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Written By Nic Hallett (ZoneCoverage.com)
Photo Credit: Brian Curski
It was supposed to be a celebratory day. The day that finally married Major League Soccer and Minnesota together in holy matrimony. Any half-decent result would do. Heck, a loss, or at least a well-played one, would suffice. Instead, Minnesota United and its fans experienced a cold (and snowy) rude awakening.
Don’t get confused, the day was still magical and will be looked back on with fondness as Minnesota’s fittingly snowy baptism into MLS. But immediately the Loons have questions to answer as Atlanta United, a fellow newcomer to the league, thrashed them in front of 35,043 at TCF Bank Stadium on Sunday.
Minnesota United head coach Adrian Heath said the fans didn’t deserve the on-field product they got.
“I think the only positive we can take from today are the people that came out to brave the elements with us,” Heath said. “It was incredible. It’s just a pity that we couldn’t give them any type of performance that warranted the type of support that we got. I apologize for that.”
Adjustments are needed across the board and immediately as the Loons, who were promoted from the second tier of U.S. soccer, still appear to be a rung below.
Heading into the match much of the talk was how impressive Atlanta’s roster was and how tantalizing they looked even in a one-goal loss to the New York Red Bulls. Meanwhile, Minnesota’s roster is decidedly one of the most financially modest in the league and it had been pummeled in its MLS debut 5-1 at the hands of the Portland Timbers.
First-game jitters was the calming, predominant thought for Minnesota fans who saw their side keep that match close before allowing three late goals, two in injury-time. But with under three minutes into play, Atlanta scored with relative ease, bringing all Loons fans’ anxiety home to roost. With the final scoreline 6-1 beaming on the scoreboard and a second consecutive rout firmly in place, only one prevailing conclusion could be reached:
Minnesota is ready for MLS but its team is not.
“What is to blame? Poor defending. I thought there was a couple of quality finishes in their goals today. But on the whole, I thought we were poor at the back,” Heath said. “I said that last week, I’ll say it again this week, so obviously we’ve got a lot of work to do there.”
Minnesota was undone by the primary suspects: Atlanta’s most expensive, marquee players. The headliner of them was Miguel Almiron. Donning the No. 10 kit, a number synonymous with a team’s most skilled player, Almiron floated across the pitch throughout the first half and continuously popped up in dangerous positions. The incredible part wasn’t just the positioning of his runs but how he continued to do so without any Minnesota defender tightly marking him. After 30 minutes, the 23-year-old Paraguayan had scored twice and assisted one.
“I thought their counter-attacking play was very, very good, something we spoke about during the week,” Heath said. “They paid a lot of money for the guys that scored the goals and they’ve showed the quality that they have today. Some really good movement, a lot of pace and some good finishing — but we did make it easy for them today that’s for sure.”
Heath is right. The fault in allowing Atlanta’s attackers to continually make unchecked, incisive runs falls on someone. It could be Collen Warner and Rasmus Schuller, the two central midfielders, as they may have been too lax in patrolling the space in front of the defense. Or it could have been on the center-backs, Francisco Calvo and Vadim Demidov, which are responsible for organizing the defensive shape and being the last line of defense when needed. It could be on the coaching staff and the system they have in place or failing to communicate said system. Whichever or whomever it is, it needs to be corrected quickly.
“As I said, whether that’s the collective or the individuals, we’ll have to make some changes because obviously today and last week wasn’t good enough,” Heath said.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
John Alvbage, 4 – The Swedish veteran was left out to dry on a number of occasions as Minnesota failed to deal with speed and precision of the Atlanta counter attack. For many of the goals, he allowed he was stranded 1-versus-1 with an attacker. Still, you couldn’t help but feel had he managed to save one of the early ones then the shape of the game could have been much different.
Jerome Thiesson, 4 – It was shocking to see the 29-year-old feature having only been with the team a few days. He looked fine when on the ball, but his advanced position left Minnesota vulnerable on more than one occasion.
Francisco Calvo, 4 – Failed to dovetail with center-back partner Demidov and provide a solid foundation for United to build from.
Vadim Demidov, 3 – As the captain and leading defender on a team that has allowed 11 goals in just two MLS matches, much of the blame must fall on his shoulders. It doesn’t help that he was among those who allowed Almiron and Josef Martinez to consistently get behind them.
Jerome Taylor, 5 – Didn’t measure strongly on either end of the spectrum, though was similarly at fault for getting caught too high up the pitch. Considering he was thrown onto the left after playing last week on the right, he provided a fairly solid performance.
Rasmus Schuller, 4 – Central midfield is a pressure cooker, but the players who play there must be able to cope. Schuller provided silky distribution at times but couldn’t impose himself consistently enough and didn’t block the passing lanes when needed most.
Collen Warner, 3 – As the more defensive-minded of the two center mids, Warner must take on more responsibility for the lopsided scoreline. His side needed him to make key interceptions and tackles but, like his teammates, that was lacking throughout.
Kevin Molino, 6 – He said it was his first time ever playing in the snow. It appeared to show as at times he looked flashy and dangerous and others bamboozled by the conditions. You could tell his body was telling him to do more, but it couldn’t — given the conditions. Strode up confidently and buried the PK.
Johan Venegas, 6 – Minnesota’s most dangerous player, along with Molino, throughout the match. He’s got size, vision and a solid dribble. The conditions seemed to negatively affect him, too. If anything, there are concerns that Minnesota may be too reliant on him — he created many of their forays forward.
Mohammed Saeid, 5 – Interestingly was slotted on the left wing but certainly drifted inward both offensively and defensively. He did his jobs well, but not spectacularly.
Christian Ramirez, 4 – This was a forgetful one for every Loon, including Ramirez. The former NASL star received the loudest ovation from the home support prior to kickoff. Based on his skillset, Ramirez’s game will often rely on the service he receives. Given this team performance, he could be in for a tough run.
Bobby Shuttleworth, N/R – Came on for the injured Alvbage and could do little about the goal he conceded.
Bashkim Kadrii, N/R – Minnesota was in tatters by the time he took the pitch and barely got a sniff of the ball.