Colorado Rapids and Minnesota United are in Group D of the MLS Is Back Tournament at the Walt Disney Resort in Florida.
Both sides won their opening two games of the MLS season before the Coronavirus pandemic interrupted the schedule. This tactical analysis will examine the strengths and weaknesses of each side and what we will see from the coaches and their key players.
Kei Kamara: the key target man
In 2019, Colorado’s Kei Kamara scored 14 goals in 29 MLS games. Although the Rapids finished 9th in the Western Conference, Kamara was an important part of the team.
His physical strength is similar to the attributes of the Premier League forwards from previous years, such as Emmanuel Adebayor and Christian Benteke.
Colorado use Kamara as a lone striker and plays long balls for him to head down to his teammates. He is a powerful striker and by crossing the ball to him, Colorado are playing to the strengths of one of their key players.
In the example above, Jack Price crosses the ball in for Kamara to head past the DC United goalkeeper to equalise for Colorado. Kamara produced an explosive jump to score a header and make another vital contribution to Robin Fraser’s team.
As Kamara is an effective player, they often play long balls and pass the ball into wide areas to cross into the box.
The above picture shows Kamara scoring an overhead kick against Kansas City. This shows his range of goalscoring skills and he is an important player for Colorado. We can expect to see Fraser’s side pass the ball to Kamara as much as possible because he can win games with his goals.
Kamara is often positioned in a place where the ball is most likely to be, his instincts as a striker are impressive and it helps him to score goals. In this example, he is on the edge of the six-yard box where he meets the ball.
This is important because he is not removed from the action, he is determined to get to the ball first and this is important because it is this positioning that helps him to score goals.
Kamara is not only effective with crosses from the wings, but Colorado also use narrow longs ball from the middle of the pitch. This shows that Kamara is used not only to head the ball at the goal but to head the ball to his teammates as well.
These tactics are important because they outline the variety of ways in which Colorado use Kamara to build attacks.
Creativity from the Rapids midfield
Colorado are not a one-dimensional team, the playmakers in midfield are integral to the analysis of the Rapids’ attacking strengths. In 2019, Diego Rubio scored 11 goals and provided five assists, and Andre Shinyashiki scored seven goals and provided three assists.
This shows that Colorado have creative midfield players who are not only able to assist the strikers but can score goals themselves.
In the example above, Shinyashiki joined the attack and ran into space in the box to meet the pass from Keegan Rosenberry, who got three assists from the defence in 2019. The Rapids’ midfielders must get into the box and provide an option, especially in games like this when Kamara is not present.
In the game against Seattle Sounders, Shinyashiki scored twice and almost scored a hattrick. Colorado encourage their creative midfielders to arrive in the box and contribute to attacks.
In the example above, Shinyashiki has the ball in an attacking position again and has numerous options to pass the ball.
This example not only shows the attacking intent of Shinyashiki but also the rest of Colorado forwards and this contributes to the creativity of the midfield.
Johnathan Lewis and Nicolás Mezquida are to his left and right, two players who got nine goals and nine assists between them for the Rapids in 2019. This example and these statistics show that Fraser’s side possesses quality and the ability to create attacking moves.
The Colorado midfielders are confident on the ball and enjoy carrying the ball forward before completing a key pass, as is shown in these examples. With each player possessing attacking quality, they are able to attack both down the wing and through the middle of the pitch.
In this game against Seattle Sounders, Colorado did not have Kamara in the team, this meant that they did not cross the ball as often as they would if Kamara was present. In this way, the midfielders can adapt their passes based on which of their teammates are on the pitch.
These examples also show how the movement off the ball from the Colorado midfielders help to provide options in the penalty box. The players in the images recognise areas of space that they can run into, and this movement helps to create opportunities.
Failure to defend corners and crosses
Although Colorado possess quality in their attack, they lack organisation and determination to defend the goal. On numerous occasions, the Rapids’ defenders fail to clear aerial balls and it results in defensive weakness.
