Fri. Dec 1st, 2023

Image: Minnesota United

After 90+ minutes of sloppy, ugly, yet exciting soccer, Minnesota United FC walked off a moist and still somewhat snowy Allianz Field pitch Saturday evening with a point after a 1-1 draw with the visiting New York Red Bulls.

The stalemate keeps the Loons undefeated two matches into the 2023 campaign, and still maintains positive momentum for a club who will likely be relying on every possible point at the end of the year to propel them to a fifth straight playoff berth.

While there’s not a ton to takeaway from a match played under such odd and extreme weather-related circumstances, here are my three big things.

Snow Was The Story

Let’s face it, there are a select few people actually discussing Minnesota’s tactical setup in this match (which was another 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 hybrid, by the way).

Everyone who follows this club and was in attendance on Saturday has been talking about the snow. Because, well, it was the main character and biggest difference-maker in the match.

“[To] have a circumstance like that, I have no understanding,” said New York head coach Gerhard Struber about the field conditions. “I was so surprised when I go outside and I cannot see green … this is very, very unprofessional.”

Even MNUFC gaffer Adrian Heath expressed some negative feelings about the field, saying he was “disappointed” in how much accumulated snow remained on the pitch at kickoff and beyond.

I think everyone can agree the conditions of the field were far from ideal, but were they unavoidable? Brighter minds than mine hold the answer to that presumably complicated question.

Image: Minnesota United

Loons Vultures

Bongokuhle Hlongwane put away his first goal of the season in the 18th minute on the backend of Minnesota’s first corner of the season. Franco Fragapane, Heath’s go-to corner taker in Emanuel Reynoso’s absence, sent in a perfect ball to Micky Tapias. The center-back got an excellent head to it, and Bongi was there to clean up a paw-away save from Carlos Colonel for the opener.

“It means a lot to me,” said Hlongwane. “I feel happy because I was able to score in front of the Loons fans on our first game of the season at home.”

Both of the Loons’ goals this season have come in vulture-ish fashion, feeding off rebounds at point-blank range. In the season-opener in Dallas, Mender Garcia found the back of the net following up a forced save from a Fragapane rocket-shot.

The sequel had a lot of similarities. Started by Fraga, continued with a save, ended with a goal.

“If the ball is around the box, for us as forwards, we have to be around the box also,” said Hlongwane. “We have to be ready for rebounds.”

A Rey-less Identity

If you asked anyone in MLS or MNUFC circles heading into the 2023 campaign about the club’s identity, they would have (correctly) told you it almost totally revolved around talisman Emanuel Reynoso.

With the Argentine out of the picture for who knows how long, Heath and Co. have been tasked with finding a way to exstablish success without running the attack almost exclusively through their All-Star No. 10.

While it hasn’t exactly been sexy, we’re starting to see some intentionality emerge with how the Loons are approaching the season tactically, and it has a lot of similarities with the 2019 team.

In short, the plan seems to rely on high-quality play from the defensive half of the pitch. The central midfielders are tasked with not only shutting down opposing attacks before they start, but also establishing and maintaining the tempo Minnesota wants to play. Kervin Arriaga has specifically been more than up to the task in both areas so far this season. The Honduran has been winning a vast majority of his challenges, completing passes at a high rate, and has influenced the game with both his physicality and pace.

“It looks like [Arriaga] is back to his old self again,” said Heath. “He’s had a good start.”

It’s been a largely good start for the Loons in 2023, with four points in the first two matches. An opportunity to keep that momentum presents itself this weekend, as the goalless Colorado Rapids beckon at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park for a Saturday, 8:30 p.m. CT kickoff on MLS Season Pass.

Other Observations

  • Hassani Dotson’s hungry for bangers in his return from a torn ACL, with two close chances at a winner following his appearance in the 65th minute
  • Wil Trapp deserves a shoutout for starting and playing over an hour despite suffering a scary rib injury over the bye week
  • Micky Tapias had a few rough patches defensively in dealing with the snow. You have to imagine the former Pachuca player doesn’t have much, if any, experience playing in anything close to those conditions
  • In his last two matches vs. Minnesota, Red Bulls attacker Lewis Morgan has racked up 11 total shots, but doesn’t have a goal to show for it

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