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Eric Ramsay pulls right strings in Loons’ 3-0 win at Charlotte

Eric Ramsay’s largest learning experience over his first month as Minnesota United’s head coach came with a thud in a 2-0 loss to Philadelphia Union on March 30.

The rookie head coach has shared multiple times in the weeks since how he didn’t feel he refreshed the starting XI well enough coming out of the international break to meet the conditions of that tough road environment.

Lesson learned.

Facing Charlotte FC on Sunday, Ramsay overhauled the starting XI for the first time this season, switched formations and tinkered with tactics. The alterations in players and playing style paid huge dividends in a 3-0 win at Bank of America Stadium.

“I look back to the majority of those first four games and say that I’ve really taken a lesson from each of them,” Ramsay said Sunday. “No. 1: How to use our players, who suit to what conditions, who suit certain systems well, who connects with who well. Certainly that game (Philadelphia) has been the biggest learning curve for me in the sense that we weren’t nearly as ready as we should have been to meet the challenge that game imposed. … I will definitely take something from that in my career going forward about that pragmatism and that flexibility.”

To snap a three-match winless streak that started against the Union and overcome slow starts in all three, Ramsay’s biggest personnel change was Tani Oluwaseyi starting over Teemu Pukki. And a new winger pairing of Franco Fragapane and Robin Lod flanked Oluwaseyi.

Oluwaseyi, in his first MLS start, scored the opening goal Sunday for a 1-0 halftime lead. Lod assisted on the opening goal. Then early in the second half, Fragapane assisted on Lod’s tap-in goal, and Lod’s well-placed corner kick was cleanly headed home by Hassani Dotson.

Lod’s goal and two assists made the Finnish midfielder a clear candidate for MLS team of the week come Monday. His coach makes a strong case to join him, too.

In their first MLS matchup, MNUFC (4-2-2, 14 points) canceled out Charlotte’s 13 consecutive home wins since last May. Charlotte (3-4-2, 11 points) was unbeaten in four at home this season.

Forgoing the majority of possession in favor of springing on the counter attack suited the Loons on Sunday.

“We were coming to a place that’s very difficult to come and not many teams have been successful in achieving three points here, so, we didn’t want to sort of sleepwalk to doing what everyone does,” Ramsay said. “We wanted to have a look at a different shape and how we could use some personnel that had been impactful from the bench so far from the start to give us more of a spark. … I think it was a sensible way to approach the game.”

Ramsay didn’t just alter the front line. He moved Lod from midfield to right winger, with Sang Bin Jeong away on international duty with South Korea.

Ramsay further tinkered with the back line, going from their regular set-up of two center backs to three in Devin Padelford, Michael Boxall and Kervin Arriaga, regularly a central midfielder, along with fullbacks becoming higher-up wingbacks Joseph Rosales and DJ Taylor.

Ramsay has insisted that his teams will be based on defensive principles — a compact shape and closing off entry passes through the middle — over playing in any certain formation.

“That’s a big theme in we are trying to be on the same page,” Dotson said. “… Really pleased with how the group handled that and felt like we were well prepared for our opponents.”

With that defense, Charlotte had only one shot on goal Sunday, and Loons goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair lunged to get a hand on Bill Tuiloma’s header on a recycled corner kick in the 24th minute. That was the most dangerous moment for Charlotte.

“All you can do is construct the game plan as you see it most suitable communicated to the players as best you can, get their buy-in,” Ramsay said. “What happens beyond that is fate to some extent. Obviously, I’m pleased. But I’m sort of pretty constructive about the whole thing.”