Minnesota United got ripped apart on Saturday, losing 5-2 to the New England Revolution. Some decent saves by Bobby Shuttleworth and bad misses by the Revs kept it from becoming more embarrassing than that.
When asked how the Loons can improve defensively, manager Adrian Heath didn’t have an answer, per Jonathan Sigal’s story at MLS. “A mentality, formation maybe, personnel,” he said, basically admitting that everything was wrong and he didn’t know how to fix it. “We certainly have to make some some decisions, some really hard decisions and important decisions in the next few months. We can’t carry on like that. We have to either change personnel, shape or maybe both. That wasn’t good enough.”
With their loss on Saturday, Minnesota now has 18 goals conceded and a minus-12 goal differential after just four games, and they’re running down some all-time records for futility.
The MLS conceded goals record belongs to the Colorado Rapids, who let in 69 goals over 32 games in 1998. Incredibly, no team has matched that despite the league going to a 34-game schedule in 2011 — Chivas USA allowed 67 goals in 2013. Chivas and D.C. United are also co-owners of the worst goal differential record with minus-37. They don’t quite have the worst margin of defeat, though — Tampa Bay Mutiny finished with a minus-36 GD in just 27 games in 2001.
Minnesota is on pace to allow 153 goals and finish with a goal differential of minus-102. If Minnesota improves from four goals allowed to 1.7 goals allowed per game over their final 30 matches — a pretty normal pace for bad teams, and a better defensive pace than the 2013 D.C. and Chivas teams set — they’d finish with 69 goals allowed, setting a new MLS record. If their average result for the rest of the season is a one-goal loss, they’d also shatter the GD record, finishing with minus-42.
The aforementioned 2013 D.C. United team holds the league record for fewest points in a 34-game season with 16. While Minnesota is obviously on pace to do worse, their six goals scored and draw away to Colorado suggest that their attack is decent enough to put a few wins on the board. They might be able to avoid setting that record, even if they shatter the goals conceded and goal differential ones.
But of course, Minnesota would like to avoid setting any records for poor play. This is what they need to sort out, as their own manager put it.
Minnesota’s players are, at the very least, saying the right things. “It’s really got to hurt as much as it hurts the coaching staff to watch the amount of goals in four games,” said Kevin Venegas after the Revs game.
His teammate Brent Kallman called on the entire team to come together and commit to defending. “Whatever we decide, we have to do it together,” he said. “11 players defend, 11 players attack. It’s not on the defenders necessarily, it’s not on the midfielders, it’s a group effort.”
This is what you want your players to say when you’re defending very poorly. Minnesota supporters can at least be happy that no one is openly quitting.
The Loons might be on to something here, though we don’t have much of a sample to look at. Heath hauled off wingers Bashkim Kadrii and Miguel Ibarra at halftime, introducing striker Abu Danladi and defender Jermaine Taylor. Minnesota looked a bit better in a 3-5-2 formation, though they still gave up this penalty.
The contact was outside the box, and Diego Fagundez sold it, but this is still a dumb foul in a dumb place.
New England also had little reason to go full speed while up 5-2. They pulled Kei Kamara and Lee Nguyen in the 70th minute, then later Juan Agudelo. Their focus was on limiting mistakes and finishing the game without any injuries, not piling on Minnesota.
Formation change effectiveness: highly inconclusive.
Minnesota’s personnel is bad.
Looking at the resume of Vadim Demidov, you’d assume he’s a decent enough signing for an MLS team. He’s had some decent spells in La Liga and was a first-choice player for a couple of Norwegian Tippeligaen teams. He has 16 caps for Norway. But he’s been the player most at fault for Minnesota’s 18 goals conceded, and he makes annoyed gestures at his teammates after every goal, even ones where he does poorly.
During the game, I tweeted this really mean thing ...
I'm sorry to be rude but Vadim Demidov is the worst MLS player I've ever seen— Kevin McCauley (@kevinmccauley) March 25, 2017
... which was subsequently discovered by Norway Soccer Twitter. My mentions were flooded with people telling me in Norwegian that this was obvious and Minnesota should have known better. No one defended him. Welp.
Kallman, Venegas, and Justin Davis have all joined from Minnesota’s NASL team and despite being well into their 20s, they have no top-flight experience. Francisco Calvo missed this game while on international duty with Costa Rica, Jermaine Taylor seemed to improve the defense when he entered against the Revs, and Jérôme Thiesson has probably struggled the least of Minnesota’s defenders. However, it would be a stretch to call their performances good. But those three players have at least showed promise and appear to be honest-to-god MLS defenders.
In front of the back line, there are a bunch of journeymen, and none of them is a true defensive midfielder. It’s asking a lot of someone like Mohammed Saeid, Rasmus Schüller, or Collen Warner — none a true DM — to be the shield for a bad defense.
There are 30 games left in the season for Minnesota, and I’m confident they will improve enough to avoid allowing 153 goals, but they’re going to have a very hard time steering clear of the all-time goals allowed record. They’re short on decent defensive players and their manager was fired from his last job at Orlando City for failing to build a competent defense.
With better defensive personnel and attackers that other teams actually had to fear, Orlando allowed 56 goals in 2015, then 60 in 2016, though Heath was only around for half of last season. While keeping up their current pace borders on impossible, there isn’t any good reason to believe Minnesota will stop playing bad defense or stop losing a lot of games.