MNUFC snags first win in Colorado, stays undefeated with 2-1 win over Rapids

We live in an era of tactical soccer, when coaches are as well-known as players, formations are indefinitely dissected, and statistics seem as important as score lines.

So it would be tempting to tactically analyze MN United’s 2-1 win against the Colorado Rapids, their first ever in Colorado. To point to the difference Joseph Rosales made on the left wing, offering a verticality that both exploited and covered the Rapids’ formally fluid right side. Or the way that the midfield pairing of Kervin Arriaga and Hassani Dotson more fully filled the middle of the field, bringing Robin Lod into the game while allowing the team to absorb pressure without possession. Or the way that DJ Taylor played all night, continually pushing forward, daring the Rapids in their own desire to target him in their attacking plans. Or the early and quick decision to bring Luis Amarilla in at the half, replacing directness with hold-up play up top. Or the decision to rotate the midfield when Dotson’s night was done, subbing Franco Fragapane on into the central attacking position, dropping Lod into the midfield next to Arriaga. Or Kemar Lawrence’s timely turn to the offensive, as the game stretched and the Rapids were desperate for goal, pinning Colorado back with overlapping runs. Or finally, at the end, to pack it in with the reactive desperation defending of Brent Kallman, closing out the game with erratic and chaotic clearances.

All of that would be correct.

But it would also miss the point. This is a Minnesota United team that is, at the moment, simply winning. In their first three games of the 2023 season the Loons have rarely been in control or been the better team. They have yet to play with much fluidity, or beauty, or precision. Yet they are undefeated, one of five teams remaining without a loss, sitting on 7 points from three games.

When asked, in the post-game press conference, what he thought of his team’s start, given all the pundits’ and experts’ predictions that they would be lost without Emanuel Reynoso, Adrian Heath could barely contain a smile. A smirk really.

“Well, the only people that matter,” he offered, “are the coaching staff and the players. We believe that we are capable of putting runs together and winning games in this league. I don’t really concern myself with what outside people think.”

It is what we should probably by now consider vintage Heath-led MN United. We can call it scrappy or opportunistic or “us-against-the-world,” but without much rhyme or reason, these Loons are simply winning.

Which, of course, isn’t quite fair. All of that tactical analysis is right. Whether from the necessity of a missing DP, injuries, or an upcoming international break or from technical brilliance, the team got the tactics almost all right. The only misstep being bringing Amarilla on for García; even if, as Heath said after the game, García hadn’t done enough in the first half, the hold-up play of Amarilla does not yet work on this team, as much as it seems to be what Heath wants.

And Rosales and Bongokuhle Hlongwane both had themselves a game. Rosales doing all the little things right, putting in a hardworking shift, playing within himself with poise and confidence. While Bongi was everywhere, wildly disruptive and chaotic. If too many of his runs led nowhere, he also directly created Minnesota’s second goal, forcing Ralph Priso-Mbongue into a deliberate take down that set-up Fragapane’s free kick and Miguel Tapias’ header.

Defensively Taylor was, admittedly, a bit rusty, and Michael Boxall did not have his best game. But Tapias is quickly looking to be a great MLS center-back and his pairing with Boxall, even when one of them is not at their best, is becoming quite solid.

So the Loons continue to win. The difficulty will come when everyone else starts playing, when all these other teams who are stumbling and searching at the start of the season find themselves and start clicking. Minnesota seem to have already found themselves and it is hard to see how they will step up to a next level. But for now, the team keeps winning, and it is something to enjoy.

Parting shots

MN United gave up a second half goal in the first 15 minutes of play, continuing a worrying trend. “We did it again,” Heath said after the game, “and there’s no excuse. I’ve spoken to the players again.”… The Loons lost the possession battle on the night, 69-31, not quite completing 75% of their 339 passes; though they created 11 shots on goal, only 2 of those were on target… Dayne St. Clair finished the night even; of his 14 distributions 7 were successful.