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During unbeaten run, Minnesota United is cashing in on corner kicks

It’s fitting that the lockers of Kervin Arriaga and Joseph Rosales are adjacent inside the Minnesota United dressing room at Allianz Field.

The Hondurans have essentially been joined at the hip since Arriaga joined Rosales in Minnesota in 2022, and on the field the past two games, their partnership has produced two goals off corner kicks — Rosales’ service from the flag twice finding the head of a leaping Arriaga.

After their latest connection in Wednesday’s 2-2 draw with Los Angeles Galaxy, Arriaga was a center of attention during a post-match interview while an obscured Rosales lounged in the seat next to him, scrolling his phone.

But the dynamic duo needed to be rejoined yet again. Arriaga was asked about the quality of those passes, and Rosales’ head cranked to his right to hear his fellow countryman’s answer.

“Good. The truth is that during the course of the week, we have spoken on where to shoot, and according to him, I owe him a hundred dollars, since it’s fifty dollars for every goal,” Arriaga said. Rosales just smiled.

If that’s not a joke, then Michael Boxall owes Rosales $50 after the set up on his corner-kick goal in a 2-1 win over Sporting Kansas City on April 27. In that three-game span, Rosales has amassed three assists, all on corners.

The Loons have produced five goals from corner kicks across the past four games, including a recycled corner turning into Bongi Hlongwane’s long-range strike against L.A. on Wednesday, and Robin Lod’s service headed in by Hassani Dotson in a 3-0 win against Charlotte FC on April 21.

MNUFC has scored 19 total goals in 11 matches this season, six on set pieces. Lod scored on a Sang Bin Jeong free kick in the 2-0 win over Los Angeles FC on March 16.

Before head coach Eric Ramsay joined MNUFC, he was hired by Manchester United in 2021 and was in charge of set plays for the famous Premier League side. Now it’s a focus for the Loons.

Ramsay has talked about three key ingredients to set pieces: a quality ball entering the box, “real desperation” for players to get on the end of it, the location of players and their ensuing movements to get free from defenders once the ball is booted.

That’s where Ramsay’s often-expansive answers to questions can dry up. He isn’t about to share the secret sauce.

“There’s a lot of detail to it that I won’t give away here,” he said in his news conference Wednesday.

Set pieces also are a big focus of new Chief Soccer Officer Khaled El-Ahmad. The amount of corner kicks compared to the opposition is one of the key stats he looks at in the post-match stats. He also prefers in-swingers, and going into Wednesday, 75 percent of the Loons’ attempts were bending toward goal.

In seasons past, the Loons have relied on Emanuel Reynoso to take the bulk of corners, but with Reynoso missing out on most of the season, it’s been a by-committee approach so far in 2024. Rosales currently leads the team with 24 corners. Lod has 23, and Jeong 19.

MNUFC has totaled more corner kicks than its opponent in only six of their 11 matches this season, 6.3 a game. There hasn’t been an uptick in those numbers to coincide with increased scoring on corners in the past four games; they are just making the most of their chances.

But work on Ramsay’s set pieces is a staple in Loons training sessions in Blaine, especially leading up to the Galaxy match, given how they have been prone to allowing goals on set plays this season.

“We … approach these things in a very purposeful way, but there is momentum in that sense,” Ramsay said. “We’ll be a team that’s a real threat across not just corners but on throw-ins and wide free kicks, too. It’s a really good trait to have as a team.”