struggle eating at him when it comes to selecting his tactical formation.
“The strange thing is… [you feel like] you go backwards by putting another defensive midfielder player on, thinking that gives you better chance at keeping a clean sheet but then you take away the fact that you don’t get enough men forward and you never really cause them any issues,” Heath said.
You get the sense that he’d like to be more attack-minded but with a team in such an embryonic state the need for defensive insurance is overriding. Thus, I anticipate him returning to a three-man pivot in midfield with Warner and Saeid playing behind Schuller.
This will also see a return to two legitimate wingers on both flanks, in this case, Molino and Ibarra. I predicted Ibarra last week, too, but that spot could easily be Kadrii. Either way, it’s a lock one of those two will start. Two wingers seems to be a must especially against a Colorado, a team comfortable playing a defensive game.
I’m going to stick with the lineup I’ve selected above but this position feels variable. There is no doubt Johan Venegas will start in some capacity, but it may very well instead be as the No. 10 as it was versus Atlanta. This would then see Christian Ramirez return or Abu Danladi make is professional debut at striker.
- Date: Saturday, March 18, 2017
- Time: 8:00 pm Central
- Location: Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, Commerce City, CO
- My29 TV (twin cities, local)
- MLS Live (online)
- Radio: 1500 ESPN
- Watch parties:
- Dark Clouds: Nomad World Pub
- True North Elite: Town Hall Brewery
- Wolf’s Head (Duluth): Dubh Linn Brew Pub
Will you be watching the match? Sound off in the comments below.
Nic Hallett contributed to this report.