Brace From Lloyd Rescues USWNT in Algarve Cup Opener

After falling behind late in the first-half to Norway, two goals from Carli Lloyd gave the US the 2-1 win in its first game of the Algarve Cup.

With the Women’s World Cup beginning in less than 100 days, and a few lingering injuries to veteran players, the Algarve Cup is a final chance for younger and fringe players to get valuable tournament minutes before possibly taking the field in Winnipeg this June.

The first chance of the game came early from veteran Abby Wambach, who has been the subject of recent debate over what role she should play in the up-coming World Cup. Wambach showed she was still able to win the air battles by easily getting her head to a corner, but the ball was sent well wide of the goal.

Shortly after, in the 4th minute, Norway had two quick opportunities to pull ahead after Hope Solo, fresh off of her 30-day suspension, was involved in a collision while trying to pull in a high cross from the right. There was no whistle from the ref, but Norway’s Emilie Haavi was unable to capitalize on Solo being taken out of the play and saw her first shot hit a teammate and her second effort blocked by Ali Krieger.

Carli Lloyd nearly gave the US the lead 5 minutes later. After receiving the ball outside of the box Lloyd froze defender Trine Ronning with a slick step over to get free into the penalty area, but Lloyd failed to beat goalkeeper Sillje Vesterbekkmo.

The US continued to push forward and once again had a chance to take the lead when Christen Press calmly side-stepped a lunging tackle to send in a shot from well outside of the penalty arc that beat Vesterbekkmo but bounced off the near post.

In the 43rd minute, Norway took advantage of some poor defending by the US to take the lead against the run of play. After an overlapping run towards the end line, Kristine Minde sent a cross in from the right to an unmarked Ada Hegergerg. Despite Solo getting a touch to the ball, Hergerberg’s header clipped the underside of the cross bar to give the Norwegians the advantage going into halftime.

After having a relatively quiet first half, Alex Morgan provided the first offensive opportunity when play resumed. In the 51st minute Morgan was played behind the Norwegian defense along the left flank. The ‘keeper came well off of her line to meet Morgan near the corner of the 18, but Morgan’s attempt at a chip shot went right into the keeper.

Norway responded with a run down their right side to try and take advantage of substitute Meghan Klingenberg that resulted in a corner in the 54th minute. The service into the box was knocked down. The US defense lost track of the ball and Solveig Gulbrandsen pounced on the loose ball and sent a shot far post, but Solo was able to make the save and keep the US from going down two goals.

In the 57th minute Lloyd leveled the score line from much more familiar territory. After receiving the ball from Press with her back to goal, Lloyd took the ball to her right and fired a left-footed shot from outside the box far post that left the keeper with little she could do to prevent the goal.

Minutes later Press was involved in another goal when her shot struck Norwegian defender Inger Ane Hole’s arm inside the box to earn a PK. Lloyd stepped up to the spot and side footed the ball up into the upper 90 to the keeper’s left to give the US the lead in the 62nd minute.

The US continued to push forward and nearly had a second PK when Krieger, who had been making aggressive runs up the right side all night, was taken down inside the box, but the ref waved the play on.

Norway’s last chance of the game came in the 77nd minute when Solo knocked down a shot from distance. A Norwegian attacker had lost her mark and was in the vicinity, but Solo was able to get the ball under control.

The USWNT’s next game is against Switzerland on Friday, March 6th at 11 a.m. CST and can be seen on Fox Sports 1.

Scoring Summary:   1          2          F
USA                            0          2          2
NOR                            1          0          1

NOR – Ada Hegerberg (Kristine Minde)                    43rd minute
USA – Carli Lloyd (Christen Press)                            55
USA – Carli Lloyd (penalty kick)                                62 

