MN United

HALLETT: Major Questions Raised as Loons Improve Defense in 0-0 Draw

Photo Credit: David Berding (USA Today Sports)

In yet another list of growing examples, the Loons continue to prove they can go toe to toe with the class of Major League Soccer. However, Minnesota United’s ability to win in those matchups remains questionable.

It must be said that Wednesday’s draw versus the Los Angeles Galaxy serves as a positive result for the Loons as it highlighted clear progress in just about a month’s time. It was just a few short weeks ago when United was smashed 3-0 by the same L.A. team. In fact, that Galaxy team that ran circles around Minnesota was sans their most high-profile asset: Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

On this occasion, United was forced into a completely unique starting Xl. It was the first time that the exciting attacking trio of Darwin Quintero, Kevin Molino and Abu Danladi have played together for Minnesota in a competitive match. That group would ultimately misfire on the night, though. At times they looked smooth and dangerous, which could bode well for the future. (For my money, this is the best attacking midfield lineup United has at its disposal.) Molino looked wobbly in his first start after tearing his ACL 13 months ago. Danladi remains utterly electric, but still unrefined. But it was Quintero who was easily the most out of sorts.

The Columbian had multiple chances where he just needed to maintain possession for a few seconds longer or beat just one defender and United would have had high chance of creating a really sharp chance. Seemingly, though, he was consistently careless in possession. The numbers bare that out too. Quintero had seven “take ons” lost, while also having 17 unsuccessful passes in the opposition half.

Minnesota United head coach Adrian Heath was hesitant to call out his star man, but he seems to be at least aware of the issue at present.

“He looked more dangerous tonight and obviously had his moments where it turned over. It’s still not what we need, but it’s getting there. He’s getting better,” Heath said.

But what does Heath mean by getting better? It would seem he’s hinting at the possibility the Quintero is still working back from his early season injury.

“[There’s been] a couple of occasions where it’s turned over,” Heath added, “but I feel as though he is getting back to where he want him to be, because when he is [on], he’s the gamechanger.”

What did function well for Minnesota on the night was the defense. After an appalling performance, Michael Boxall was supplanted by Brent Kallman. Meanwhile, Rasmus Schuller and Eric Miller enter the lineup to replace the suspended Jan Gregus and Francisco Calvo, respectively. This many changes could have been a travesty for United going against a ruthless Galaxy.

Instead, though, the Loons looked resolute in the defensive third throughout and managed to shutout a team that laid three on them in their previous encounter.

Is it a coincidence that United were vastly improved after making some big changes to the defense? Seems unlikely. This inference obviously refers to the swapping of Calvo and Miller at left back. But don’t overlook the swap of Gregus and Schuller. The Finland international ranked highest of all Minnesota players in the Audi Player Index once all was said and done.

This should give Heath plenty to ponder going into this weekend’s clash with D.C. United.

Coach Rating Out of 10

6 — Made the bold call of starting an ambitious lineup featuring both Danladi and Molino. Heath also made the astute observation that Boxall has been poor — especially last week — as of late and inserted Kallman instead.  Additionally, Heath had to replace suspended Calvo and Gregus, creating a vastly different defensive six, which held firm and earned the clean sheet.

Select Player Ratings
(1-10 | 10 = Best)

CDM Ozzie Alonso, 8.5 — The newly-minted captain was monumental in this edgy tie, serving as the fulcrum between defense and attack. Week in and week out, his value to this team becomes more and more evident.

CAM Darwin Quintero, 3 — It’s nearly impossible not to discuss him in these ratings regularly due to his clout, so maybe in the future I’ll attempt to give other guys more analysis in this space, but not after this performance. This was the super rare — maybe first time in franchise history — case where all the pieces around Quintero were functioning at a high level and it was actually the Columbian who couldn’t elevate to the heights needed. As Heath stated vocally after the game, United on the whole played very well against a tough opponent. However, Quintero was among the few to not put in a quality shift. That’s shocking.

RM Ike Opara, 8 — His return to the lineup was a breath of fresh air. Opara is the best center back on the team by a mile and his influence is massive. No surprise that his return coincided with a shutout.

CDM Rasmus Schuller 7 — Really impressed throughout when it came to his defensive responsibilities, which made for a stout partnership with protector extraordinaire Alonso. His forward passing and finishing always seems to leave something to be desired, but on this evidence he’s certainly reestablished his place among the top three center midfielders in this squad.

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Photo Credit: David Berding (USA Today Sports)

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