On Saturday afternoon the Red Bulls will head to Minnesota for the first time in an MLS match for a showdown with expansion side Minnesota United.
To get a better sense of the team the Red Bulls have never played before, we braved the treacherous summer snows of Minnesota to meet up with E Pluribus Loonum writer Alex Gormley for hot chocolate and three questions about the Loons.
1. What kind of formation and tactics are the Loons using right now and what would be the best way for the Red Bulls to overcome them?
As long as he has the right types of players at his disposal, manager Adrian Heath heavily prefers running a 4-2-3-1 formation with Christian Ramirez as the lone striker up top. However, due to the large amount of injured players and international call-ups, Heath could always opt to go with a five-man backline against a talented attacking team like the Red Bulls. The Loons gaffer opted to try this against Columbus and had some success but his tactics were ultimately foiled by a fantastic strike from Kekuta Manneh.
If the Loons come out in their preferred 4-2-3-1, the Red Bulls should look to overcome this by constantly pressing Minnesota's backline. No matter who suits up in the back four, Minnesota are sure to have chemistry issues and they're likely going to be playing mostly rotational players in their defense. Pressuring them when they have the ball will be key, and the makeshift backline has proven to be susceptible to quick, darting attacking runs coming from overlaps on the flanks.
New York can counter Minnesota's attack by tightly marking and frustrating Christian Ramirez. Ramirez has been excellent so far this season but when teams gameplan efforts to take him out of the game, he has trouble making an impact. If Superman doesn't get great service he really struggles to make clever runs and usually doesn't get many shots on target.
The move definitely has paid dividends for Minnesota this season. Molino has shown flashes of brilliance and is a creative attacking midfielder who has the ability to play passes with pinpoint accuracy. The only thing that's frustrating about his play so far this season is that he's been inconsistent and tends to disappear during games. He's tallied five goals and five assists in 18 games played, but has managed just two assists and no goals in his last eight games. Minnesota also received goalkeeper Patrick McLain in the deal, who has been elevated to the backup keeper with John Alvbage likely heading back to Sweden in the near future.
As far as who got the better end of the deal, I'd still have to say Minnesota despite Molino's inconsistency. When the Trinidadian international is on his game, he's the heartbeat of the attack and seamlessly links the midfield to the forward -- which is usually Christian Ramirez. Minnesota gave up around $650,000 in allocation money to acquire the two players, which I think seems like a lot of money but is pretty fair when you consider what a player of Molino's caliber would demand had he not already been in the league.
Q3: Christian Ramirez has made perhaps the most flawless transition from 2nd-division to MLS of any player in the league this year. Why do you think there wasn't a single MLS team willing to give him a shot during his three NASL years?
I feel as though the way that MLS teams see lower-league players played a pivotal role on why Ramirez wasn't brought over to MLS earlier. Teams are now becoming increasingly wiser about the amount of quality players that can be had for next to nothing that have shined in leagues like the NASL and USL. Ramirez had a pretty good scoring record in NASL, putting up season goal totals of 20, 13, and 18 in his three seasons in the league. However, he was never considered to be a great prospect coming out of college. He wasn't selected in the MLS Superdraft and he ended up signing with Charlotte in the USL. There are plenty of prolific scorers at the lower levels that aren't fawned over for one reason or another -- Brandon Allen is a pressing example. Despite his excellent college scoring record and his 15 goals scored for NYRB II, there weren't people beating down New York's door to try and secure his services.
Minnesota United's NASL players having success in MLS should help to change the perception of lower-league players. For whatever reason, some players fall through the cracks at the MLS level. It happens. But teams shouldn't be writing off these types of players altogether.
PREDICTED XI (4-2-3-1):
GK Bobby Shuttleworth
DF Boxall - Kallman - Davis - Thiesson
MID Ibson - Sam Cronin
AM Abu Danladi - Molino - Ibarra
FW Christian Ramirez
INJURIES: OUT - GK John Alvbage (thumb), MID Bernardo Anor (leg), DF March Burch (hernia), DF Thomas de Villardi (achilles), DF Joe Greenspan (head/broken nose), DF Kevin Venegas (right thigh)
QUESTIONABLE - MD Sam Cronin (neck), FW Abu Danladi (right thigh), MID Miguel Ibarra (ankle), MID Kevin Molino (ankle), FW Christian Ramirez (thigh), MID Rasmus Schuller (left thigh), MID Johan Venegas (thigh)
INTERNATIONAL DUTY: Francisco Calvo (Costa Rica), Jermaine Taylor (Jamaica)