MN United

Unlocking Robin Lod is Key to Minnesota United FC's Offense

Jul 17, 2020; Kissimmee, FL, USA; Minnesota United midfielder Robin Lod (17) trips up Real Salt Lake forward Douglas Martinez (12) during the first half at ESPN Wide World of Sports. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The struggles of Robin Lod to make consistent impact for Minnesota United FC have been one of the recurring storylines since he joined the club almost exactly one year ago in July 2019. One of the club’s highest paid players, he has rarely been more than a guy on the field in a Loons jersey, not the sort of difference-maker expected from a player in that position.

Friday evening’s drab 0-0 draw against Real Salt Lake was Lod’s 17th appearance for Minnesota since his signing last season, including 12 starts. Playing as an attacking midfielder, he has scored just two goals: one in this season’s opener against San Jose, and the other in the U.S. Open Cup Final last season against Atlanta. And, even worse, he has not contributed a single assist in Loons colors.

The last time Lod contributed an assist in any uniform was 18 months ago, playing for Sporting Gijón in the Segunda División in Spain.

The problem of Lod’s contribution was abundantly clear on Friday. For the entirety of the first half, his involvement in the attack was negligible: some short passes working his way up the left-hand side of the pitch, and some poor decisions to lose him possession. He does not appear fast enough to beat his man, nor does he appear clever enough to escape from a defender’s intentions.

The last stroke of the first half, however, was Lod providing Minnesota’s single best scoring chance of the evening thus far, with a great turn and shot that cannoned off the goalpost.

Robin Lod‘s shot in the sixth minute of first half stoppage time on Friday night. Video: ESPN.

Plenty of the credit goes to Ozzie Alonso‘s pass and run, but Lod’s position is interesting here. As the play develops, he’s running with Aaron Schoenfeld as a functional second striker, with his counterpart Ethan Finlay making the late run on the other side and catching the follow-up header.

There’s been some question about Lod’s natural position since he arrived in Minnesota. He was notionally another player to play in the middle of this attacking three, but if there’s a player even less likely to lose his starting spot than Lod, it’s Kevin Molino. So Lod has played on the outside, and his (lack of) distribution would seem to imply that he’s better served as a 10, or even just a striker.

The counterplay to that was displayed early in the second half, after Lod had shifted into that preferred central position with the entry of Thomás Chacón for Molino off the bench. Lod’s breakaway chance in the 50th minute was everything he normally lacks: pace and persistence on the ball, and had everything but the finish.

Lod’s shot in the 50th minute of Friday’s game against Real Salt Lake. Video: ESPN.

While Lod often has deserved criticism for his shooting accuracy, this was a quality save by Zac MacMath. Could Lod have done more with it? Possibly, but he got into a good position and had no outlets to consider passing to.

The plays that make Lod so frustrating are often the simplest things, like this moment in the 57th minute that stuck in my mind. An ordinary throw-in in the attacking third, from Romain Métanire to Lod:

Metanire makes a throw-in in the 57th minute of Friday’s game against Real Salt Lake. Video: ESPN.

That heavy touch isn’t a thing that should happen in MLS or basically any top-level soccer league in the world. It wastes possession in what was a part of the game that Minnesota was finally asserting some offensive pressure, and it has to be just as frustrating to other players on the field as it is to fans at home.

It seems like Lod will continue to start for Minnesota. Adrian Heath has shown nothing but support for the Finnish international, and a player of his salary does not come off the bench in MLS. After the game, Heath spoke about Lod’s scoring chances:

“Obviously, he’s a bit frustrated because he worked really hard to get himself in that position,” Heath said of Lod. “Maybe just didn’t catch it as clean as he would have liked. But, you know, if he keeps working as hard as he is and training as hard as he is, you know, his goal will be around the corner for sure.”

The possible questions with Lod’s spot in the lineup do not help the situation. If Lod is to play centrally, that means pushing Molino, who has arguably been the team’s best player in the early season, out of position. Even in games in which Molino is rested, such as Friday’s second half, there are arguments to be made that the team should see what Chacón can do in the middle, as the likely future of that position.

Even further down the rabbit hole, the dynamism that Raheem Edwards has shown off the bench in the last two games merits further investigation, which would push Lod down the pecking order. Edwards has subbed on for Lod in both Florida games, and has immediately had high-impact moments, the opposite of what Lod has consistently brought to the team in the last year. Given the earlier consideration, it seems unlikely that Edwards will get the chance to start, regardless of whether or not he should.

It is a puzzle that Heath must solve, whether by continuing to trust in Lod in his current position to come good and provide the goals that he is being played for, or by making the hard decision to reduce the role of a player his front office acquired for a significant fee.

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Jul 17, 2020; Kissimmee, FL, USA; Minnesota United midfielder Robin Lod (17) trips up Real Salt Lake forward Douglas Martinez (12) during the first half at ESPN Wide World of Sports. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

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