Preview of MLS Cup playoffs: Minnesota United

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For the third year in a row, Minnesota United has reached the MLS Cup playoffs.

It took a Decision Day draw in the LA Galaxy to seal their fate, but now that they’re here, the Loons will seize their chances after reaching last season’s Western Conference final.

Here’s everything you need to know about Minnesota United ahead of the off – season – from tactics to key players and their chances of winning the grand prize.

After losing each of their four opening games by 10-3 overall results, there was a genuine fear that Minnesota would not only miss the playoffs, but end the bottom of the West altogether.

These fears turned out to be unfounded. The Loons then went on to lose just two of their next 17 games. Adrian Heath tightened up the back line, and the likes of Emanuel Reynoso and Franco Fragapane began to gel in the final third – the latter arriving in May.

Inconsistency meant that Minnesota could only manage a fifth place in the West, so at least they will not host either of their first two playoff games. But four points away against Sporting Kansas City and Galaxy in the last two regular season games showed exactly what this team can do at its best.

Heath is very defensive against his players. / Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota is at its best in the final third where their creative pieces can begin to work. To get the most out of these players, Adrian Heath has a 4-2-3-1 system.

Romain Metanire gives offensive traction from the right back and is given more freedom by Chase Gasper being more defensive-minded on the other side. He often comes in to help form a back three with Michael Boxall and Bakaye Dibassy as the Loons move forward.

Wil Trapp and Ozzy Alonso are the most common pair at the double pivot. There are mobility problems with both, but plenty of ball safety, experience and positional knowledge. A full fit Hassani Dotson also does a lot to combat the slow legs in this area.

This whole setup is to get the very best out of Emanuel Reynoso – who is often named the best player in MLS by Heath – Franco Fragapane, Robin Lod and Adrien Hunou.

When in full swing, this front four is among the most dangerous in the league, with pace, creativity and dazzling movements. And if Heath would like to lock the game, Ethan Finlay is a more diligent option for locking large areas.

Emanuel Reynoso

As mentioned, Heath believes that Reynoso is the best player in MLS. Even if it’s not really true, he’s up there.

The Argentine is a magician with the ball at his feet, who can share defense with laser-precise passes both on the ground or over the top, while he is almost impossible to get rid of when he gets on the dribble.

The only criticism of Reynoso is that he does not score enough goals, but when he does, they are usually meetings. “Bebelo” is without a doubt the key to Minnesota’s success or failure this off-season.

Standard MLS 2021 #golazo. This time a free kick goal from Minnesota United’s Emanuel Reynoso #MNUFC ???? ⚽️ pic.twitter.com/XMOv85q2dU

– James Nalton (@JDNalton) May 9, 2021 Franco Fragapane

Some players take some time to adjust to MLS. Not Franco Fragapane. The Argentine winger arrived in May and hit the ground straight, with five goals and nine assists in 19 games.

Fragapane is fast and direct, but also has great passing ability in its cabinet, and can add variety to fixture deliveries if Heath wants a change from Reynoso. No one will enjoy defending themselves against Fragapane.

Robin Lod

There are those who believe that Lod is the least talented among Minnesota United’s forwards. That may be true on a technical level, but the Finnish national team player’s football IQ is through the roof, and only his versatility makes him an important part.

Pilot movement is among the best in MLS, always finding the right space or pulling out defenders to free up Reynoso and Co. He is also a plug-and-play option across the forward line for Heath, who can change the game from all angles. Do not sleep that Lod is Minnesota’s real hero after the season.

Can Minnesota United go all the way? | Matthew Burt

If the front line spins, Minnesota can fight all the way to the MLS Cup. But they face a real test away at the Portland Timbers in round one.

If there’s a weakness in this Minnesota team, it’s their pressing efficiency – the ability to turn pressure into turnovers in dangerous areas. Timbers are so direct and quick to bypass pressure, Loons can be on the hind foot and shorthanded in just a few passes.

They have already beaten Portland twice this season, but the Timbers are experts in knockout competition and can prove their point here,

Prediction: Round one

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