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Written By Nic Hallett (ZoneCoverage.com)
Photo Credit: Brian Curski Photography
United analyst Nic Hallett provides four takeaways from Sunday’s win.
United does the unthinkable
In what was a stunning night on on a multitude of levels, Minnesota United did the seemingly unfeasible by defeating Los Angeles F.C. 2-0 at Banc of California Stadium.
To put this result in its correct perspective: It was Major League Soccer’s table toppers first home loss all season and only their second-ever home loss in league play since entering MLS in 2018. Minnesota United head coach Adrian Heath was understandably bullish after the improbable victory, claiming that this result should silence those who doubt his burgeoning squad.
And though Heath certainly has at least one leg to stand on, it should be noted before we discuss all the glowing things that happened Sunday night that United benefitted from LAFC’s — and the league’s — best player, Carlos Vela, being unavailable for this match due to injury. You also wonder if United’s game plan of drastically seceding possession is sustainable in future matchups.
Regardless, there were loads of positives for Minnesota to glean from the win, which should rightly go down as one of the greatest victories in franchise history.
Heath gets it spot-on
The Englishman’s tactics must go down as the catalyst for the victory. Lining up with five in the back in a 5-3-2 formation, Heath sent out his charges to sit deep in a low block, while counter attacking through Darwin Quintero and Mason Toye at every opportunity.
It was a sensible approach considering the league leaders propensity for keeping a stranglehold on possession in most of their matches. Seemingly, though, that couldn’t have played more into Heath’s hands. United, and the match as a whole, was reminiscent of when the viper holds eerily still as its rodent pray wildly scurries in close proximity, naive to its impending danger. LAFC buzzed around the pitch with loads of short passes but if they ever misstepped, United pounced into action and had the venom to finish them off.
Heath’s directive was clear: as soon as possession is regained, find Quintero or Toye immediately. If possible, find them behind the midfield line so they can attack the back four in tandem. (This worked especially well though because the back four was often a back three or two since one or both the outside backs were high up the pitch. This left the center backs isolated on many occasions.)
United’s counter attack was lethal as the first half was chock full of high-percentage odd-man rushes for the Loons. By my count the Loon’s had six such rushes, scoring from two of them. Toye was the man of the match for Minnesota as his two finishes were sensational. (We’ll address Toye’s remarkable performance more later.) Quintero was very much a key figure as well since he did a lot of the dirty work in the build up play.
Defensively, though, this was a tactical masterclass for Heath and Co. The team’s shape was impeccable and seemed to fit like a finished puzzle in terms of plugging up any gaps LAFC wanted to invade. Countless interceptions, deflections and clearances were made by the stoutly organized midfield and defense.
After the match, Heath lauded the intelligence of his three center backs and their decision-making on the night, which was stupendous. But the outside backs and midfield trio of Hassani Dotson, Lawrence Olum and Jan Gregus were just as vital. All worked tirelessly throughout in what could only be described as clinical example of team defending.
“I thought the efforts and the discipline was as good as you could have ever expected,” Heath said. “This is a really tough place to come and play. They move the ball so quick… But our rearguard, and the people up front, I don’t think it could have gone any better than what we planned.”
Heath’s match strategy was perfect for the occasion and his player’s execution on the night was just as flawless. Fitting then that this remarkable win will go down as Heath’s 50th MLS victory.
Toye Story 2: Slaying MLS’ giants
In the week that he (and Hassani Dotson) received their first-ever call ups by the U.S. soccer federation, Toye validated his national team selection in the best way possible: two sublime finishes against the country’s best team.
Both goals were taken with absolute aplomb by the 20-year-old. Neither chance would have been considered to be Grade A. Now add in the fact that he scored both with his weaker (allegedly) left foot and you really can’t help but take your hat off to the kid.
The second one, which was taken some distance outside the box, was especially absurd:
Toye’s bomb from outside the box was nasty. With the left foot!?!? pic.twitter.com/xPnAgFRrPQ
— Nicolas Hallett (@PrinceHallett) September 2, 2019
Toye has a ton of upside and absolutely could be United’s striker of the future. That said, he’s still very raw in many other skill categories. For example, he looks super dangerous whenever he has space and his team is on a fast break. But when his team is in possession and the opposing team has numbers behind the ball, his impact seems to diminish drastically. Hold up play, aerial duels, movement off the ball, timing of runs and sensing danger all still need work. But isn’t that to be expected from a guy who was a teenager not too long ago?
Darwin gets injured amid controversy
As mentioned previously, Quintero was a key cog in the potent two-man attack on Sunday. Though the performance came under a cloud of uncertainty as The Scientist has had some slightly untoward things to say about the treatment he feels he’s received recently from his coach.
Heath said Quintero’s seclusion from the first XI for last week’s Open Cup Final was “nothing personal.” Yet the Colombian says he doesn’t feel the same measure of confidence from his manager and that being left out made him feel hurt. There’s tension here and remains to be seen if it will boil over into something more tangible.
Quintero clearly pulled something in his leg early in the second half as he needed to be replaced by Kevin Molino. This comes at an inopportune time for everyone as a steady flow of games and good results might have mitigated everything. If the team goes on to perform well without its top billed talent then things might grow more complex.
Still, this seems like a great opportunity for a certain club-record signing to enter the fold. (See: Chacon, Thomas.)