Editor's note: Bill MK is a die-hard supporter of both Minnesota United FC and lower level soccer everywhere. He currently writes at www.therelegated.org about Minnesota United and other topics in soccer, and can be found on Twitter: @bill_mk.
Every week, he writes a tactical analysis of the United match, which he has graciously allowed to republish here. This originally appeared at The Relegated, which we think you should visit. Also: What better time to read about tactics, than the day of the match?
Minnesota United FC beat Indy Eleven 3-2 on a brisk and windy night. While the margin was 1-0, both Indy goals were caused by mistakes by United players. One was an own goal by Simone Bracallello, and the other was on a penalty kick after a handball in the box by Jamie Watson. The fact that these wide midfielders were so far back playing defense shows a tactical shift on the part of Minnesota from their first few games, which their formation made apparent.
The Formation: 4-4-1-1 or 4-2-3-1?
Defense: Davis, Dias, Calvano, Venegas
Midfield: Bracallello, Pitchkolan, Vincentini, Mendes
Forwards: Ibarra, Ramirez
Watson and Omar Daley found themselves on the bench, after struggling to help advance the ball against Edmonton. Also, Floyd Franks was on bench with the return of Juliano Vincentini. Looking over the starting line-up, the formation was listed as a 4-4-1-1, whereas in the first three games, the lineup was listed as a 4-2-3-1. Against Indy, the team's formation appeared to have changed. (If you are interested in learning more about the 4-2-3-1, I wrote a brief article about the basics of the formation.)
In some ways though, the difference between a 4-4-1-1 and a 4-2-3-1 is meaningless; the only difference lies in the wide midfielders pushing up farther, in the 4-2-3-1. At times during the game, Minnesota shifted back and forth between the two formations.
There were even times on the attack when the formation became a 3-4-3, with the fullback bringing the ball up past the midfield line. This ability to change tactics as the flow of the game dictates is one of the reasons that Minnesota has been able to so quickly shift from defense to offense and find success on the counter-attack - without being caught out of position defensively.
Movement and Flexibility
The players themselves also seemed to switch individual positions more frequently in this game as well. There were times when center back Tiago Calvano would find himself carrying the ball up the right sideline, or his partner in central defense, Cristiano Dias, supported the attack from far over the midfield line.
In each case, there was a teammate helping by falling back to cover as they pushed forward. While not exactly total football, the ability to be flexible and allow players to exploit mismatches and space opened up a number of counter-attacks during the game.
But the 4-4-1-1 was correct in a sense
Both Daniel Mendes and Bracallello sat farther back than Watson and Daley typically have, helping to support the fullbacks in covering the sidelines. Part of that is likely because Indy plays a much more attacking form of soccer than did Edmonton. United was also up 2-0 and then 3-1, which meant moving players out of the attack and into more defensive roles. Unfortunately, this did backfire a bit for Minnesota, with both goals coming from mistakes by wide midfielders in the box. That can be put down as bad luck more than the formation being at fault.
The defense was once again very solid for much of the game. Neither goal was caused by defensive mistakes, but the back four were not without their lapses. For a period in the first half, the defense gave Indy too much space, which the Eleven exploited and which ultimately led to the own goal.
Minnesota's struggle in earlier games was covering crosses in to the box, but during this game, Indy did not have solid chances from crosses. Instead, the chances for the visitors came on breakaways, but the Minnesota defense was able to recover and disrupt shots enough that few were serious shots on goal.
Matt Van Oekel once again was stellar in goal. This game he came off his line with more confidence, punching the ball out of the box or grabbing balls on fast breaks. With the defense solid in front of him, he can take more risks to stop attacks and shots.
While the midfield didn’t keep control of the ball as well as they would have liked, they were excellent on the counter-attack. Bracallello had great touches and control along the left side, which allowed Miguel Ibarra to move without the ball and get open. This gave United two players on the pitch who can beat defenders with the ball at their feet.
Mendes was a great addition on the right side. While he did score, he did not have the pace that Daley has. His strength against Indy was in playing incredible tight defense on turnovers in the middle third of the field. Indy struggled to move the ball up Minnesota’s right side due to the pressure Mendes put on the players.
With Vicentini in the lineup, Aaron Pitchkolan pressed up the field more than he had in previous matches, which led to him scoring a great goal from 20 yards out.
Ibarra again had a great game, with an assist on Pitchkolan’s goal. Christian Ramirez had a tap-in on a mishit shot by Mendes. Still, Ramirez had a couple of great looks at goal and missed them. Against other teams, those chances will need to be converted because they will be harder to come by.
Manny Lagos switched up the line-up again, and it led to a win. He’s got the team working together and responding well to adversity. He is not a coach to sub just because he still has a substitution left, which left some strong players on the bench.
Another game, another win
While there are things that could be improved on, the team has four wins in four games. It doesn’t get much better than that.