Lineups:
USA: 1-Hope Solo; 11-Ali Krieger, 4-Becky Sauerbrunn, 26-Julie Johnston, 16-Lori Chalupny (25-Meghan Klingenberg, 46); 10-Carli Lloyd, 12-Lauren Holiday (15-Megan Rapinoe, 90+1), 14-Morgan Brian, 23-Christen Press (17-Tobin Heath, 78); 13-Alex Morgan (2-Sydney Leroux, 78), 20-Abby Wambach (capt.) (8-Amy Rodriguez, 56)
Subs Not Used: 5-Kelley O’Hara, 6-Whitney Engen, 7-Shannon Boxx, 9-Heather O’Reilly, 19-Rachel Van Hollebeke, 22-Crystal Dunn, 24-Ashlyn Harris
Head coach: Jill Ellis

NOR: 12-Silje Vesterbekkmo; 6-Maren Mjelde, 7-Trine Rønning (capt.), 2-Marita Lund, 3-Inger Ane Hole; 17-Lene Mykjåland, 8-Solveig Gulbrandsen (14-Gry Tofte Ims, 74), 20-Emilie Haavi (19-Marie Markussen, 69); 18-Kristine Minde, 8-Isabel Herlovsen, 21-Ada Hegerberg
Subs Not Used: 1-Ingrid Hjelmseth, 4-Melissa Bjånesoy, 5-Hedda Gardsjord, 10-Maria Thorisdottir, 11-Ida Elise Enget, 13-Ingrid Moe Wold, 15-Anja Sønstevold, 16-Andrine Hegerberg, 22-Cathrine Dekkerhus, 23-Cecille Fiskerstrand
Head coach: Even Pellerud
 

Stats Summary: USA / NOR
Shots: 12 / 5
Shots on Goal: 7 / 4
Saves: 3 / 4
Corner Kicks: 8 / 3
Fouls: 5 / 11
Offside: 4 / 0

Misconduct Summary:
NOR – Trine Ronnin (caution)                        62nd minute

We Need to Talk About San Antonio

The situation for the San Antonio Scorpions tempts one to want to go with the “Something is Rotten in the State of [Scorpions]” title. But let’s be honest, San Antonio’s off-season is no Hamlet-sized tragedy. It is a farce.

The team that won the NASL’s Soccer Bowl in 2014 is reduced to a squad of 14 and a manager whose contract extension has been swept under the rug. So where did it all go wrong?

Since the American soccer world is so small, it’s impossible to get anyone to speak on the record and so I won’t attempt to figure out the why of the problem, but instead point out that there is something very wrong at the club right now.

Since the Scorpions started in 2010, they have been a team with ambition. Unlike many of the NASL expansion sides that have followed after, they spent money and put together a competitive roster that got them into the playoffs. The years that followed have seen alternating moments of cutting back and splashing a bit of cash. But they have always put out one of the best groups of players in the league.

In 2014 it worked and the Scorpions won not only the Fall Championship, but the Soccer Bowl. Since then, the exodus.

Of the Scorpions’ starting XI in the NASL Championship, they have lost four players, which in and of itself is not particularly apocalyptic. However, the team they are left with includes only one goalkeeper, Daryl Sattler, who has played a total of seven matches since his 2012 Golden Glove season.

In front of him is a back-line that consists of three players, up 50% because of yesterday’s announcement that they had signed Canadian defender Nana Attakora, a player who has played 29 games in the last four seasons.

The midfield and attack look more complete with a few key players returning, including Richard Menjivar, Cesar Elizondo, Tomasz Zahorski, and Billy Forbes.  They will certainly miss Walter Restrepo after his move to the New York Cosmos.

The man charged with putting together this team, head coach Alen Marcina, is also in a bit of a murky situation. Sources say that Marcina has signed a contract extension with the club, but the Scorpions have yet to say anything about it. (Update: Marcina was apparently under contract already for this year, but this was something known by almost no one in the media).

It all leads us to ask, what the heck is going on in San Antonio? There are whispers and rumbles about a divide between players and front office, but whatever the problem is, they’ll want to sort it out if they want to be competitive this year. They’ll want to sort it out even if they want to put out a game day 18.

Ottawa Fury are going to Carolina, Minnesota United are going to Arizona and Brazil, New York Cosmos went to Hong Kong; around the NASL, teams are full-speed into preseason. The Scorpions, on the other hand, seem to be in disarray. They’re making league-owned and league-leading tire fire Atlanta Silverbacks look composed by comparison.

