Sunday, July 20, 2014

Minnesota United v Swansea City: July 19, 2014

Last night, Minnesota United FC welcomed the first ever Premier League club to Minnesota, for the first ever meeting between the Premier League and a club form Minnesota. The turnaround for both clubs was very quick, with Minnesota last playing on Thursday in a 1-0 defeat of the Carolina Railhawks, and Swansea last playing on Wednesday in a 1-1 tie with Chivas USA.

The Loons fielded a few changes from the side that dominated possession against Carolina, with Cristiano Dias, Aaron Pitchkolan, Omar Daley, Daniel Mendes, Kevin Venegas, and Floyd Franks coming off for Simone Bracalello, Michael Reed, Brian and Brent Kallman, and Greg Jordan, who has recovered from his foot injury. 

The Swans and Loons faced off in front of a record-setting crowd of 9,064; this despite NSC only officially having a capacity of 8,000. The full highlights for the match can be found here.

Formation and Tactics

Minnesota United was very smooth in this game- players were mobile and contributed wherever they could. Tactically, Minnesota lined up somewhere between a 4-4-2 and a 4-2-3-1. The defense was very clear, with Justin Davis at left back and Brian Kallman at right. Tiago Calvano and Brent Kallman held down the center. In the midfield, Michael Reed and Juliano Vicentini anchored the center, with Miguel Ibarra playing wide on the right and Simone Bracalello wide left. 

This is where things got interesting. When defending, Reed and Vicentini dropped back to become defensive mids, and pushed forward more on the attack. Greg Jordan also was a key swing man; on the attack, he pushed forward and become a central attacking mid, and dropped back to center Bracalello and Ibarra in defense. Christian Ramirez was alone up top. Often, however, Jordan would be even with Ramirez, if not further forward. 

The result was a very fluid team. Jordan has shown his ability and affinity for attacking, and his role in this game showcased that. The combination play between MNU's midfielders was absolutely brilliant, with Ibarra's speed, Bracalello's technical skill, and Jordan's aggressive forward runs causing havoc whenever they were able to move forward. 

Ramirez, however, was rather ineffective for most of the game. He couldn't find space to run into, and his touches on the ball were rare. He was able to draw the occasional foul, but had very little overall effect on the game. 

Justin Davis was again brilliant down the left side. His forward runs provided a target for Vicentini and Reed to pass to, while allowing Bracalello to advance. Defensively, he was responsible, with the steadiness of Calvano and Kallman in the middle providing support when necessary. 

First Half

Davis' runs and Jordan's movement was rewarded very early- Davis was able to get around Swansea's defense on a through-ball from Bracalello and lob the ball to Jordan. Jordan missed his header, but the resulting ball fell back to Davis, who calmly slotted his shot near-post past Swansea keeper Tremmell. This occurred just 7 minutes into the game.

The Welsh side was clearly upset at such a defensive lapse occurring so early in the match. After the goal, Swansea took control of the game. They dominated possession, and the ball was predominantly in Minnesota's half. Fortunately for the American side, Swansea was unable to find the final passes into the box to create quality chances. They regularly were able to cross the ball, but there was rarely a in a threatening situation, and Minnesota was able to clear them. 

The pressure from Swansea calmed a bit after 15 minutes. they retained much of the possession, but their buildup was slower, and players were less aggressive with their runs. At this point, Minnesota was able to get back into the match. The Loons' play was very fluid; players were very willing to leave their traditional zones to create more attacking options. However, this left some Swansea players open and unmarked. This shows the team's trust in their defenders, but very nearly burned them after Swansea won possession back. 

Swansea's aggression, however, would prove to be their undoing. A foul at midfield late in the half resulted in a free kick which, with a few deft touches, fell to Greg Jordan alone with Tremmell. Jordan very coolly knocked the ball in for Minnesota's second goal. 

The Second Half

The second half saw a return to Swansea pressure, which created a number of good opportunities. Swansea's substitutions played brilliantly, and Jonjo Shelvey continued to create chances for his side. Minnesota had their chances also, however. Minnesota for the entire second half (until the end) was very content to sit back defensively and play for the break. After Ramirez came off for MN trialist Abdiel Arroyo, Arroyo showed his speed and created a very nice opportunity

Swansea substituted many players at half across the field; this was, after all, a chance for their manager to see how they perform and help them get into shape for their upcoming season. 

Jonjo Shelvey, while he committed multiple fouls, was putting on an absolute show of class. He was decisive in his tackles, and very offensive in his passing and movement. While it doesn't appear in the highlight reel, at one point, Shelvey punted the ball from near his own penalty box and hit Marvin Emnes in stride near Minnesota's box. Unfortunately, Emnes' first touch was heavy and rolled past the touch line. 

Swansea continued to have much of the possession, but Minnesota was dangerous on the break. Furthermore, towards the end of the half, Minnesota was able to retain possession and keep the ball in Swansea's end. This may have been as much due to Swansea's lack of ideas moving forward as much as Minnesota's skill, but this is not a team that plays for the counterattack because they have to. 


This game was a great demonstration of Minnesota's depth. By the end of the game, few of Minnesota's regular starters were on the field. Despite this, Minnesota fielded a very productive side. 

Vicentini was very good getting the ball forward, though he wasn't quite as solid as Pitchkolan in the midfield. Michael Reed was very quick and willing to go forward. Furthermore, his long term shots were optimistic, and some were very nearly in: kept out only by Fabianski's diving saves. 

Greg Jordan was, for me, the man of the match. His movement was brilliant, his tackles intelligent, and he had great vision. He drew a number of fouls, as well as a few cards (for Swansea players), and won headers consistently. Based on his play in this match, I see no reason he should not be starting, save if his fitness is an issue. To that, he was unavailable on Thursday due to a lower leg issue. 

Ramirez hasn't scored a goal in the past two matches. While he had chances against Carolina, he was unable to capitalize, and he was very ineffective against Swansea. His movement was not particularly great, but I'm not panicking yet- one game does not a habit make. It's also important to realize that his play in the Spring season was likely above Ramirez' average, and we may see some regression to the mean in the fall. 

Not enough good things can be said about Jonjo Shelvey. He stood out, and played the general for his side, and played it effectively. They were unable to find the back of the net, but Minnesota was defensively competent, and Swansea is just adjusting to a new roster. Further, their inability to find the final passes are, from what their fans have told me, pretty typical for the side. 

On that note- I thoroughly enjoyed the discussions I had with Swansea supporters last night- just generally a great group of folks, and I hope our squads have a chance to meet again. 

Minnesota's next match is on Saturday, August 2 against the Ottowa Fury. The match is in TCF Bank Stadium, and follows EPL Champions Manchester City vs. Greek champions Olympiakos. I unfortunately will be out of town during the match, but I believe Bill MK will be there, so keep an eye on The Relegated, and keep an ear to the ground regarding MNUFC coverage.  

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