Minnesota United had an eventful third season in Major League Soccer, culminating in Sunday night’s home playoff game at Allianz Field, the first ever such postseason affair to take place in Minnesota. United huffed and puffed, but ultimately the star-studded LA Galaxy took the spoils with a 2-1 win. Our soccer analyst Nic Hallett provides analysis of the match and evaluates the team’s looming decisions.
Attacking impotency dooms the Loons
Minnesota United head coach Adrian Heath has a saying he harkens back to on a regular basis when his team comes up short: “It was a nearly game,” he’ll opine. “We nearly had the movement, we nearly had the final pass, we nearly finished our chances.” Heath will usually close the remarks by saying those efforts, though quite close in nature, aren’t good enough.
Those sentiments couldn’t have rung more true for his side on Sunday in their disappointing elimination-game loss.
Chief among the concerns for Minnesota on the night was goal-scoring. United objectively were the better performers in the first half and for much of the first 70 minutes. As a result of this industry, United carved out four top-notch scoring chances, the likes of which are worth their weight in gold, particularly so in playoff matches.
All four fell to the specific players trained to finish those type of chances too. Angelo Rodriguez was set up for the two and substitute Mason Toye was gifted one himself after coming on. The two frontmen combined to squander all three while also not even putting any of them on target.
Winger Robin Lod also missed a gilt-edged chance himself after being set up expertly by Romain Metanire. The Finish international has tallied a grand total of 0 goals and 0 assists in eight MLS games since joining the Loons a few months ago. Rodriguez, the highest paid striker on the team, hasn’t scored in 11 matches.
“As I said to you in the week, at this level it’s going to be really small margins and we didn’t have the quality at the end when we should have done so,” Heath said.
The Galaxy’s first Grade-A chance came in the 71’ and they took it, breaking United’s spirit in the process. The Loons looked shell-shocked and thus allowed another goal just a few minutes later. Minnesota’s season was dead right then and there.
“We didn’t have enough quality in the final third,” Heath said. “We got enough balls in there. I don’t know how many crosses we put in… we just didn’t do enough to get on the end of stuff.”
Was it the puppets or the puppet master?
A lot of fingers may be pointed at Heath given his squad came up short in both of its biggest games of the year. Both games, coincidentally finished with the exact same 2-1 scoreline. Both matches also saw United go down 2-0. But the conclusion from both is clear: United can play at the elite levels of MLS’s upper echelon, but due to a lack of squad quality its margin of error is slim.
In both those matches, tonight’s playoff match and the U.S. Open Cup final, Minnesota showed lengthy moments of being the dominant force. But in both matches, if they slipped up for even a moment, they were punished. In the most ironic of circumstances, United heads into an offseason with its defense and central midfield being the most solid of building blocks, whilst the attack is a complete mess. The Loons attack finished the season woefully and now there’s an abundance of question marks.
Is Ethan Finlay starter quality? Does it make sense to keep Darwin Quintero? Who’s the starting striker — Rodriguez or Mason Toye? Is Lod a flop? Where does Thomas Chacon fit in all of this?
As I said, it’s astounding the amount of question marks surrounding Minnesota’s offense all of the sudden. But keep in mind, these questions are present because of how things unfolded down the stretch piece by piece. It was a puzzle Heath was trying to put together in real time, but no matter what pieces he moved, they never seemed to fit.
The more you consider the fact that Heath gave the majority of his squad a fair chance to step up and take their opportunity, the more it feels like they let him down rather than the other way around.
“We have to get better. We have to bring quality in,” Heath said. “We did last year and we have to do the same again. If we do, this group will be a match for anybody. But, we can’t stand still, not in this league, not in the Western Conference because trust me, if we stand still, we lean backwards. We have to bring quality players in and that will make some big decisions. We have some big decisions to make over the next few weeks before we decide what we do.”
Massive questions loom, especially around Quintero
Big decisions, indeed. When Heath refers to big decisions there are a few players who jump to mind. Namely, Vito Mannone, Quintero and Rodriguez.
For the purposes of this discussion we can presume Miguel Ibarra is already out the door. And in the postgame press conference, Heath made a point to say Lod’s best days are ahead of him. So we’ll remove them from the equation.
Mannone was unquestionably one of the league’s very best shot-stoppers this season. United would be crazy not to bring him back. That said, his situation is not a straight forward one. Reading F.C. of England’s second division still own his rights, so it’s possible that will demand a transfer fee. That fee could rise should Mannone be named MLS’s Goalkeeper of the Year. Stay tuned.
As far as Rodriguez, his recent shortcomings cast heavy doubt over whether the franchise deems him worth keeping around. Heath said postgame the only reason he picked Rodriguez over Toye in the startling lineup was because Toye “needed a break.” But it also seems like potentially too much to place the entire striker burden on a 21-year-old next campaign. Still, Rodriguez has never felt like the ideal fit and moving on may be best for all involved.
Finally, to the top billed man on the salary table, Mr. Quintero. In a fitting metaphorical way, tonight’s matched summed up the headache he’s caused the team over the last few months.
After coming on, he immediately provided a spark by beating a few defenders and making a few great passes. But then his penchant for turnovers reared itself. He gave away the ball twice in vulnerable areas, leading to two of the Galaxy’s best chances of the night, one of which found the back of the net. Quickly thereafter, Quintero placed a perfect pass for Jan Gregus’ goal.
In a phrase: one step forward, two steps backward. Such has been the output of Quintero for much of this season.
He’s easily got the most raw talent of anyone on the roster, so you’d understand if United wanted to hold on. But he’s aging, expensive and often a net-negative on team chemistry. Don’t be shocked if Minnesota says goodbye.
Sources have told Zone Coverage the final year of Quintero’s contract is a team option year, meaning it is up to United whether to pick it up or not. Sources speculated that there is an “80 percent chance or better” that Quintero doesn’t return to Minnesota next season. Multiple sources have also confirmed that Quintero’s house is currently up for sale.