Check out Zone Coverage soccer analyst Nic Hallett’s breakdown of Wednesday’s historic win over Portland.
1. Minnesota United experiences historic night as it heads to the U.S. Open Cup Final
With all the buzz currently surrounding Minnesota United, Wednesday night’s victory over the Portland Timbers in the semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup felt like a landmark occasion for the franchise.
All in one week, Minnesota has asserted itself atop the Western Conference standings, broke its transfer record by acquiring an exciting young South American talent and advanced to its first-ever cup final. The storied “three-year plan” seems to be paying incredible dividends.
United also added this feather to its cap: having won, the team has advanced further than any other Minnesota team in the tournament’s history, bettering the 2005 Minnesota Thunder, who made the semifinals before losing to the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Though Minnesota United head coach Adrian Heath was cautious in his optimism after the match, he must surely be feeling fully vindicated given how far the team has come. Well, cautious apart from once again calling out MLS.com’s writing staff.
“But no doubt, I don’t know what MLSsoccer.com are going to say. Flags will be half-mast [in] that building tonight, the fact that Minnesota are in the final,” Heath said.
Defeating the Portland Timbers, a team Heath has repeatedly said is one of the very best rosters in MLS, twice in the span of four days would be impressive in and of itself. But to do so in the fire of a semifinal feels like a bellowing indication that United has arrived as an MLS frontrunner.
“We are getting better and that’s always got to be the plan. No crazy decisions, let’s keep moving forward, getting better each time we can,” Heath said. “If you look at each window, I think we’ve gotten better. We’ve certainly got better this window. We added what I think is three really good pieces but we can’t stand still because everyone else is improving. But, if we stick to the plan, know what we’re doing, believing in what we are doing, we are going to be fine.”
2. United announce record-signing Chacon
It was the worst kept secret in town that Minnesota was close to signing young Uruguayan midfielder Thomás Chacón. What was unique was United using halftime of an intense cup match to announce that the transfer was official via the giant in-house monitors. It was a clever and morale-boosting way to gee up the home crowd.
Chacon’s signing provides myriad storylines to dissect, but chief among them is that this move is a bold statement of intent. The front office was patient in the early years of the team’s development, much to the chagrin of the fans. But this season has now seen eight newcomers join the fold, including two designated players and two MLS veterans who have a shot of making the MLS Hall of Fame.
To make the move possible United lessened the salary cap burden of Angelo Rodriguez’s contract using Target Allocation Money. Specifically, Chacon will be labeled as a “Young Designated Player,” which carries much of the same significance of being a regular Designated Player, except for this: A DP’s salary cap hit is $530K, but a young DP’s salary cap hit maxes out at $200K. Since Chacon, 18, is younger than 20, his cap hit will only be $150K. Considering the MLS Salary Cap in 2019 is listed at about $4.2 million, those savings could be valuable to the club.
“I’m really pleased that the club has decided to invest such a large amount in a young talent,” Heath said in a release. “We’re really excited about Thomas. He can play wide left, wide right, number 10 — number 10s cost a fortune in the modern game, we think we’ve got one for the future we’ll develop into being a top number 10.”
For more about this and Chacon’s fit within the team, be sure to listen to the Minnesota Soccer Podcast.
3. Kevin Molino + Mason Toye = Magic
The two clearly see eye to eye. Wednesday marked the third time this season that this duo has combined to score a goal. This is the second time that one of those goals has been a game-winner in a tight contest. And all of those goals have come from Molino hitting lofted passes over the top of defenses for Toye to run onto.
Toye said he and Molino had done as much multiple times in training this week.
“I don’t know honestly, but the chemistry is there,” Toye said. “After practice yesterday, we did a little bit of finishing, it involved clipping balls in towards me, so maybe that helped a little bit. I just know that he’s a really great passer of the ball, so I just need to get into good spots and he’ll find me.”
The fact of the matter is that, though Toye has been far more impactful in this his second year in the league, he can at times look like an odd duckling amongst much of the veteran crew. In fact, it’s been quite conspicuous the lack of chemistry Toye has with the team’s top playmaker, Darwin Quintero, who doesn’t seem to often want to pass to the youngster. Molino has no such problem and the two seem to be building a budding partnership.
4. Jan Gregus stands out, Robin Lod gets full debut outing
As I’ve been saying numerous times lately in this space and on the Minnesota Soccer Podcast, I need to eat crow on Jan Gregus. I still stand by the fact that the Slovakian was underperforming through much of the early campaign. But the last six weeks have seen him continually grow in stature.
Tonight served as Gregus’ showpiece performance thus far as he, as they say, looked completely up for the occasion. His passing was crisp and assured. His defensive tracking and thrust into tackles was decidedly robust. More and more, he’s looking to unleash his thunderbolt of a strike, and is choosing the correct times to do so.
Lod earned his first Minnesota appearance in last weekend’s match against Portland, but was scarcely involved in the play after coming on as a substitute. On Wednesday, Lod started from the off at LM and looked coolly poised throughout. His dribbling, vision and movement all jumped out as top notch. All that said, the Finnish international did not have an overwhelming impact on proceedings, despite being a positive contributor to the team victory. It’s early, but given the front office’s recent track record, you’d have to say it appears they’ve brought in another solid piece.