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Reusse: With new pressing tactics, Loons fans could be in for a fun season

This is the eighth year for Minnesota United FC in Major League Soccer and the sixth season for almost guaranteed sellouts at the tremendous Allianz Field in the St. Paul Midway.

This is the most unique crowd with Minnesota's major sports attractions, since the customers are as willing to entertain themselves as they are by what is happening on that pure green down below.

Yet you can't rely on the fan base's good nature forever to fill up a 19,000-seat venue — especially when you're a Minnesota team in a league that has no problem shutting down its outdoor schedule for three or four weeks in the middle of summer.

Adrian Heath, who had always been United's coach and eventually the personnel boss, produced a very uninspired product in 2023. He was fired with two matches left on the schedule. His club wound up in 11th place in the West, two spots removed from the hard-to-avoid MLS playoffs.

Heath's counter-punching style produced 46 goals in 34 matches. Worse, the beloved Loons won four times at home in 17 matches, and collected 21 of a possible 51 points in front of their chanting, singing, towel-waving (and perhaps yawning) audience.

The decision to fire Heath was announced by Shari Ballard, United's CEO since October 2021. The plan to use Heath's departure to create a higher-intensity style of soccer was fully endorsed by Bill McGuire, the primary owner who brought MLS and then a big-league soccer venue to Minnesota.

Ballard's choice to run the soccer operation was Khaled El-Ahmad, from the obscure Barnsley team in England. It took a while for El-Ahmad to get here, but his intentions preceded his arrival: He was looking for a coach and then a roster to install tactics that have become the Liverpool style in recent years in the Premier League.

"Counter-pressing" is the popular phrase, which meant nothing to a soccer dunce such as myself — until seeing it for the first 25 minutes of Saturday's home opener against the Columbus Crew, the MLS defending champion.

The Loons were missing much of the limited star power that Heath left behind due to injuries, yet they had the Crew on their heels in front of goalkeeper Patrick Schulte for a long stretch.

This led to several Loons corner kicks, which led to towel-waving throughout the stadium, which was overheard to be described as "one of the great traditions" in the MLS by a TV commentator.

Really? That can't be in the top 10, can it?

Columbus regained its poise and United goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair was made to make three significant saves — including on a lightning header by Cucho Hernández, MVP of the MLS title game last December.

The zero-zero tie at halftime didn't reflect the level of action, which put a smile on the face of McGuire, the owner.

"This is a very entertaining style of soccer we're playing," he said. "I loved it. More importantly, our supporters loved it. And that's why I'm in sports … for the fans, for the public.

"This is only our second time playing this way, we're missing some important players, and we still were on the attack."

Columbus came off as much better-adjusted to the pressing style in the second half. The Loons also had to go to the bench for some fresh players up front and in the midfield.

Hernandez struck for the game's first goal 14 minutes into the second half. The home team was slowing down and Columbus seemed willing to try to sit on the 1-0 lead for the final 15-20 minutes.

This allowed the Loons to start creating a few chances. As the game clock hit 90:00, there remained a minimum of four minutes of extra time.

Desperation put the home team in attack mode. The clock reached 94:00, and referee Amin Hadzic allowed the action to continue. He was probably waiting for Columbus to take possession and move the ball toward midfield.

And then, at 94:27, Tani Oluwaseyi — born in Nigeria, raised in Toronto, drafted by the Loons out of St. John's in New York, a second-teamer most of the last season — drilled in a tying goal from the right side.

Final: Loons 1, defending champs 1.

Four points in two matches — and now El-Ahmad's new coach, 32-year-old Eric Ramsay from the Manchester United staff, is en route to be the full-time replacement for Heath.

Press on, you Loons. It was kind of fun to watch.