Written By David Naylor (ZoneCoverage.com)
The tale of the tape entering Minnesota United’s fourth game of the season made this look like a mismatch. New England Revolution entered this game with just one point from their first four matches, and with their manager Brad Friedel roundly ridiculed for his comments earlier in the week about the mentality of his players.
United came in heavy favorites, and left with their tails between their legs. New England took a 2-1 victory, fully deserved on the balance of play through the game. For a team to make six changes after being in pathetic form and turn over a Minnesota team looking to prove it belonged among the early playoff contenders in the Western Conference is a bad look.
Minnesota made two changes of their own, both due to injuries. Romario Ibarra picked up a knock while on international duty with Ecuador, so Ángelo Rodriguez made his first start of the year at striker. So too did Ethan Finlay, who made his first start in eleven months in place of the injured Rasmus Schüller. Otherwise, Adrian Heath’s men were as expected.
New England started the game on the front foot, and took just 10 minutes to make its breakthrough after a failure of defensive marking from Minnesota. Carles Gil’s back-post cross was chased in by Jalil Anibaba, and while Vito Mannone got a hand to it, he was unable to catch or deflect the ball from bouncing in on its second attempt.
Anibaba was completely unmarked on his run to the back post, and the symptoms of bad communication in the Loons’ defense were familiar. An uncomfortable theme of Minnesota’s revamped defense in the early season has been the familiar sense of mistakes, and this was yet another.
United, for their part, were more than ready to play. Finlay’s pace looked to unlock the Revolution’s defense, but Minnesota played more often through Rodríguez’s size and control. Michael Mancienne was tasked with marking Rodríguez, and the big Colombian controlled just about every ball that came near him.
Minnesota’s possession was based on Rodríguez receiving a ball and turning past Mancienne or distributing back to forward-moving attackers. Finlay, Darwin Quintero and Miguel Ibarra all were able to play off of Rodríguez’s control of the game as Minnesota grew into the game.
Minnesota’s breakthrough goal, for the third time in four games, came via the penalty spot and with the help of VAR. Mancienne’s arm knocking away a cross was not caught on the initial play, but the decision from the referee was swift and accurate. Quintero converted his third penalty of the season, and the game was even once again.
Both sides had multiple good chances before halftime, with New England unlucky not to convert a Juan Agudelo chance and Minnesota thwarted by the crossbar on a Francisco Calvo header. The game was wide open, and there for the taking should the Loons have made the proper halftime adjustments.
Indeed, one could have expected Minnesota to come out and take care of business in the second half. Seven of the nine goals they have scored in 2019 have come after the halftime break, with their opening two games setting a good model for what they could do.
Instead, New England came out of the break and gave Minnesota a reminder of what the Los Angeles Galaxy had done to them two weeks ago. The Revs pressured the ball up and down every inch of the pitch, and prevented United from any meaningful possession for nearly the first twenty minutes of the second half.
For their part, Minnesota went almost completely away from what they had worked around in the first half. Whether that was a conscious choice or merely mistakes caused by the New England ball pressure is hard to say, but Rodríguez received just two outlet passes to set up possession in the second half. Indeed, he only touched the ball three times in the attacking half before he left the game in the 66th minute.
By that time, the weight of possession had turned into New England’s second goal. In the first twenty minutes of the second half, Minnesota had just 39.4% possession. The constant pressure eventually yielded a second critical mistake, with Teal Bunbury’s cross-shot finding Brandon Bye unmarked at the far post. Bye made no mistake, New England led, and their pressure paid off.
Heath attempted to shift bodies forward to scramble the result back, with Finlay subbed off for Brent Kallman to make his season debut as Minnesota moved to a 3-5-2, theoretically enabling Romain Métanire and Calvo to escape more than they had. The Revs’ possession and pressure had tied down the full backs’ ability to contribute to the attack, just as the Galaxy had done.
Abu Danladi was Heath’s other change, for Rodríguez, and again it was he who had the best chance to snatch the point back from behind. Danladi’s header in the 92nd minute from an Ibarra cross would not stay down, and the final two minutes of stoppage time went out with a whimper.
Not much is written about the latter stages of the second half, because Minnesota failed to do much when they were allowed to get the ball. Quintero was unable to escape more than once, a decent chance outside the post from the top of the box, and was well contained. United’s possession was sterile, and the effort was lacking.
Friedel’s comments about his players were viewed as inflammatory by media figures across the league, and the response could have gone two ways: a lost locker room, or a rejuvenated result. His changes made the difference, his team got a result, and in some aspects, he is vindicated.
For Minnesota’s part, this game was an immense opportunity to hit a team while they were down. In some ways, it appeared that they were unprepared for what the Revs were capable of, and were duly punished for their unawareness.
Minnesota has one game remaining on their season-opening road trip, and find another struggling opponent in the humbled New York Red Bulls for their last leg of travel. One would hope that they come in better prepared to bring a result back to the opening of Allianz Field.