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History-Plus: Minnesota United vs Chicago Fire, MLS week 3 game preview

Men in Red should control play, but host’s attacking threats counsel wariness against Loons

MLS: Minnesota United FC at Orlando City SC
First-round draft pick Mason Toye played well as a target man off the bench for Minnesota United against Orlando City.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

[Editor’s note: a previous version of this preview left out last year’s 2-1 loss to MNUFC at home. We didn’t forget so much as blocked it out of our memory to shield ourselves from the trauma. Nevertheless, we regret the error.]

No intro today, it’s straight into...

History+

When an existing club is pulled into MLS, they are subjected to a metaphorical lobotomy that removes memories of its pesky, inconvenient (and ultimately irrelevant, amirite?) pre-MLS existence.

It’s History. Sorta. MLS history. Fire history. Until someone buys the team and poof, the franchise-formerly-known-as are now the Tennessee Tuxedoes or something. So, it’s history-for-now, pending-future-developments-as-dictated-by-the-needs-or-whims-of-capital, which for simplicity’s sake we’ll just call history+.

Fire v Minnesota Utd all-time: 0W 1L 1D

Our one match-up with MNUFC came last year at Toyota Park, a 2-1 loss on the back off of an Abu Danladi brace.

Fire v Minnesota Utd on the road: N/A

Recently

Minnesota got off the road scheid early in 2018, winning their second game of the season last week in Orlando. Ethan Finlay looked like the guy who forced his way into a USA callup, scoring both goals and generally looking sharp and lively. Yeah, it was his foul that gave up the penalty the other way, but whaddayagonnado.

In last week’s game preview, one of my scouting points was ‘No Pyhrric victories.’ It’s early - winning a game, but losing a key player in the process, can be a massive net loss at this point in the season. Which leads us to cast our totally-not-gloating eyes upon the Loons, whom Adrian Heath has assembled with this apparent equation in mind:

Kevin_Molino + all_the_wingers = like, a billion chances created

Which, leaving aside whether this equation works, begs the question “What do you do if Molino gets hurt?” Molino’s injury rules him out for a very long time, so Plan B (whatever it was) is now Plan A for the Loons.

Probable starters

Scouting this game

Replacing Molina: As I see it, Heath and his Minnesota United will have three options in this first week post-Molina:

  • Keep the shape the same and hand Collin Martin the keys in the slot behind the striker. Heath did this last year during a shorter injury crisis. Martin hasn’t shown a great deal in MLS play but this would have the advantage of tactical continuity at a point in the season when the transitions have yet to become instinctive.
  • Drop the central playmaker back into midfield. This would probably mean more minutes for a guy like Collen Warner, especially in light of the ongoing absence of Sam Cronin, and would likely signal that the Loons intend to play off the back foot, using bunker-and-counter to convert turnovers into lightning attacks through their aforementioned fleet of wingers.
  • Convert the central playmaker into a second out-and-out striker. This would involve either Abu Danladi or Mason Toye slotting in beside Christian Ramirez up top and the team overall shifting to a loose 4-4-2 with very advanced wingers. This would be sorta non-League football in MLS, but Minnesota has the personnel to make it a pain in the ass - at least until that defensive central quartet gets torn to pieces.

Stay in your lane: The Fire played with great passion and ferocity during parts of the second half, but their swarming approach left huge swaths of open territory to be exploited on the counter. Playing fluid football is a lovely idea, but it requires that everyone think about the balance and shape of the team as the game is happening, and holy wow was that not happening in Bridgeview last Saturday. Velko Paunovic has stressed that the Fire worked on defensive concepts all week; I’m guessing we see a much more balanced and suffocating performance this week.

Intelligent movement will create openings: Minnesota got roasted for five goals on week 1 by San Jose, and that wasn’t fluky finishing. The Quakes created wide-open looks at goal against this same Loons defense through intelligent, coordinated movement involving both attack and late-arriving midfielders, which sounds like a concise description of this version of the Fire when they’re playing well.

Set ‘em up, knock ‘em down: Minnesota-Orlando was pretty physical, and the addition of Aleksandar Katai seems to have taken the Fire’s set pieces up a notch. If the Fire can keep the ball, they don’t need to create a huge number of chances from the run of play when they can reliably convert attacking-zone fouls into decent chances.

Enemy Q&A

Eli Hoff of E Pluribus Loonum was kind enough to answer our questions ...

Hot Time: What changed from week 1 to week 2 for the Loons?

E Pluribus Loonum: Formation wise, not much - the starting XI was the same, except for Christian Ramirez starting at forward instead of Abu Danladi. I think it was mostly a case of energy. The team looked up for a fight against Orlando, whereas it had been a slow disintergration against San Jose. Perhaps it was confidence that inspired the effort, or the intensity of the game (it got a bit chippy at times), but whatever it was, it was a clear improvement that, if brough to every match, could make Minnesota dangerous.

HT: The Fire, on a single game’s evidence, present a shape and approach similar to the Orlando side Minnesota just defeated, albeit with a few superior parts. Do you imagine Adrian Heath changes much from last week in either personnel or tactics?

EPL: For personnel, I don’t anticipate many changes, but there will be one key one: replacing Kevin Molino. Molino hasn’t always been the best player on the team, but he took it upon himself to engineer two goals in the opener and looked decent against his former team last week. He was filling the number 10 role in the 4-2-3-1 and wasn’t a natural fit--now that gap will open a little wider. I think it will be a similar approach and hopefully the same energy will be present in front of home fans for the first time.

HT: Through a zany series of misunderstandings involving a late insurance payment, a Swiss cousin, and toast, you are transported 10 years into the future (...thefutureTHEFUTUREthefuture...) ... have the Loons celebrated an MLS Cup yet? A Supporters’ Shield? A playoff win? True Love? A playoff game? A Wooden Spoon? A timeless, ecstatic oneness in which each was made more fully themselves?

EPL: This is hard because 10 years is a long time and a whole new generation of players will probably be in place. The Shield will be tough because there will probably be close to 40 teams in MLS, and if Duluth receives number 39, Minnesota’s attention could be split. The team will certainly compete for a trophy, whether that’s US Open Cup, MLS Cup, or the Shield. I think the club will look pretty different from how it looks now, especially with organization. Hopefully we still have Jerome Thiesson (can he be our Swiss cousin?) and more wingers than are ever practical.

How To Watch

As with most Chicago Fire matches this season, there will be no traditional broadcast television for this match. However, it will streamed free throughout North America through MLS Live. Registration is free.