Image: Minnesota United
Minnesota United FC recorded their second-straight loss of the 2023 campaign Saturday evening, falling to Orlando City SC 2-1 at Allianz Field.
Two second-half goals from the Lions secured all three points, despite one of the best performances from MNUFC this season.
Following a club-record start to the season for the Loons, where they began the campaign with five-straight matches unbeaten, Minnesota has now fallen twice in as many weeks. Some might say this is how things even out, but for MNUFC and head coach Adrian Heath, it’s a disappointing result.
Here are my three biggest takeaways from Saturday’s match against Orlando:
Stop forcing a Rey replacement
The Loons rolled out a 4-2-3-1 against Orlando Saturday evening, and it worked really well for the most part. The double-pivot of Hassani Dotson and Kervin Arriaga controlled both the tempo of the midfield and the pace of the match. The first 45 minutes of action Saturday evening may have been the best the Loons have played all season; it was a completely dominant performance at home.
However, the key component missing – the same one all season – was a goal-scoring threat. The club no longer has their Argentine talisman to rely on, they can’t singlehandedly build their gameplan around one player. They’ve tried forcing both Robin Lod and Franco Fragapane to play that role this year, but simply put, neither will ever come close to being the influence that Reynoso was for the club in that attacking midfielder role.
Sang Bin Jeong made his starting debut for Minnesota in that No. 10 role Saturday night, but it was evident from the beginning that he’s a chaotic forward who stretched the width of the pitch while looking for the ball to come to him. He’s not a technical creator that works within the space of the 18-yard-box (or in the final-third of the pitch). He played the role fine, but that may not be the best way to utilize the acceleration and work-rate of the South Korean.
My take? It’s time to embrace the 4-4-2 and utilize Robin Lod as a RM with Jeong and either Amarilla or Garcia up top. This squad isn’t built (at the moment) to play the same game they played with Emanuel Reynoso – and that’s perfectly OK.
Two goals for Bongi. Time for consistency
Bongokuhle Hlongwane might be the most beloved figure in the club for both supporters and media members alike. He has a genuine infectious smile and brings a “vibe” to the pitch that no other player does, with both his enthusiasm and passion for the game.
The South African scored his second of the season Saturday evening against Orlando City with a juicy tap-in goal off a laser of a cross from Dotson across the 6-yard-box. For “Bongi”, it was a long time coming. The winger’s first of the campaign came against the New York Red Bulls on March 11.
With two goals in the first seven matches of the season for the Loons, Hlongwane looks to finally be stepping into the role Minnesota needs him to. However, it’s time for consistency to step into play for the 22-year old. MNUFC needs more out of him week-in and week-out in the attack, whether it’s pressuring the defense for turnovers or creating more chances for his fellow attackers on the pitch.
There is a severe lack of consistent creativity in the final-third for Minnesota United right now, and there’s an opening for Hlongwane to take that role and make it his.
Lock Robin Lod down
Two-straight “off performances” from the Loons Finnish army knife have been two of the reasons why results may have not gone in their favor in Week’s 7 & 8 of the 2023 campaign. However, it’s not necessarily his fault.
Adrian Heath said last week the now 30-year old is “a victim of his own versatility”.
Lod’s quality on and off the ball will never be doubted, nor will his passion for the club or determination to bring success for the Loons on the pitch. He’s been the most consistent player for MNUFC over the past two seasons and Heath has gone on the record stating he wouldn’t trade him for anyone in the league.
You could argue a continuous change in position is counterproductive, though. He’s played FIVE different spots for the Loons, featuring at both the 9 and 10, as a Right Wing and in both midfield positions at the No. 6 & 8.
I cannot imagine how difficult it is for a player to not know where he’s going to play each week, despite excelling in nearly every role he’s been thrust into. It’s time for the Loons to lock him down and find him a home on the pitch.
The best version of Lod on the pitch will not be found until he himself is allowed a bit of consistency.