 

Minnesota signs Brazilian central midfielder, acclaimed Norwegian playwright, Ibson

Yesterday, Minnesota United confirmed our report of the signing of ex-Portland Timbers winger Kalif Alhassan, and also teased a further announcement to come.

Today, the Loons made good on their promise, revealing the signing of legendary Norwegian playwright and father of realism, Henrik Johan Ibsen veteran Brazilian midfielder Ibson. The long dead Oslo native 31 year old is a marquee signing for the club, with an impressive résumé that includes time at Porto, Spartak Moscow, and the writing of such classics as A Doll’s House, and The Master Builder Bologna. He also has extensive experience in the top Brazilian league, including playing alongside a young Neymar at Santos. Billed as a box-to-box player, Ibson will compete with Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson Juliano Vicentini, Aaron Pitchkolan, and Greg Jordan for time in the center of the field. He will be a heavy favorite for starting time in a position that needed reinforcement after the offseason departure of Michael Reed.

Throughout his career, Ibson has a mixed goalscoring record. He has never been a prolific goalscorer from his deep midfield position, but he does appear to like going forward. We expect his movement and role with United will roughly mirror that of Aaron Pitchkolan.

Interestingly, Ibson has already trained with the team and played ten to fifteen minutes of the match against the Seattle Sounders FC in place of Greg Jordan. We’ve heard he made a strong first impression. His presence with the team was cunningly concealed by the team’s media staff, but we believe we’ve identified a glimpse.

ibsonbigfoot2

Enhance!

ibsonenhance

Bingo.

We’ve written recently that the United coaching staff now have the problem of having too many good players for too few spots. This is obviously a good kind of problem to have, but Ibson’s signing makes it even tougher. It also throws into question the midfield diamond that Bill so eloquently wrote in support of this weekend.  The 4-4-2 would allow both Christian Ramirez and Pablo Campos to play together. But it would also take away a spot in central midfield. Now that position is more formidable, it’s worth wondering if that sacrifice is worth it. Two forwards? Or two deep lying midfielders? The Loons can’t have both.

Untangling this tactical knot will be one of the biggest challenges for the team this preseason. Some very good players will need to sit, and some talented players will not even make the eighteen.

Not that we’ve complaining.

Now—a goalkeeper and a defender are all that remain to be checked off.

Here’s a video somewhat hilariously labeling Ibson as a Brazilian Bastian Schweinsteiger:

 

Why Minnesota United Needs to Sign an Experienced Goalkeeper

In a recent conversation with Minnesota United FC head coach Manny Lagos, he restated a commitment to the fans of the team.

“There’s no doubt that there has been a really good commitment to allow me to go out and sign current players that we think aren’t just going to be good next year, but for the next couple of years,” said Lagos. “For any Minnesota soccer fan I think that’s such a great vision by our ownership group. The message has been consistent – to try to build the best soccer team in North America.”

Lagos went on to say the team address every position on the field in hopes of getting better. “Even with the guys who are coming back, if we don’t get better? Because teams are going to react to us,” Lagos continued.

“I don’t look at the goalkeeping situation any differently than the rest of the squad. First and foremost, as great of a year as we had last year, we didn’t win and we’ve got to get better. We are here to win and we are here to win trophies for our club and our fans.”

After the successful season Minnesota United had in 2014, fans would be hard pressed to question Minnesota’s owner Bill McGuire, team president Nick Rogers or coach Manny Lagos commitment to build a quality team.  But  as Lagos stated, every year is a process where you must improve and fans will look to this coming season and question yet again whether the Loons have improved at each and every position on the field. Those same fans would most likely give a resounding yes for every position but one. The goalkeepers.  And you may not get an argument from Lagos.

“We currently have two goalies on the roster and we’d really like to carry three,” said Lagos. Minnesota’s coach stated they still have several players who they are working on signing. One presumably was former Portland Timber attacking midfielder Kalif Alhassan, who was announced as a being officially signed on Sunday.

