I still have a massive amount of respect and love for Adrian Heath, but last night was a night to put that aside and bring three points home, and the Lions almost did just that. So what can we take away from the 1-1 draw at Allianz Field?
No Speed on Wings
Without Joao Moutinho and Ruan on the wings, the lack of creativity in the offensive middle was highlighted during the first half of the match. Without the danger those fullbacks, the Loons played very compact and crowded the entire middle of the pitch, pressing high at times, and were very successful with this tactic. Minnesota’s game plan seemed to anticipate that the Lions would not have the fullbacks as active in bringing up the ball as when Moutinho and Ruan are in. Kamal Miller and Kyle Smith got involved when they could offensively, but a lack of pace drove them to pass the ball back into the middle of the pitch, right into the Loons’ pressure.
The Passing Was Off
Even when given a little space, the Lions looked as though they were trying to force passes, not make passes. Too often, passes were sent to players who were surrounded by Loons, or sent off to an imaginary teammate. The players never looked comfortable during the first half, with the exception of the defense. Again, as is the biggest shift from last season to this season, the defense looked at ease and solid. Although there were some scary giveaways in the Lions’ defensive third trying to play out of the back, it was typically due to a midfielder, rather than a defender, and the defense held strong all match.
Welcome Mauricio Pereyra
The long-awaited debut of Pereyra occurred as the teams came out of the tunnel for the second half, with the Uruguayan subbing on for Robinho (who was obviously distraught when talking to James O’Connor on the sideline). The newest Lion made his MLS debut, with O’Connor switching the formation around a little to slot him into a number 10 slot and pushing Nani outside where he’s more at home. Although he hasn’t played a full 90 minutes in months, and has only trained with the team a few weeks, his presence on the pitch, the skill he brings, and the hustle he did show only makes you want to see more. He fit into the middle of the formation. In 45 minutes, he completed 79% of his passes, showed that he plays both side of the ball with ease, and helped to completely change the entire feel of the match.
A Tale of Two Halves, Again
Too often, one of the noticeable traits of the club has been the difference in play between the first half and the second, and last night was no different. The Lions looked flat in the first half. The second half was a complete reversal in that the Lions absolutely took control and had the Loons on their heels much more often. The energy and change that Pereyra, Tesho Akindele, and Carlos Ascues brought in the second half was just what you want from your subs.
The last few Minutes, Again
Once again the outcome of the game changed late, with Abu Danladi equalizing midway through stoppage time on perhaps the only good opportunity Minnesota had after Nani’s goal. How many more times can this possibly happen? How many more points are the boys going to miss bringing home in the dying moments of matches?
Sure, the Lions extended their current unbeaten streak to four (2-0-2), which is a great feat at this point in the season, considering the schedule, and considering two of those matches were on the road. Considering a win would have vaulted the club into sixth in the East, this is one of those draws that is just heartbreaking, especially because it was such a fluke play. A long throw deflected off Ike Opara’s head, hit Robin Jansson, and bounced straight to Danladi. Ugh.
My anxiety is still off the chart. If the Lions can play for 90 minutes like they did in the last 45 of this match for the remainder of the season, and they get a little help along the way (it looked like they were going to get some help today but everyone tied), making the playoffs for the first time in the club’s MLS history will seem much more within reach this season.
Friday is going to be another big test, and one for which the club is sure to be prepared. I know the XI I want to see start against “the team that shall not be named.”