Minnesota United scored multiple goals in a game for the first time all year, including two in three minutes in the closing stages, and beat the Colorado Rapids 3-1 on Saturday night.
It’s a lede that writes itself – three goals! In the same game! For Minnesota United! It’s hard not to end up joking or posting ironic gifs on social media, such was the suddenness of the Loons’ offensive outburst on Saturday. Two of the goals were even from straight-up open play, doubling Minnesota’s season total in that department.
It’s easy to focus on the what. It’s a little bit harder to see the why. There are several reasons, all intertwined with each other – and which of them is the most important is in the eye of the beholder.
The easiest one to see, looking in the box score, was a much more productive performance from Emanuel Reynoso. Depending on how you track assists (i.e. do you include the hockey assist or not), he had between one and three assists against Colorado; suffice it to say that he was involved in the build-up with all three goals, and made the final pass for one of them.
Twice, he beat a defender by himself – just small moves – and then made things happen, landing a cross on Dibassy’s head for the first goal, and laying the ball off for Hassani Dotson to cross on the second. That’s the Reynoso we’re used to seeing, the man who makes the most of the space he has to work with.
Head coach Adrian Heath said he’d sensed a change in Reynoso. “I’m not saying it’s the reason why, but his family are here now, they arrived this week,” said Heath. “I thought you could sense that he was a little brighter this week in himself and around the group. These are the little things that people don’t really know about. He’ll be delighted that his family’s here, and he’s hopefully playing himself into some sort of form.”
But that doesn’t tell the whole story, because while Reynoso was able to make big plays, he also very clearly had more room to make plays. Through the opening six games of the season, it seemed like every opposing team was able to run players at Reynoso like they were blitzing the quarterback on a passing play in football; against Colorado, Bebelo had time in the pocket, so to speak. And the reason of that came, in part, from an unlikely source – the play of the fullbacks.
The Loons have been missing Chase Gasper and Romain Métanire, two players who are offensively skilled. Without that offensive impetus, there has been less space for the attack. Without wide players pushing forward, the width in the attack has to come from the wide forwards, meaning fewer players in the penalty area for Reynoso to look for. How many times have we seen Rey hit a hopeless pass to a double-teamed Luis Amarilla so far this year?
You could see it just from the chances created by Hassani Dotson and Kemar Lawrence; Dotson set up a goal, and Lawrence was mere inches away from giving Lod a near-tap-in early in the game.
Said Heath, “I think the way we try to play, we bring the wide guys in to play in the half spaces and the little pockets. So you need to get the outside backs high and wide, and stretch their defense horizontally. And I thought we were a bit better tonight. I don’t think we’ve been as progressive in the wide areas as I would have liked this season.”
And even as good as the fullbacks and Reynoso were offensively, the offense didn’t really get untracked until two substitutions changed the United front line. With twenty minutes to go, Franco Fragapane and Luis Amarilla departed, Robin Lod moved to center-forward, and Bongokuhle Hlongwane and Abu Danladi took over at left and right wing, respectively.
It was the earliest this season that Amarilla has been subbed off and Lod moved to the striker spot, and just the second substitute appearance for Danladi – and it took less than ten minutes for both to score. The first goal was a classic two-striker move, with Danladi drawing the middle of three center backs out with a near-post run, while Lod peeled back into the space left open to turn home the cross. The second saw Lod turn back for a pass, set up Danladi (imperfectly) in open space, followed by Danladi turning a low-percentage chance into his first goal of the year.
We’ve all wondered if the MNUFC starting front three just needed time to gel, or if Luis Amarilla needed time to settle in. But it’s hard not to notice that with Amarilla up front, the Loons scored just twice from open play in almost six full games. This was the first time this season that Lod moved back to the number 9 role with the Loons still chasing a goal, and Minnesota scored twice in ten minutes.
“I think he [Lod] is a little bit different [in the center-forward role],” said Heath. “He gave us a starting point tonight when he got up there. I’m pleased with him, because he is gradually getting fitter and fitter. He’s getting back to what he was. People forget the sort of offseason he had. Being in a tent for five weeks, in a forest in Finland, that’s not the ideal preparation for the new season.”
So why did the Loons finally get three goals? That’s three potential reasons, and you can decide for yourself which of the three is most important.
MNUFC fans have to be thinking, though, that whatever the reason is, they want more of the same.