Last year, Minnesota United’s defense was… not good.
Jim Curtin always points to center backs as the key to a strong team, but Minnesota is using the same two guys that got ripped apart in Philly last year and have given up more than one goal in a game once since mid-April. They haven’t played patsies either — DC United, Seattle Sounders, and Houston Dynamo have all struggled to break down the dynamic duo of Brent Kallman and Michael Boxall.
Adrian Heath has opted for a different solution than Curtin. Instead of looking for a strong center of defense, he has acquired a classy defensive midfield duo to protect his center backs. Ozzie Alonso was available and Jan Gregus was brought in as a Designated Player, and between them they have helped close what was previously a massive hole in midfield.
This solidity allows Darwin Quintero Jr, one of the most dynamic attackers in the league, to flourish. Quintero’s ability to beat you on the dribble or play vertically-oriented 1-2s with striker Angelo Rodriguez pulls a defense into the middle and opens space on the flanks for Minnesota’s downhill wingers.
This still isn’t a great team — and it’s one that still leans so heavily on Darwin that losing him could precipitate a decline similar to that of the Galaxy sans Zlatan — but it finally has a roster and style of play aligned in a way that allows it to compete.
The exciting and often-overlooked aspect of Minnesota’s play that Philly will need to monitor is the wingers. Ethan Finlay, Kevin Molino, and Miguel Ibarra all bring something different to the table, but each is on the squad because they can destroy a defender in isolation. That means the Loons always have three players working around Angelo Rodriguez that require extra help, and the goal for Angelo’s workrate and size to pull bodies off of these attackers so they can control the game and pin back the opposing team.
The Union and Minnesota United go head to head on Sunday, June 2 at 4 p.m. ET on PHL17.