Image courtesy of Minnesota United FC
Last night's game was fantastic! It featured some very nice play by Minnesota United, and was a great win for the team. Let's take an in-depth look:
Lineup and Tactics:
Minnesota, being without Greg Jordan and Pablo Campos due to Injury, put Omar Daley into the starting lineup. Mitch Hildebrandt started in goal. Justin Davis was at left back, with Kevin Venegas on the right, and Calvano and Dias in the center. The midfield was anchored by Aaron Pitchkolan and Floyd Franks in the center, with Daniel Mendes on the right wing and Omar Daley on the left. Miguel Ibarra and Christian Ramirez tag-teamed up front as dual strikers.
The formation was, fundamentally, a 4-4-2, but that does a disservice to the style of play United employed. The only five players who truly played their position consistently were Hildebrandt in goal (duh), and the "spine" of the field: Franks and Pitchkolan in the midfield, Calvano and Dias at the back. United used, to a large extent, was is called "total football," that is: players were very free to float and take up space.
This was especially noticeable in the midfield: when one of the wing-players (Daley or Mendes) would journey forward, one of the center-mids would drop back a bit. This floating strategy could also be seen from the play of the strikers: it was not uncommon to see Ibarra drop back to collect the ball from Dias or Calvano, and make a long run to return to the front. There was a stretch of 2-3 minutes when Ramirez ended up on the right wing.
This is both good and bad. On the plus side, having that mobility in their players allowed United to maintain possession very well, and allowed their creative players to journey forward when they saw an opportunity. The downside is that it can force players to play positions which they aren't as familiar with: Ramirez very nearly gave away the ball at midfield while playing on the wing. While that wouldn't be a problem if he were up top, it is more problematic to give the ball away at the center line.
That said: the tactic worked very well in terms of creating scoring chances: Minnesota had a number of great shots and scoring opportunities; they were simply unable to take advantage of them.
With all that said, let's look at the game itself:
The first half began with Carolina aggressively coming forward and creating a few scoring chances. Hildebrandt, Calvano, and Dias were able to keep the ball from the twice, however. After the first 2-3 minutes, the game took the pace that it would hold for most of the game: Minnesota having lots and lots of possession, often in Carolina's half, but struggling to find the final passes to create a goal. When Carolina would win possession, they would rarely get past the midfield line. Minnesota employed a very high press throughout the game, catching Carolina offsides multiple times. There were long stretches of time where the only player in Minnesota's half was Mitch Hildebrandt.
Much of the first half was spent with Minnesota passing around, trying to find a way into the net, with Carolina chasing the ball. Minnesota was finally able to break through with a low, driven corner kick that found Dias, and then Mendes tapped it in for the lone goal. It's hard to see on the replay: there was a lot of ping-ponging around, and even the crowd took a second to realize MNU had scored.
The rest of the first half passed, much as the early did: lots of MNU possession, but few great scoring chances.
The second half nearly saw MNU score again within 5 minutes; there were 2 great chances, including one particularly nice chance for Daniel Mendes to double up. Scott Goodwin, Carolina's keeper, had a great game, and was able to keep the score level despite a number of good chances and shots by MNU. Calvano had a brilliant header from a corner kick, but a Railhawk defender was able to clear it from the line.
From there on out, Carolina had some great chances. Hildebrandt was on his game, and it's a good thing he was. Minnesota was assisted a number of times by the posts of the goal, which were effective at keeping balls out also.
Things heated up in the 80th minute, when a late tackle by Justin Davis led to a scuffle, much akin to the MNU-Mexico game. The scuffle resulted in both teams being reduced to 10 men (Davis for Minnesota, Kupono Low for Carolina), as well as a yellow card for Carolina.
After the cards, while Minnesota did not put another defender on the field, Pitchkolan dropped back far more often, and Dias played wider to cover for Davis' absence.
Thoughts and Notes:
Omar Daley getting the start was a bit of a surprise: he has been a sub most of the season. Daley made multiple great runs forward, but simply couldn't find the net; almost all of his shots went wide. He's a good attacking midfielder, but Minnesota (apparently) cannot count on him to score goals. He also made a number of questionable tackles, and seemed to get a little hot-headed early on, though to his credit he was able to calm down, and made dangerous runs throughout the night.
Tiago Calvano and Cristiano Dias are absolutely the coolest cucumbers on the planet. They had very little to do for the first half, yet were reliable and consistent when they were called upon. They are the rock upon which the defense is built, and I'm very comfortable with them leading the defense for as long as they are able.
Overlapping Runs from the midfield played a HUGE role in Minnesota retaining possession and creating offensive chances. The interplay between the wing players- Diaz, Venegas, Daley, and Mendes, is extremely important, and their willingness to run fast and far is hugely vital also.
A HUGE thank you goes out to Minnesota United FC, and Eric Durkee in particular, for getting me into the press box last night. What a fantastic way to watch the game!
It was great to meet Bill MK- a fellow MNU blogger, who writes for his site The Relegated. If you don't follow him and/or read his site- GO DO IT.