Andrew Fontein and Mitch Hilderbrant are the two goalkeepers Lagos spoke of.  Looking at experience only,  the Loons goalkeeping duo fall far down the scale of their teammates at the field positions. Combined, the tandem of keepers have an average of only 2.5 years experience.

A quick look at a Minnesota United depth chart at each position shows the glaring discrepancy between the experience of field players and goalkeepers.

YrsPlayedSrTeam

Looking at appearances per player at the senior team level and then averaged out per position, shows even a greater lack of experience at the goalkeeper spot.  In a position where match minutes played may be more significant than any other on the field, Minnesota United’s goalkeepers are sadly lacking.

Continue reading Why Minnesota United Needs to Sign an Experienced Goalkeeper

Outstate: Where are the former Minnesota United FC players from 2014?

Minnesota United kept together most of the players from last season, but there were some long term players (and new signings) that were let go at the end of the season. Some have caught on with other teams, while others are still looking to catch on with another team.

Nate Polak – After suffering a major medical issue in 2013, never was able to catch on with the first team in 2014 and was eventually loaned to Oklahoma Energy FC for the second half of the season. Unfortunately, he failed to impress there as well, and was released by Minnesota following the 2014 season and has yet to catch on with another team.

Simone Bracalello – He struggled to cement a spot in the starting XI in 2014 with Minnesota, and was allowed to leave, where he soon signed with Carolina RailHawks for the 2015 season.

Rafael Burgos – Returned to Europe after a frustrating loan experience with Minnesota United FC where injuries and international call ups prevented him from contributing in a meaningful way to the team. He’s currently playing the HB Hoge, but hasn’t had any minutes with them yet.

Omar Daley – Still is unattached after a rocky 2014 season. At 33, he will likely have a hard time signing with another team.

Pedro Mendes – With only one appearance with the first team after signing with Minnesota, it’s no surprise he didn’t resign with Minnesota. He is still looking for a team.

Mackenzie Prindham – The canadian national still hasn’t caught on with any teams, but with three new Canadian pro teams starting this year, has a decent shot to signed by a team to help fill their required Canadian spots.

Matt VanOekel – He signed with Edmonton FC during the offseason, but the move clearly hasn’t changed him.

Kentaro Takada – Signed a deal with new USL team FC St. Louis where he will be involved with their youth sides as well as playing for the first team.

Mozzi Gyorio – He has signed with USL side Austin Aztec‘s for the 2015 season as they begin their inagural season as a pro side.

Floyd Franks – Still is unsigned after a decent 2014 season where he found himself behind one of the highest paid NASL players in Vicentini and the captain Pitchkolan.

What is a midfield diamond and why might it be a great fit for Minnesota?

How do you get Pablo Campos, Christian Ramirez and Miguel Ibarra on the field at the same time and working together? One possible answer? A midfield diamond.

The second half of the first preseason scrimmage against Seattle Sounders Reserves featured a midfield diamond. The formation featured mostly first team players, and could be a sneak peek at what we will see during the regular season. While the season is still a long way away, Minnesota playing the 4-4-2 diamond gives us an opportunity to look at just what goes into this formation and how it might play to Minnesota’s strengths.

The philosophy

The 4-4-2 diamond is meant to be a balanced formation that controls the midfield. Against most formations, the diamond will have numbers on their opponents in the midfield, allowing the team to move the ball forward centrally. In addition, the diamond usually gives a lot of space and places a lot of responsibility on the fullbacks to come forward to provide width on offense.

Recently, the 4-4-2 diamond has not seen as much play at the highest level of soccer lately as more teams have moved towards a counter attacking style of football. The formation is often seen as giving up too much on the wings and compensating for that will often leave gaps in the center of the field. It also relies on a very active, athletic and skilled attacking midfielder who is prepared to play 90 minutes box to box, a type of player few teams have.

formation 2
Image credit Alex Schieferdecker

Two Forwards

One of the best aspects of a 4-4-2 diamond formation for Minnesota is that it allows two forwards onto the field, both of which play towards the center of the field. The two forwards have the responsibility of occupying centerbacks, playing as a target forward and linking up with the attacking midfielder and wide players. The two players have a responsibility on offense to play more centrally, while on defense their press will change depending on the formation and how the opponents play out of the back, sometimes pressing the centerbacks and at other times having responsibility for the fullbacks.

