Frequent contributor Jon Marthaler has written about virtually every sport in the Twin Cities, and fills in on Saturdays for the RandBall blog on StarTribune.com. He'll cover the professional soccer scene in the Twin Cities, whether at the Metrodome or at the National Sports Center.
Email Jon to talk about soccer.
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. Bill?
Edmonton likes to park the bus
This is a popular phrase, and is usually used about teams that play a very defensive-minded game plan. Edmonton's formation was very similar to Minnesota's, and typically ended up being a 4-1-4-1, with the four midfielders pressing up the field to clog the passing lanes between United's back four and midfielders.
For much of the first half, United tried to move the ball in the air, which led to a number of fifty-fifty balls and gave Edmonton a number of chances on counter-attacks. However, in the second half, Minnesota began to take over, and the fact that Edmonton was playing their third game in seven days started to wear on them.
The Eddies played very physically on defense, and United never really seemed to figure out how to keep from being pushed off the ball. Minnesota's offense includes some smaller players, and other teams might look at what Edmonton did, and choose to play a rougher game, and dare the ref to call it.
The defense was a mixed bag. Cristiano Dias had a great header off the goal line early in the game, but the defense also had a costly turnover that led Tiago Calvano to have to foul a goal-bound Edmonton player. The back four also seemed to have trouble communicating with keeper Matt Van Oekel, with a couple of balls almost caught in the no-man’s-land between the keeper and the defense. Again, Minnesota allowed a couple of good looks at goal, caused by an Edmonton player getting to the end line and then crossing the ball in front of goal. The team needs to figure out how to prevent those types of crosses, because a better finish on one of those would have led to the dreaded 1-1 tie with Edmonton.
Kevin Venegas and Justin Davis had some great runs up the field, with Venegas doing a good job on free kicks. Davis’s run on one build-up led to a fantastic chance on goal that Floyd Franks couldn’t convert.
It was somewhat of a strange decision to have Franks start in one of the defensive midfield positions. He played the more box-to-box midfielder, which gave him opportunities to use his skills in attack. He was eventually replaced by Greg Jordan, who was my original suggestion to fill in for the injured Juliano Vicentini. Neither was all that great in the position. Jordan did a better job on the press, while Franks has a better first touch on the ball, although he did turn it over and only quick thinking by United's center backs prevented a shot on goal.
Aaron Pitchkolan was for the most part quiet during this game. With the high press by Edmonton, both Franks and Pitchkolan had difficulty finding space to move in the middle of the field.
Minnesota's wings, Jamie Watson and Omar Daley, needed to do more to help move the ball out of their own defensive end. Watson did a solid job of link-up play with attacking midfielders Christian Ramirez and Miguel Ibarra, along with Davis, who was the fullback on his left side, but Daley was too stationary. While that might have been the team's strategy, it seemed that United's attacks on the right side bogged down too quickly at midfield because Daley was sitting back, waiting for a pass. It wasn’t until the second half that Minnesota really began making good passes to space and players ran onto the ball rather than standing still and waiting for the ball. Once United started to have success in the midfield, their chances on goal became much stronger.
Ibarra was by far the best midfielder on the field. His runs both with and without the ball were able to break down the defense, and move the ball quickly out of the defensive end and into the attacking third. While he wasn’t rewarded with a goal, his teammates also didn’t do him any favors, as a number of their shot attempts were mis-hit or struck right at the goalkeeper.
Ramirez had a couple of decent looks at goal, but was unable to convert. His runs seemed less effective than in previous weeks, and it likely was due to Edmonton's center backs keying on him. Many of the passes in his direction were cut off by the defense.
A win’s a win, but…
Overall, the team did not look as strong as it has in the previous two games. While United was able to win in the end, it took a fortuitous handball and penalty kick by Simone Bracalello to see them home. The team didn’t seem to play together nearly as well as had previously, but nine points in three games is a great reward for the effort, time and money spent in the preseason. The team once again looked more organized and fit than their opponent. In Indy, they play another strong defensive team next week; with luck, they will create more chances on goal.
Manny Lagos chose not to use all three subs. At home, with a lead and the depth that he has in the squad, it seemed like that might have been a mistake. A player like Daniel Mendes or Nate Polak would have been great to bring in for the last five minutes, both to give them game experience this season and spell Ibarra or Ramirez.
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