I. THE WAY SCORING EARLY SHIFTS THE GAME
When forward Christian Ramirez chipped a shot over New England goalkeeper Matt Turner in the fifth minute to give the home side a 1-0 lead, it was the earliest the Loons had ever scored in an MLS game. (Early enough that everyone in attendance will be able to get a beverage of their choice at Surly Brewing at Sunday’s Pre-Match Party.)
But it also changed the texture of the game quickly. Instead of the teams feeling each other out and meeting punch with counterpunch in the middle third for a while, New England responded by piling on the pressure. And although MNUFC had scored seven goals in the first 30 minutes of games going into tonight, the team had also conceded 13 in that same span. There was reason for concern, but defender Brent Kallman said it was something they had been working on.
“I think sometimes teams fall into a lull of scoring a goal and then just stepping back and it’s something we talked about: trying not to do that anymore,” he said. “We kind of weathered the storm a bit. We knew they were going to throw numbers forward and it’s just something you have to deal with until the game settles back down.
“But we’ll score early every game we can,” he continued. “I think the numbers when we score first are playoff numbers. So that was great: to get out up front and like I said, just gotta weather the storm the next five minutes.”
II. QUINTERO DRAWING DEFENSIVE ATTENTION
The shift to the 3-5-2 in recent games has made it more difficult for the team to play possession soccer through the midfield, but it’s also opened more space on the counterattack. Fortunately for the Loons, they have a one-man wrecking crew who’s currently striking fear into the hearts of MLS defenders: Darwin Quintero. With a goal tonight, Quintero has now scored in three of the last four matches, notching five goals in that stretch to go with two assists.
After an initial explosion when he first arrived on the team, Quintero quieted down for a few games but now it looks as though the Colombian has gotten quite comfortable leading the attack. One of the main ways he’s doing that now is by drawing the attention of multiple defenders. Opposing teams know he’s a threat to score both from distance and from snaking his way through defenders in the box, so they move quickly to him to try to shut him down. Quintero is taking his licks for it, but it’s also opening up space for the rest of the team’s attackers.
“Today it seemed like every time he was getting the ball, he was constantly getting kicked,” said Ramirez. “I kept mentioning that to the ref and he was watching it. So as long as he’s gonna keep getting double-teamed, we’ll be thankful of it because it will open up space for myself and Miguel, for Alexi. I know Miguel is adjusting to that position, still making two or three runs in behind. So it’s working.”