This part of the analysis will examine what has lead to Colorado falling down the table, letting down their good attacking record. Colorado conceded 63 goals in the MLS in 2019. Only two teams in both conferences conceded more goals last season.
In the example above, DC United have taken the corner and one DC United player is jumping for a header and no one is covering him. Canouse has a free header because the Colorado players have failed to mark the opposition players in a dangerous situation.
Two DC players are unmarked and ready to head the ball. There is no man-marking system being used by Colorado and their defensive tactics are poor. Тhe defensive naivety will cause Fraser’s team to concede more goals in the upcoming tournament.
In the example above, Colorado are defending a corner against LA Galaxy but the defensive weakness shows again. Two Galaxy players are in the air while the Rapids players look on and do not attempt to win the ball.
This is another example of a lack of defensive responsibility. Colorado should show more determination when defending their box, otherwise, they will continue to concede more goals.
Colorado’s vulnerability when defending crosses is in contrast to their attacking quality. Unfortunately, man-marking is a problem that can be found in other areas of Colorado’s matches.
Passes in behind the centre-backs
In four of their last five MLS games, Colorado have adopted a back four. In these games, they conceded seven goals, including a 3-1 away defeat to Los Angeles FC.
The Colorado defenders often fail to prevent through balls being sent in behind the line. This is a problem made worse when playing against strikers that run off the shoulder of the centre-backs.
In the above example, a through ball has been passed down the outside of defenders Tommy Smith and Lalas Abubakar. Each defender failed to keep up with the runner and the opposition created a good opportunity.
To concede fewer goals, the Colorado defenders must always be aware of the strikers’ movements to prevent them from running into space unmarked.
This is an important part of this analysis because although they had the ex Everton player Tim Howard in goal in 2019, Colorado Rapids showed defensive weaknesses that we can expect to see in the future.
In the example above, the Kansas City player has passed the ball into a large gap between two Colorado defenders. This created a dangerous attack because the Colorado defenders were not aware of the on-running Kansas winger.
The defenders should be positioned closer together, this is so there are fewer gaps for the opposition to pass the ball through. Kansas City scored as a result of this pass, this is another example of how Colorado make it too easy for the opposition to pass the ball past the defenders.
In this example, the gap between the left-back and the rest of the defence is too big, it invites the ball to be passed through the gap. The defensive line should be more compact and close together, especially in the early stages of the game.
There is also an issue here because the left-back and the centre-back are both stood facing forward and not on their side. This means that it will take longer for them to turn their bodies and run back towards their goal to defend.
This example shows a lack of defensive preparation and this is what we can expect to see from Colorado when the MLS returns.
Minnesota movement off the ball in attack
Last season, Adrian Heath’s Minnesota reached the MLS Playoffs but lost to LA Galaxy in the first round. Darwin Quintero and Ángelo Rodríguez were key players for Minnesota in 2019, scoring 20 goals between them in all competitions.
They showed attacking quality in the MLS this year too and this section will examine that. In Minnesota’s only two MLS games of 2020, Luis Amarilla and Kevin Molino have scored twice each.
A key observation made is the movement of Minnesota’ attacking players off the ball, they create space and provide options. In the above example against Real Salt Lake, Quintero is running with the ball and Mason Toye is making run to the right edge of the box.
Toye draws the defenders away from Quintero who run forwards into space. This is good attacking play and it shows the teamwork of the Minnesota forward players.
Toye’s movement allows Quintero to run forwards and one defender must follow Toye. Chemistry is important in the attacking third and there is a good understanding amongst the Minnesota players.
When a team has different options in an attack, it is difficult for the opposition to defend against them. These overloading tactics led to Minnesota scoring nine goals in their last three MLS games.
In the example above, Ethan Finlay is attacking the box with an option to pass to his right or cross into the box. Two Minnesota players are on the edge of the box, anticipating a cross.
This is an example of how the movement of the attacking players has caused problems for the opposition. Heath uses aggressive offensive tactics and Minnesota’s goal record is a product of this.
In 2019, Minnesota had 13 different goalscorers in MLS, which shows that they had several players who made big contributions.
