Nashville SC travel to Minnesota United on Saturday for their second match in an eight-game road stretch. After a 1-0 win in Seattle, how will the Coyotes handle the Loons? We spoke with Bridget McDowell, the Associate Editor and Minnesota reporter for Switch the Pitch Soccer, to get the latest on Minnesota.
Ben Wright: What are some of the bigger moves Minnesota made over the off-season, and how do you expect those to impact results in 2022?
Bridget McDowell: The headliner is obviously Luis Amarilla. He still owes Heath 23 of the 25 goals he promised in 2020 and I expect he’ll be given every opportunity to make good on that deal. But as we saw last weekend, Kervin Arriaga will be a dependable depth piece in the midfield and will definitely heat up competition with Trapp and Dotson for the starting 6 and 8 roles. He was really impressive next to Dotson in Philadelphia last weekend and I think he’ll figure into the troubleshooting the Loons need to do in the middle third. He took a knock this week and won’t be available against Nashville but a healthy Arriaga, Trapp and Dotson, could be a powerful trio.
BW: Emmanuel Reynoso is clearly the focal point of this team, and one of the best 10s in MLS. How can teams plan against him, and if he’s quiet, who else can Minnesota rely on to create?
BM: The most dangerous thing about Reynoso is his ability to dribble into and out of tight spaces and pick out a runner in traffic. Last year, despite suffering 94 fouls in the regular season (fourth most in MLS), he still managed to make 88 key passes, the second most in the league. Last weekend’s game is a good example for both of your questions. Most defenses simply target Rey’s ankles and hope he’ll fall off of the ball or cut his run short, but Philadelphia focused on closing the gaps around him to neutralize those passes and cut him off from the final third. He still made two key passes but was held to just one shot himself.
Luis Amarilla’s return gave him another hold-up player to work with and that partnership will be fun to watch this season. Amarilla showed that he can help create those plays and draw attention away from Rey. If these two are given an opportunity to develop more chemistry (and it looks like they will), they’ll be dangerous, even when one is having an off day.
BW: It looked like the Loons were able to create several chances on the road against Philadelphia. Should they be encouraged about their performance, or are there concerns?
BM: There are definitely some concerns. A lot of it may simply be a matter of chemistry. Three of the back six (4-2-3-1) starters were out and even though it looks like the ever-revolving front four might finally settle into more permanent roles (with Reynoso as the 10, Amarilla or Hunou as the 9, and Lod and Fragapane on the wings), they’ll take a little time to settle into those. The Union draw showed that the defensive depth is serviceable and that there is a ton of creative potential in the midfield and attack. The counter attacks we saw against Philly could have solved quite a few problems in 2021. If this is how an injury-riddled squad performs, I have high hopes for a healthy side.
BW: Do you have a lineup/score prediction for Saturday?
BM: I expect Trapp for Arriaga will be the only change, though Metanire returning in place of Fisher is a possibility. In addition to the Minnesota representation on the squad (Miller, Haakenson, Bunbury), Loons fans have been looking forward to this match because of Nashville’s exciting play. But I’m going to go conservative and predict a shot-filled, exciting 1-1 draw.
Thanks to Bridget for her expertise. Make sure to follow her on Twitter @BCMcDowell, and visit SwitchThePitchSoccer.com for more great coverage of North American soccer.