Orlando City has advanced to the semifinals of the MLS is Back Tournament, marking the second year in a row that the Lions have advanced to the semifinals of a tournament. Hopefully the result is different this time around than it was just over a year ago.
In order to make an appearance in the club’s first final since joining Major League Soccer, OCSC will have to go through Minnesota United FC, a team that features a couple of very familiar faces. To prepare for this one I spoke with Ashle Norling, managing editor of SBNation’s superbly named E Pluribus Loonum. Ashle was kind enough to give us a great look at how the Loons have been doing this season, and I also answered some of her questions, which you can find over at their place.
Minnesota reached the semifinals courtesy of a dominant win over San Jose, a team that was performing extremely well prior to running up against MNUFC. What worked so well for the Loons in that big win? What did they do best?
Ashle Norling: Short answer: it was Adrian Heath’s game plan. Each match the game plan has differed a little bit and this one was by far the one that worked the most and the best. San Jose was using a man-to-man marking strategy whereas Heath went with a zone strategy. Defensively, the zone strategy allowed Minnesota to double and even triple team the person with the ball which would result in either a turnover or the Quakes having to drop back into their own third to regroup. On offense the Loons would mainly counter attack. They would break down the man-to-man marking and would take a shot once possible. So honestly, really everything just worked perfectly last time out.
Who have the most important players been for MNUFC this season? Who should Orlando fans be worried about most for this game?
AN: Goalkeeper Tyler Miller absolutely has been one of the most important players on the team this year for sure. On Twitter you’ll probably see me say, “Tyler Miller is doing Tyler Miller things,” at least once after a big save. He’s kept the team in games they may not have had a chance in without him, and has also helped avoid a downturn defensively after Vito Mannone’s loan expired.
As for someone to watch out for? Jan Gregus. The fact that he is our corner taker has him involved in the setup for a lot of our goals. MNUFC has become especially dangerous on set pieces this season and last and I would say the addition of Gregus is a big reason.
What do you think the biggest weakness is for this Minnesota team? Is there anything that Orlando can exploit?
AN: Giving up penalties has been an issue the last two matches. Against Columbus, Jose Aja had a bad tackle in the box that allowed the Crew to take a PK and score. That evened up the match and was what resulted in the match going into a shootout. Last time out against San Jose, Jacori Hayes had a handball in the box that resulted in the Quakes getting and scoring a penalty. Overall, it’s also going to be whether or not Orlando can take advantage of the more than likely inevitable possession advantage they will get. Minnesota United gave up 64.5% and 64.3% possession to Columbus and San Jose respectively, so exploiting that will be necessary.
Are there any players who will not be available for selection due to injury or suspension? What is your projected starting lineup and score prediction?
AN: Ike Opara is out for at least the entire tournament, we do know that much. Romain Metanire was questionable against San Jose and Kevin Molino has been a game-time decision the last two matches. So far I haven’t heard anything else so I would guess those two are still game-time decisions. As for a starting lineup, outside of Metanire being out the last game, I would say depending on his availability either the same as Columbus or San Jose. (See MNUFC’s lineup against San Jose below).
Note: No score prediction provided.
Thanks again to Ashle for the info and Vamos Orlando!