Attacking down the wing
A key part of Minnesota’s offensive tactics is the use of the wings and the width provided. Minnesota have before attacked down the line and cut inside, to either cross the ball or use an option on the edge of the area.
In the example above, Osvaldo Alonso is leading an attack from the left-wing. He has Chase Gaspar running to his left, and players running into the area.
When attacking from the wings, you can perform a cross-field pass or cross into the box so there are more penetrative angles available to pass the ball.
This is why attacking from the wings is effective, and this is an example of how it works to Minnesota’s benefit. This is the type of attacking play that we can expect to see from Heath’s side. In their last five MLS games, they have used a 4-2-3-1 with two wingers supporting the centre forward.
Minnesota have used this formation for a considerable amount of time, this is Heath’s preferred system and one that he judges to be the most effective.
In this example, Romain Métanire is on the right-wing and plays a cross-field ball to Finlay, who is just out of shot. This is another example of how Minnesota attack down the wings and create an angle to complete key passes.
Métanire played a long pass, but he could also pass it further down the line too, with his teammate running in this direction. This shows the team’s emphasis on using the wings to progress up the pitch. This part of the analysis shows that Minnesota use the wings to attack to open up options in different areas of the pitch.
In their only two MLS games of 2020, Minnesota comfortably outscored their opponents and showed good defensive shape. But two of the three goals that they conceded in these games were penalties, this is because they make bad tackles.
This weakness in defence is what led to Minnesota winning two of their last seven MLS matches in 2019. This poor form followed them into their playoff defeat.
In the example, Ike Opara has lunged into a tackle on Felipe Mora, The style of tackle is aggressive and is not necessary. Attempting this type of tackle in the penalty area is always a risk, and Opara conceded the penalty.
Opara is not in control and cannot reach the ball but still attempts to make the tackle. This has happened in other Minnesota matches. Although Minnesota won this match 3-1, Minnesota could show more recklessness in their games at Disney Land Florida.
In this example, Chase Gaspar has made a poorly-timed tackle and fouled San Jose’s Tommy Thompson inside the penalty area. Gaspar desperately waves his right leg, as Thompson runs past.
Much like Opara’s foul, this defending is rash and unnecessary. Minnesota has plenty of defenders in the box to stop the attack, reckless challenges like this harm the team. This is an example of how Minnesota is an inconsistent team in the way that they attack strongly but defend weakly.
In their most recent MLS fixtures, Minnesota’s defensive shape has been organised. On different occasions against San Jose, San Jose were forced to attempt long-range shots because they struggled to get past the Minnesota defenders.
As two of the three goals, they have conceded this season are penalties, this shows that Minnesota defend well and often prevent the opposition from scoring from open play.
Kevin Molino’s attacking instincts
In 2019, Kevin Molino only played in four MLS fixtures but scored three goals for Minnesota and he has shown in goalscoring ability this season as well.
He has emerged as a key player in 2020 because he is able to position himself in space where the ball runs loose, this was evident against Portland Timbers.
In both examples above, Molino is in the box during an attack. On each occasion, he has not contributed to the build-up of the attack, but his positioning makes it possible for him to get to the ball if he runs free.
In each image, Molino scores a goal and this is because he can anticipate the goalscoring opportunity. Molino usually plays as a central attacking midfielder and he plays this role well here because he is joining the strikers in the attack.
We can expect to see Molino contribute to Minnesota’s attacking moves when the MLS returns, he has good attacking instincts and has proven he can capitalise on goal-scoring opportunities.
Kei Kamara will be a key player for Colorado when the MLS returns on 8th July. We can expect to see their playmakers such as Shinyashiki and Mezquida try to cross the ball as often as possible.
Colorado must be more organised so that they can defend corners and mark the opposition forwards.
Minnesota are capable of outscoring the opposition and their tactics of attacking in the wide areas have been successful in the past. Key players such as Molino and Amarilla will be involved in these attacks and create chances.
The Minnesota defence has proved to make reckless decisions in the past and to progress in the tournament, Heath’s team have to defend better with patience.