Two weeks ago, we were writing about how Minnesota United was one of MLS’s few remaining unbeaten teams. Now, with the Loons on a two-game skid in which they have scored just one goal – and that from the penalty spot – it feels like Minnesota is into its first panic-button-adjacent moment of the 2022 season.
It’s too bad that it’s the Colorado Rapids coming to town (7pm Saturday, BSN for local TV), because though the Rapids are the hardest team in MLS to figure out, they were also the architects of what I still think was one of the Loons’ worst losses ever.
Minnesota is just not in a good place right now. Losses to Seattle (at home) and Austin (on the road) have removed all traces of the good feelings of the first four weeks of the year. Losing to the Sounders is of course one thing, since it feels like Minnesota’s existence as a club is somehow tied to losing to Seattle, but losing to Austin – even if Los Arboles Verdes are much-improved – is an alarm bell.
Minnesota played a 4-3-3 last weekend, a formation that Loons fans tend to hate, but one that helped them get back into the game against Seattle in the second half. It gave Minnesota space to put both Joseph Rosales and Kervin Arriaga in midfield ahead of Wil Trapp, and took some of the midfield pressure off the shoulders of the struggling Emanuel Reynoso.
Unfortunately, it didn’t work, particularly. Reynoso was nominally playing on the left, but ended up playing about the same position as Luis Amarilla, who spent most of the game trying to press effectively even though everybody else was a step slow. Arriaga was excellent in central midfield, but Rosales wasn’t much in the game, playing a hybrid midfield / left wing role as Reynoso drifted centrally. By the time the game ended, the Loons were back in more of a 4-2-3-1 look, just trying to unlock their stagnant offense.
All of which is information that doesn’t really answer the question of “what matters.” What matters is that the Loons find something, anything, that will get their offense moving. Minnesota’s got a ton of attacking talent, but that talent has produced just two goals from open play in six games. Whether it’s a new striker, or another formation shift, or a break for Reynoso, the Loons need to find something to get untracked.
Who even are the Rapids?
Colorado is absolutely the most confusing team in MLS. Their owner, Stan Kroenke, has more money than he can possibly spend – so much that he can build a five-billion-dollar NFL stadium in Los Angeles for his NFL team, even though he owns (deep breath) a Premier League team, an NBA team, an NHL team, a lacrosse team, and two eSports teams. He’s literally throwing money away! Some of it to the city of St. Louis, for knifing that entire town in the back! And yet, based on the money the Rapids aren’t spending, you really have to question whether he even knows he actually owns an MLS team.
The Rapids have zero Designated Players, in a league where the only way to buy talent is to use the Designated Player mechanism. They haven’t had any DPs for awhile. According to the possibly-inaccurate MLSPA salary numbers, the Rapids had the lowest payroll in the league last year, and their two highest-paid players from last year are no longer on the roster.
And yet the Rapids won the Western Conference last year.
Coach Robin Fraser is clearly a genius, and the only question left is whether he can keep duplicating this magic.
What you’re going to get from Colorado is some pretty good soccer from a bunch of guys you vaguely remember from a bin in your brain labeled “potential breakout stars” – Diego Rubio! Michael Barrios! Keegan Rosenberry! – a whole bunch of counter-attacks, and probably two goals from set pieces. And for the whole season you’ll be saying doubful things like “I don’t know if the Rapids can keep this up” even though they win every week.
Speaking of which, Colorado is also winless in three games, though you could make a pretty good argument that they should have won every one of them. Minnesota’s not the only team that has trouble finishing its chances, you know.
What happened last time?
Colorado won the Western Conference last year mostly because they found three different ways to beat the Loons. This is a bold statement, but I don’t think it’s untrue.
- Game 1: The Rapids trailed Minnesota 2-0 after 24 minutes. Somehow they won the game 3-2, with three second-half goals, even though their total xG was less than 1.0. The reason might be contained in the following fact: after that loss, Dayne St. Clair didn’t play again in 2021, not until Tyler Miller got COVID during the playoffs.
- Game 2: The Rapids scored right before halftime, then again with ten minutes to go. Ramón Ábila got himself sent off for punching a Colorado defender in the kidney, the Rapids probably should have scored twice more, and the whole game got filed under “beatdown.”
- Game 3 (THE HORROR): The Loons led 1-0 early, Colorado had a player sent off before the hour mark, the Rapids made a quadruple substitution seemingly out of desperation, the Loons had fifty chances to get the clinching goal and missed them all, and then somehow the Rapids got a penalty, then scored on a counter, then scored a clincher. They won 3-1 after going down to ten men! In a match that the Loons desperately needed to win for their playoff chances! At home! I still can’t believe it. It was an absolutely awful game.
One comeback, one beatdown, and one utterly impossible comeback. What is even happening here.
What do the numbers say?
4 – Consecutive games with a yellow card for Wil Trapp, including two games in a row when he’s had one before the game was 15 minutes old. Minnesota United’s captain has been reckless two weeks in a row, and it cost the Loons both times, as both early yellows led to sequences where Trapp lost the ball in midfield, couldn’t challenge to win the ball back to avoid another card, and the ball ended up in the back of the Loons net.
24 – Number of times Luis Amarilla has mis-controlled the ball while attempting to gain control this year, third-worst in MLS (all numbers from FBRef.com). This is nearly one of every six times he’s touched the ball.
1 – Number of times Robin Lod has carried the ball into the opposition penalty area this season. The Loons have done this only 15 times all season – five MLS players have double digits on their own, including Colorado’s Barrios, who has 10 – but Lod’s number is shockingly low, for a winger. Last season, Lod had 33.
This is impossible, since Colorado is struggling a little, but Minnesota might be struggling more. The Rapids desperately need a true striker, but they’re not going to find one before tomorrow’s game. Minnesota just needs somebody to score some goals. Actually, when I start typing it out, maybe the prediction is obvious: 0-0 draw.