In addition, Minnesota struggled in the second half last year because they couldn’t control the center of the field in front of goal, sometimes referred to as zone 14. Most teams in NASL play with a back 4 and two holding or defensive midfielders, and Minnesota struggled to create opportunities in that space. The two forwards will help to create more mismatches and fewer double teams, hopefully allowing players to find more space in front of goal.

Attacking Midfielder

The attacking midfielder is the lynchpin of the formation. When the USMNT toyed with this formation, Michael Bradley played this position. Not only does the player have to be a playmaker, distributing the ball well to the two forwards and the wide midfielders, they also need to be able to play box to box, covering the length of the field in the middle.

Miguel Ibarra is well suited for this role, particularly at the NASL level, with his speed, defense, and ability to take on and avoid players with the ball at his feet. On defense, there is only one holding midfielder, and so Ibarra will have to be able to come back, provide support and help on defense while also being the link from the defensive third to the attacking third.

Wide Midfielders

There are two different forms of the 4-4-2 diamond, and the difference lies in the roles that the wide midfielders fill. Some formations will have the wide midfielders actually playing centrally as a central midfield pair, while other formations will see these wide midfielders playing wider, creating a flatter diamond shape. Typically, the central midfield pair is preferable, as it places them in a better position to defend the central zones on the field.

A flatter diamond can leave more space in the middle of the field, and has only a single holding midfielder to support the central defenders. With the speed of Banks and Steele in the scrimmage, this was likely the formation that Minnesota played in this scrimmage and this gives more space for Ibarra to move about the center of the field.

Luckily for Minnesota, they have one of the faster players in the NASL in Miguel Ibarra, and he has shown he has the stamina and skill to play in a box to box role, providing the support needed centrally with the two wide midfielders closer to the sidelines. Last year, Ibarra was on the wing, and unable to provide support centrally often, this year, he can help break down attacks with his speed and defense.

Holding/Defensive Midfielder

This position is another key position on the field, as the player in this role will have to be able to distribute the ball effectively, helping the team move the ball out of the back, while also shutting down attacks in the middle of the attacking third. We saw last year what can happen when the defensive mid is unable to completely lock down this part of the field, with most of the goals coming through the middle of the field.

Jordan played this role in the scrimmage, and would be an effective player in this position, although his willingness to join the attack might lead to opportunities from a long ball counter by the opposition. His tenacity will serve the team well on defense though, and either he or Vicentini would fit the role of defensive or holding midfielder well.

Back Four

The back four in the 4–4-2 diamond is virtually unchanged from the formations Minnesota played last year. In the diamond, the fullbacks Davis and Venegas will be encouraged and have the opportunity to push far up the field to provide that width lacking from the midfielders or forwards. The two centerbacks will be vital to shut down any counters, with the goal slowing down any attacks until the fullbacks or midfielders have a chance to slide back into position.

Will it work?

The play on which the team scored showed the strength of the formation. It started with great crisp passing from the back, with Ibarra tracking deep into Minnesota’s half to receive the ball. Then with a burst of speed, they work the ball up the side, utilizing the superior numbers in the midfield and Ibarra’s speed to quickly get the ball into the attacking third. In the attacking third, the tandem of Campos and Ramirez occupy the central defenders and deftly pass the ball to a wide open Ibarra who finishes with a great goal.

At it’s best, the focus on controlling that space in front of the goal with two forwards and an attacking midfielder creates a mismatch that Minnesota will be able to exploit for a lot of goals. Still, the formation does little to rectify the struggles Minnesota had last year to defend against quick counters and long balls. Will Miguel in the box to box role be enough to shut down opponents in the middle of the field?

