If the first two matches of Minnesota United’s season underlined the resurgence new roster additions have provided the franchise, Saturday night’s match highlighted the kinks that come with a newly formed unit.
From the beginning, it was clear the Los Angeles Galaxy were playing at a pace at least a few tiers above what Minnesota had experienced in its initial matches of the season. And unsurprisingly so considered their opening games were against unheralded sides, while the Galaxy represent the royalty of Major League soccer as a franchise who’s won five titles and consistently invests copious amounts of funds into their squad.
The passing and speed of play overwhelmed United throughout the first half, allowing Los Angeles to go into the break up two goals.
“We didn’t have a good start and when you play against good teams away from home, you usually get punished for it,” Minnesota United assistant coach Mark Watson said. “Our message at halftime was that it wasn’t good enough, we didn’t have enough aggression in our play and that’s never going to be good enough on the road.”
There were numerous cases where Minnesota players sent passes to no one in particular. Moments of consternation where after an opposing player found open space or was left unmarked, other players would gesticulate their frustration as to why that was allowed to happen. The team didn’t look like a team. They looked like the newly assembled crew that they are.
The second half did reshape what appeared to be a pessimistic narrative for United. Though the early exchanges provided a similar stagnation, Minnesota found an effervescence once they brought on substitutes Ethan Finlay, Angelo Rodriguez and Abu Danladi. It’s still unclear exactly what Minnesota United head coach Adrian Heath hopes to gain from playing Rasmus Schuller in a wide position, but a clear takeaway from this occasion was that against the class of the league, more traditional wing play may be what’s required.
Rodriguez and Danladi also proved mighty useful once entering the fray. Rodriguez’s hold-up play remains elite. His counterpart Romario Ibarra presents numerous skills, but Rodriquez’s strength is maybe his weakest attribute. As a result, when the Columbian frontman is on the pitch, United look much more assured in possession and more dangerous going forward, as they’re able to move more numbers up the field.
The real spark plug from the bench, though, was Danladi. The former No. 1 overall pick looked like he’d been shot out of cannon once he hit the field and he never stopped. It’s entirely possible he created as many chances himself in the final 10 minutes as United did as a team in the first 80. The Ghanian’s best effort was a header that struck the post and was eventually ricochetted in.
“Credit to the Galaxy tonight,” Watson said. “They had a lot of energy and were pretty sharp. They moved around in some good spots that caused us some difficulty, but I was really proud of our guys in the second half for fighting back and showed that we’ve got a good spirit and character in the group.”
The fiery comeback leaves a residual feeling of hope in the face of a first loss of the season. But with myriad things to ponder, including the team’s wing play, the starting striker situation and defensive capabilities against the top-level sides of MLS, numerous tactical questions remain going forward for United.
Coach rating out of 10
4 — On one hand, it feels hard to judge Adrian Heath’s role in the loss given the fact that he was forced to miss the game due to an illness. Still, it seemed as though it was his defensive tactics — or lack thereof — were at issue against the Galaxy. Los Angeles bossed possession with a whopping 62 percent on the night, and as a result were able to find numerous gaps in and around the box. Defense has been an issue in the past under Heath. Los Angeles showed that might still be on the to-do list.
Select Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best.)
CB Francisco Calvo, 3 — At his best, he can be one of the most incisive outside backs in the league. At his worst, his decision making is erratic and his defensive miscues cause serious problems for his teammates. Saturday night was the latter.
CAM Darwin Quintero, 5 — Only 10 players in the MLS finished with double-digit goals and assists last season. Quintero was one of them and his hot start to 2019 had people linking him to the MVP award. This night would not serve as a major endorsement of that narrative.
CM Jan Gregus, 6 — The Slovakian took his goal well, even though it may have been an incredibly soft one, and its timing was ideal as it sparked the almost-was comeback. Still, it’s becoming increasingly concerning that despite being tidy in possession and his ability to strike a decent ball now and again, Gregus doesn’t pack much of a punch in total.
RM Abu Danladi 8 — It’s super difficult for a substitute to instill much of an impact on a game when they play as little as Danladi did, not to mention acquire that high of rating while doing so. But the youngster looked absolutely electric and his display implies he should see the field again much sooner rather than later.