Minnesota United commandeered the most possession it has all season in its match Sunday against the Los Angeles Galaxy. But as has often been the case, converting that control into victories has been elusive.
The Loons had control of the ball 65.5 percent of the match, yet still came out of TCF Bank Stadium with a 2-1 loss, falling to ninth in the Western Conference at 3-7-2.
“Well, we have possession, but you have to do things with possession,” said United coach Adrian Heath, who has emphasized its importance in his system of play since he took over the club. “Second half, we had some end product from the possession that we had. We had the ball in the final third [of the field] an awful lot. We got crosses in. We got bodies in the box and made it difficult for them.
“I don’t want to be a team that just passes the ball about and looks pretty but doesn’t go anywhere,” Heath said. While he praised his team’s possession efforts in the second half, “With better finishing, this game could have been over,” he said.
United took 22 shots against the Galaxy, eventually breaking through with the tying goal in the 66th minute. Heath said he then took a “calculated” risk to push his players forward and go for the victory, even though it left the team more exposed to quick counterattacks.
That gamble, in Heath’s words, “sort of backfired” when Los Angeles won a dangerous free kick late in the match and benefitted from a Loons own goal.
United has won the possession battle in six of its 12 matches. But of those six, the Loons only won once, 1-0 over the Colorado Rapids on April 23, when they had 51.8 percent of possession.
United’s other positive results, two victories and two draws, have come when the team lost the possession battle. And two of those, a 2-2 draw at Colorado on March 18 and the 2-0 victory over Sporting Kansas City on May 7, saw the Loons have about 30 percent less possession than their opponent.
How to become more efficient with possession still evades United, especially after close losses in the past two matches when the Loons also held the ball the majority of the time.
“We did a good job at some times, but we have to stop saying that,” team captain Francisco Calvo said. “In Toronto, we were better than Toronto. And now we were better than the Galaxy. So we have to do something else, you know? … We need to get better, and I’m telling you, we will.”
Calvo said part of the problem could be mental, with United players giving “too much respect” to certain teams or players. But the Loons are clearly sick of being gracious losers.
“We just can’t keep telling ourselves that this is good enough and be that team that everyone says that, ‘You guys are pretty good’ afterward,” forward Christian Ramirez said.