Minnesota United Defense Struggling Despite Offseason Additions

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Minnesota United Defense
TORONTO, ON - APRIL 19: Alejandro Pozuelo (10) of Toronto FC scores against the Minnesota United during the first half on April 19,2019, at BMO Field in Toronto, ON, Canada. (Photo by Kevin Sousa/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Editorial (April 20, 2019)- The Minnesota United defense was incredibly inconsistent over their first two seasons in Major League Soccer. They gave up 70 goals in their inaugural year and then topped that last season with 71 goals against. Through eight games now in 2019, they’re on pace to give up at least 63 goals.

Minnesota Uniteds Defense Struggling Despite Offseason Additions

It might be surprising to some that someone might write this article coming off a clean sheet against an attack considered one of the best in MLS. But in reality, the Galaxy attack is quite average, they just have a prolific man up top in Zlatan. Shut down Zlatan, and you’ve found the inside track to shut down the Galaxy. Last night, Brent Kallman did a masterful job in putting Ibra in his pocket, and that takes some really large pants pockets to pull off. Another thing going into that clean sheet last night was not having the ball.

When you lose the possession battle 57%-43%, you played with a bunch of numbers behind the ball. That’s fine, and it might be their recipe for success going forward if they want to keep that Goals Against total down in a place that’s good enough to make the playoffs. But that backline still shows signs of struggle even while not having the ball.

Minnesota United through 4/16 (American soccer analysis hasn’t updated their tables yet), still has the eighth highest xGA in the league according to American Soccer Analysis, and is the only team outside of Real Salt Lake within that bottom ten in that category that is sitting above the red-line at the moment. The big question here is how do Minnesota United find success? One might be a change at keeper.

Vito Mannone has come in and done an OK job, he’s made 20 saves which is good for T-7th amongst keepers in 2019. However, his xGA-GA (expected goals against minus goals against) ratio is still one of the worst in the league. The lower the number, the better, and Mannone sits third worst amongst keepers in 2019. Bobby Shuttleworth in 2018 was actually in the negatives playing the most minutes of any keeper for Minnesota. In the top half of the league? No. But still, in a much better position than their current trend. So what does this trend truly mean?

Well, with a shot stopper that has struggled through this season, and clearly one that’s not going to be able to save them despite bad defense, something is going to have to change with the Minnesota United approach. Going into last night’s match they were on pace to give up 72, and one up their record from last year. If your shot-stopper isn’t going to help you, you have to find a way to not give up as many quality chances. One way they could do that is by finding a way to hang onto possession better.

Currently, Minnesota is averaging around 43% possession per match. If your opponent has the ball more than you do, and you can’t lock up the backline while trying to hit on the counter, there are issues. And with an attack that’s as potent as their’s they should look to play some of the possession game. Ozzie Alonso and Jan Gregus have played in that type of system before, as dual no. 6’s, so it’s not like it can’t work.

They have Darwin Quintero, they have Angelo Rodriguez who has been good, and then they have both Finlay and Ibarra to play out wide. It shouldn’t be hard for them to find some way to play more of a possession game, but the impetus is on Adrian Heath. They seem content to try and smash teams on the counter. But when their backline struggles under pressure in defense, maybe an overall possession approach would help limit the amount of pressure they face.

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