Minnesota United initially shifted formations ahead of an FC Dallas game because of a suspension.
And now United is possibly again shifting formations ahead of an FC Dallas game because of suspension.
Granted, injury pileups at the winger positions also contributed to that first change at the end of June. This time around, it’s the opposite, with a surplus of wide players coming into form for the 7 p.m. Saturday game at Dallas.
Coach Adrian Heath has been known for his 4-2-3-1 system, which he first began using when he started coaching in the U.S. 11 years ago after growing tired of the 4-4-2 standard formation he had mainly played in during his career. It’s an attacking system that can leave teams vulnerable at the back, as seen in United’s 5-1 loss to Portland in its inaugural MLS game.
But with the aforementioned absences and a struggling defense earlier this season, Heath decided to make the change to a more conservative-minded 3-5-2.
Ahead of the switch, the Loons were 5-9-1 in the league. Since then, they’ve gone 4-4-1.
“It suits our team a bit more,” goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth said. “You’ve got players who are playing their natural positions. Kind of leads to when we take up good defensive positions to taking up good offensive positions and being able to get some space on the wings for some of your guys … open up space for them. So I think that benefits our team a lot.”
Heath said when he first switched to the 3-5-2, he worried the offense would stall. It’s a more defensive formation since two wingbacks can function as either part of the attack or as a five-man back line with three center backs. But midfielder Rasmus Schuller said it ended up giving playmaker Darwin Quintero more freedom, since he didn’t have to worry about many defensive responsibilities with three center backs, three midfielders and two wingbacks as cover.
A special player like Quintero will make any system work, Heath said. But the problem Saturday is Quintero might be unavailable with a calf strain. Stack that up with suspensions for center back Francisco Calvo and defensive midfielder Collen Warner, along with new winger Romario Ibarra ready to start, and it’s the makings of the 4-2-3-1 resurrection.
“You have to weigh up, really, what you think is good for you in possession and out of possession,” Heath said. “The 3-5-2 has worked well for us in terms of having the extra body, but now you’re looking at Romario, and trying to fit a wide guy in that 3-5-2 is difficult because certainly Romario is better, far better in their half of the field than he is in ours. So we would have to play somebody in behind him.
“It’s pros and cons of every system. I think a lot of it depends on how you adapt, how you implement the strategy and where your special players are.”
Heath said his and every coach’s conundrum is figuring out how to put attacking pieces on the field in good positions while still maintaining solidity behind them. Whether that means a return to his old favorite system or a new kind of hybrid remains to be seen.
To Shuttleworth, however, this whole conversation might be irrelevant.
“At the end of the day, when you go on the road, you need to dig in. You need to battle for 90 minutes. It’s going to be a fight,” he said. “So you can talk tactics and formations all you want, but it’s going to come down to putting ourselves in good spots and putting the work in and trying to dig in.”
The Loons might have found the defensive midfielder they’ve been targeting for quite some time. Brazilian Fernando Bob, 30, has been practicing with United this week, a source confirmed, and he could sign as early as next week, before the Sept. 14 roster freeze date.
He has played for eight clubs at various levels in Brazil since beginning as a pro in 2006. He most recently played for top-flight club Associacao Atletica Ponte Preta.