Last year, Adrian Heath’s Minnesota United looked a lot like Adrian Heath’s Orlando City SC. That is, they were expansive, fun to watch, and unable to prevent anybody from scoring goals.
Now Minnesota is gunning for the playoffs, and their solution to the defensive woes of last season is a shiny new pair of holding midfielders and a doubling down on the freedom Darwin Quintero Jr. has in the center.
The Union will need to be the aggressor from the outset if they want to be the first team to knock off the Loons at home, and that means forcing Minnesota to advance the ball out of the back without going through Jan Gregus and Ozzie Alonso in the middle. If Philadelphia can make their opponents play through the center backs, they will have opportunities to counter off turnovers high up the pitch.
A big question for Jim Curtin is whether to stick with a typical first eleven or rotate heavily in order to save legs for a big showdown with New York Red Bulls. Curtin has Warren Creavalle and Olivier Mbaizo ready to step forward, and Anthony Fontana is also an option in midfield.
But these questions come secondary to figuring out how to handle Minnesota. Mbaizo’s attacking qualities could pin back Miguel Ibarra on the left, but exposing that flank could be extremely dangerous with Angelo Rodriguez ready to pounce on any crosses Ibarra sends in.
Key on the Scientist
Still, the main defensive goal is to control Darwin Jr. The Colombian likes to play the ball through the lines then sprint onto it, forcing defenders to make a quick decision about whether to step to him or drop. Slow speed of thought? Darwin is probably already by you. And he can finish in a variety of ways around the box.
Darwin pushed out wide is far less dangerous, but once his head is up he will look to play and move, and Philly’s central midfielders will have to sort out how to hand off Heath’s central playmaker when he’s driving through the lines.
Grab a lead, then double it
After giving up a one-goal lead against Colorado, the Union need to get on top and then drive a stake through their opponents. One goal will do wonders for the confidence, but quickly getting a second will finally restore the calmness that permeated the team after their comeback win over Dallas proved to everyone that they were capable of taking huge strides forward this season.
The Union and Minnesota United face off on Sunday, June 2, at 4:00 p.m. ET on PHL17.