Image: Minnesota United
Minnesota United FC were handed their first “L” of the 2023 Major League Soccer campaign Saturday evening, when they fell to the Chicago Fire 2-1 at Soldier Field.
The Fire earned their first home win of the season and improved to four-straight games unbeaten. Ezra Hendrickson’s side were impressive on the evening, with a high-press enacted that caused disruption and chaos all game. A brace from MLS legend and 38-year old forward (not to mention former Loon) Kei Kamara earned them all three points, with the Sierra Leone forward scoring his 141st and 142nd career goals in the league. Kamara is now third all-time on the MLS goalscoring charts.
Minnesota’s lone goal on the night came from midfielder Kervin Arriaga on a direct free kick, but it was more a goalkeeping blunder from Chris Brady than a deserved strike.
Here are my three biggest takeaways from Saturday night’s action:
The Loons first-half performance Saturday evening was pitiful. They looked like a team with 11 players out there that didn’t know each other. It was genuinely the worst I have seen the team play since the 2022 campaign when they lost on the road to Real Salt Lake 3-0 in late August.
Chicago owned MNUFC from the opening whistle and the Loons allowed them to. The pressure wasn’t absorbed, it wasn’t even countered, Chicago just controlled every part of the pitch. The Loons came out of the gate sluggish, they showed up with the intention to put on a performance but instead showed up looking like the team we saw in February’s preseason.
“It started in the first half with duels and winning our individual battles,” said captain Wil Trapp. “[Chicago] were first at everything in many regards in the first half, and we weren’t able to clear our lines particularly well and when you give teams with poachers in the box opportunity after opportunity, it can end in goals. Credit to them for re-pressing the ball, but we have to be better in our individual one-on-ones.”
The possession breakdown by each half (available here) shows that not once in the first-half did the Loons have more possession than the Fire (the statistics are in five-minute intervals). By the time the Loons came close to making it 50-50 over one of those periods, they were already down two goals.
They allowed the Fire to own them, on the road, in a very winnable match. The Loons let the opposition into their heads and it took a stern talking to at the halftime break by head coach Adrian Heath to get them out of the slump.
Sang Bin’s Debut
A light-hearted positive take for you now. New signing Sang Bin Jeong looked electric in his short cameo off the bench. The best thing I can say about it was that the South Korean looked like he wanted to be out there, making an impact and changing the game.
Postgame, Heath told media that when Franco Fragapane is not on the pitch, Sang Bin will likely be the set piece taker for the Loons on corner kicks. The 21-year old took four corner kicks for the Loons after coming off the bench, while also winning 4/8 duels in the final-third. It was a positive debut and it can really only go up from here.
“[Sang Bin] showed some nice touches and I thought he put two or three great free kicks into the box,” said Heath. “He will be better just for getting thirty minutes and getting on the field and settling down. We have a really good player and now we have to integrate him into the group.”
Quick note: In training on Friday ahead of the match, Sang Bin scored a wicked scissor/overhead kick in a shooting drill. The kid oozes talent, he just needs to show it as he slowly grows with the club and gets more minutes in matches.
Time For a New DP?
We all know Emanuel Reynoso is not with the club, we all know he’s likely not going to feature for a while even if he does return. Cool, end of story there.
The point of this takeaway is that Minnesota can still play ball in the market while ignoring a player who doesn’t want to play. There is still a market, there are still free agents and there are still players who you can look to jump on. Let’s talk about it.
Minnesota’s priority at the moment should be finding someone who can consistently contribute in the attack. Whether that’s a goal-scoring No. 9, a winger or an attacking midfielder… it’s what they need. With the addition of newcomer and U-22 initiative signing Sang Bin, it’s likely that the Loons aren’t going to splash more cash on the striker position as that’s where Heath sees the newcomer contributing.
So the question is who, how, where, and why now?
Who: A threatening attacker. Someone who is a no-questions-asked first name on the team sheet sort of player. A free-agent in Europe like former Real Madrid and Spain national team attacking midfielder Isco or a young winger/forward like Club Atletico Mineiro’s Paulinho, who has been lighting up this year’s Copa Libertadores with 4 goals in 5 games. These are hypotheticals, but they’re players who would likely make an immediate impact.
How: Well, right now, you avoid the situation with Reynoso and look at your two other DP’s in Luis Amarilla and Mender Garcia. The latter takes up the young DP slot courtesy of the former two, and if you look at MLSPA salaries released in 2022, there’s a clear-cut answer as to whose contract could be bought down from a DP salary to a TAM contract.
That person is Amarilla, who has a base salary of $650,000 and has guaranteed compensation at $785,000. For context, that was less than Romain Metanire’s salary in 2022 and nearly identical to that of Wil Trapp’s. There’s no need to have a DP tag on him in this scenario.
By buying down the contract of Amarilla, you open up a DP slot while also putting the Paraguayan’s contract into a spot where there is now trade value within the league for the forward. By no means does that mean the Loons are looking to move him, but by buying down his contract, you open up multiple possibilities for the squad.
Where: This goes hand-in-hand with “who”, somewhere on the pitch in the attacking third. An individual who can string together the attack and feed the goal-scorers. A player who is ambitious, wants to make an impact and will immediately elevate the team. Who that is, we don’t know. What we do know, though, is that if the Loons have cash to play with… they should go find someone to throw it at.
Why: This squad can only go so far and get so far without a true creator in the final-third. It’s why missing Reynoso has been the biggest storyline surrounding the club, and it’s likely why they lost Saturday evening, too. They came up against a team who completely controlled the tempo of the match and the Loons were unable to hold the ball in the middle of the park while having no outlet to play transition through.