Allowing 18 goals in the first four games was the start from hell. Since then United have allowed just 10 goals from seven matches and have shut out Kansas City and nearly pulled off a draw in Toronto.
All of that has us asking: What’s changed to aid the turnaround?
After the home loss to San Jose, we wouldn’t have blamed you for thinking a three-game losing streak was ahead with the best defense in the league, Kansas City, coming in, and with a trip up to the best offense, Toronto, following that. Coming out of those two games, a 2-0 shutout of KC and a 3-2 loss to Toronto, there seems to be a vastly different take on Minnesota’s ability to compete at the MLS level.
In the Kansas City match the Loons put in their best 90-minute performance to date, winning on every level throughout the match. Despite the losing result in Canada, Minnesota battled and gave Toronto all they could handle. The Loons just didn’t have the ability to quiet down one of the best attacks in the league. So what’s changed from those first four matches when 18 goals saw their way past Minnesota’s keepers?
It’s easy to say just getting Vadim Demidov off the field — so we’ll just move passed that well-discussed topic. Brent Kallman continuing his rise and forming a good partnership with fellow defender Francisco Calvo has helped a back line that was well under attack for much of those first four games. The biggest difference for the defense has been the team not giving the ball away in bad positions, which had left the defense scrambling. A big reason for that marked change has been the additions from Colorado, Sam Cronin and Marc Burch.
Sam Cronin has brought a defensive presence in the midfield that the squad just did not have when it was starting the likes of Schuller and Saeid in the middle. Cronin’s defensive ability and his willingness to play the long ball forward has helped clear the ball away and stabilize what was a struggling defense. Cronin has been a more defensive-minded midfielder. With Cronin, the Loons have shut down an aging Chris Wondolowski, one of the best goal scorers in the league in Dom Dwyer, and allowed only a penalty goal to Sebastian Giovinco.
Burch and Jerome Thiesson don’t provide a lot of flash or big plays from the defensive wings but they are both solid at the back and have enough ability to get forward and get in crosses. Thiesson, Burch, Kallman, and Calvo has been the back four for each the past six games in front of goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth, who has seemed to lock down the number one keeper spot.
Moving more up the field, United boast the third best attack in the Western Conference behind Houston and Portland. Christian Ramirez continues to score and has vaulted himself into many people’s conversations about strikers for the national team. Miguel Ibarra has taken over as the one of the starting wingers for the club and been one of the sides best creators, he assisted on both goals in the Kansas City match and scored the game winner against Colorado. Ibarra’s work rate getting back defensively has also been an underrated side of his game. The other winger for the Loons has been the team’s best creator, with five goals and three assists, and their best player.
The side has also been helped by the schedule lately. The Loons are far better at home than on the road, which isn’t uncommon in MLS, and are in the midst of a run with five home games in six. More recently they’ve also just played two teams who had midweek matches forcing those teams to use more of their depth. They’ll next host a sputtering Los Angeles side that will be without Jermaine Jones and, as of this writing, haven’t won since April 7.