1. United returns to winning ways
The 11-game unbeaten streak came to a harsh end in Dallas at the weekend, but Minnesota United showed its newfound aptitude by calmly returning to winning ways against the Colorado Rapids on Wednesday night. Throughout the 1-0 win, the Loons controlled the game and easily had the lion share of the chances.
Minnesota has now seemingly reached an elite echelon of success considering its home record of 8-1-4. Only four other MLS teams have a one-loss home record, a benchmark which is bested only by LAFC. Allianz Field is turning into the home base the club has always wanted.
“As I’ve said before, I don’t [have] fear [for] us in this stadium against anybody,” Minnesota United head coach Adrian Heath said. “But we’ll have to play better than we did tonight to win on Saturday, I know that for sure.”
It was the type of victory that resembled an adult shrugging off a child during play-wrestling in the living room. This type of slow, but controlled stymieing of an opponent on the way to a victory is commonplace in world soccer, but is a relatively new phenomenon for Minnesota, which struggled to win with much consistency.
“The team is unrecognizable to what we were. We know that,” Heath said.
With the win, as of this writing, United returned to second place in the Western Conference and have passed Part 1 of a two-part test this week as they take on a series of beatable opponents at home.
2. Heath once again goes to 4-3-3 to kill off the game
Heath has shown a recent penchant for the 4-3-3 formation as his preferred style to salt away matches.
It’s proven successful the last few times he’s used it to do so. The impetus for the move is signaled by a specific change, bringing on Hassani Dotson as a CDM in place of Darwin Quintero at CAM. Ozzie Alonso and Jan Gregus have been immaculate in recent weeks at plugging up gaps and winning tackles when needed in midfield. Adding human-tracking-beacon Dotson to that mix only further solidifies the squad’s defensive shape.
This measure is also suitable for United when in the lead as it still allows for multiple counter-attacking outlets.
Considering its effectiveness thus far, look for Heath to continue to go with this strategy going forward.
3. Angelo’s place in the team is up in the air
Recent events would have one certainly questioning where exactly Angelo Rodriguez will figure into the squad come next season.
Firstly, United choosing to buy-down Rodriguez’s Designated Player contract in order to make room for Young Designated Player and club-record signing Thomas Chacon, certainly seems to suggest his level on the totem pole.
Secondly, the emergence of Mason Toye must at least spell some level of conflict down the road. It’s difficult dynamic to have a highly-paid veteran and young, up-and-comer in a team that consistently only plays one striker. Heath has been able to strike a seemingly perfect balance thus far, and though that could continue for another season, it seems like something will have to give eventually.
Lastly, and related to the second point, in the waning moments of this match and with Heath clearly frustrated with his offense’s thrust, the Englishman chose to sub Rodriguez off for the still ice-cold Abu Danladi.
“As I just said to the players, I thought for some strange reason, we weren’t as sharp as I would have liked considering that eight of the guys have had a little bit of time off,” Heath said.
Danladi’s had a few nice moments here and there in recent weeks, but more closely has resembled a deer in the headlights as has been much the case this season. For Heath to feel Danladi would bring more to the team in the final minutes of a close game is a statement of some form.
“He got in the right spots,” Heath said of Danladi. “When your confidence is a bit low, he’s not as confident in himself and his body as he would like, but I tell you, the kid got in the right spot so if he continues to get in the right spots, eventually one will go for him and hopefully his confidence will come. Because we’re going to need him between now and the end of the season for sure.”
4. Opara and Mannone do big little things
It can certainly be hard for the passive observer to consistently see all that Ike Opara and Vito Mannone provide, but the implications of such are massive.
There were two specific incidents on Wednesday that could easily go unnoticed, but had it not been for the instant and accurate reactions of the aforementioned duo, the result on the night could have been wholly different.
Ike’s instance was especially inconspicuous. FC Dallas midfielder Kellyn Acosta was dribbling towards Minnesota’s goal and had already skipped past a few challenges. For a moment there was a clear gap of space to be had and if Acosta had taken it, he certainly would’ve been able to take on a high percentage shot. But in that some split second, Opara realized the danger, closed the gap rapidly and went the extra step of taking the ball for himself. Play rushed on and the moment will go unheralded, but it’s these small yet big plays that are among the chief reasons United has wildly transformed for the better this campaign.