Minnesota’s next game against their US Open Cup foe from last year, Sporting Kansas City is next friday, February 27th. Expect to see more experimentation from the team and hopefully we’ll have another formation to dissect and discuss as Minnesota continues to seek out a formula that will see them replicate the success of last year.

Loons vs Sounders: Batman Strikes Again

Today, Minnesota United FC played their first competitive match of the season- a scrimmage against the Seattle Sounders. The fact that the Sounders played yesterday and the relaxed format ensured that the Loons would be contending with Seattle’s reserves, not Dempsey, Martins, and co.

For their part, the Loons started a mixed-bag of players; certainly not their first team, but no slouches either. Minnesota’s opening XI featured trialist Sammy N’Djock (N’Djams) in goal; the back-up defensive quartet of Tyler Polak, Aaron Pitchkolan, and the Kallmans Bros; a midfield with Juliano Vicentini, Greg Jordan, Jamie Watson, Daniel Mendes, and Kalif Alhassan; and trialist Yūzō Tashiro as the lone forward.

The strength of this “B” line-up certainly speaks to the depth that Minnesota will have available this year.

Formation 1

In Alex’s tactics post from earlier in the week, he pitched two distinct approaches, one 4-2-3-1 and the other a 4-4-2. The opening thirty minutes featured the former, with Alhassan in the central position that he mused about. Without having watched the game, it’s impossible to make any definitive statements on the effectiveness of this approach, but the 0-0 score at the break and the lack of any clear chances on the highlights or reported on Twitter imply that the first half was a cagey affair.

In the second half, nearly wholesale substitutions were made, and the Minnesota side became the 4-4-2 that we also predicted. Mitch Hildebrandt took the reins in goal; the first choice defense of Justin Davis, Cristiano Dias, Tiago Calvano, and Keven Venegas was arrayed in front of him; the midfield featured Jonny Steele on the left, Miguel Ibarra and Greg Jordan (who was later subbed out for Aaron Pitchkolan) in the center, and JC Banks on the right; and the forward pairing of Campos and Ramirez was put into action. One tactical point of interest was the reported switch between Steele and Banks that occurred midway through the period. It’s heartening to see the players already comfortable with some degree of tactical flexibility.

formation 2

The game was played in two 30-minute halves, with the first ending scoreless. At some point in the second half, Hildebrandt was called for holding the ball too long, a totally bizarre decision in a game that was being played with made-up time and substitution rules.

Either way, Kenny Cooper stepped up to take the kick for the Sounders and blasted it under the wall for a free kick goal. Later in the match Hildebrandt would be called for handling the ball outside his penalty area, which complemented his strange day.

After the Seattle goal, the Loons responded in superb fashion. As Jonny Steele charged down the pitch, he passed to Ibarra, who one-touched the ball to Ramirez. Ramirez tapped it to Campos, who back-heeled it to Ibarra. Miguel turned a defender and fired the ball home.

The goal was really goddamn beautiful, being described by witnesses both as “art on the pitch” and “one of the nicer goals… of the preseason.” HERE is the highlight video of the goal. It is gorgeous. Full highlights are at the bottom of this article.

That scoreline would see out the second half hour of play, resulting in a 1-1 draw for the two sides. After the match, Head Coach Manny Lagos spoke mainly of its use as a building block for “soccer fitness”. But he did speak to his happiness with the group. “There are some guys who are ahead of where I’d expect them to be,” he said.  “It was still sloppy soccer, butbecause we’ve only been together for a bit more than a week, it was positive”.

It’s foolish to take much from a match that was something of a glorified practice. But we’d be remiss to not try.

For one, we’re pleased to see that our tactical thinking was largely confirmed. Head Coach Manny Lagos and his staff have a difficult decision to make with so many attackers. Last year’s central tactical question revolved around the defensive midfield and the left wing. This year, the key problem that the coaching staff must solve is the number of forwards. Specifically: is Minnesota a better team with the Campos-Ramirez duo up top? Or with Ramirez as the lone forward and some combination of five midfielders? The team got some data today, but the final verdict will probably be come a long time from now.

A Daily News Site for Minnesota United FC and Soccer in Minnesota

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