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Storylines | The Challenge That Is Chicho


Greetings, my fellow birdwatching enthusiasts! Storylines is back, keeping calm, and carrying on after this past Saturday’s first loss of the season at the hands of a potent Philadelphia Union. Coach Ramsay would go on to say after the match that the boys looked a bit “flat” and lacked the sharpness we’ve seen in recent weeks. The uninspired performance may have been, in part, due to Philly’s stingy defense, but whatever the case, the boys were off. Along with the lack of scoring threat, the Loons’ usually solid defensive third also struggled in the wake of Micky Tapias’ absence from the lineup due to injury. Without him in the lineup, Philly's attack was able to keep consistent pressure on Loons’ defenders and challenge the backline early and often. This Saturday, the task won’t be any less challenging for the boys, as a surging Real Salt Lake squad comes to Saint Paul for a Saturday-night showdown between two clubs sitting near the top of the table in the Western Conference standings. RSL always presents a challenge, but they will be coming into this matchup with an extra dose of momentum after a massive comeback win over St. Louis CITY. A stunning feat when you consider they were scoreless with 21 minutes left in the match…and all three scores came from a single player. That player would be RSL striker Cristian “Chicho” Arango…and he is a problem for opposing defenses everywhere.

The 28-year old Colombian put himself on the Major League Soccer map with LAFC back in 2021, a season in which Arango would go on to win the league’s “Newcomer of the Year” award. LAFC would eventually transfer Arango to Liga MX side Pachuca, which would be a short four-month stint before signing a club-record deal with RSL last summer. It’s still early in the 2024 season, but Chicho hasn’t wasted any time proving that RSL’s investment in him was a sound decision. Last Saturday’s hat trick earned him MLS Player of the Matchday honors, and on the season, the striker is currently second in the league in both goals and assists. So, yeah…Chicho’s pretty good. 

And, after last week’s struggles with Philly, what will the Loons need from their defensive third to keep Chicho in check? Well, first, they must protect the one they call Boxy at all costs, as his leadership in the back and physicality are unmatched across, well, just about every minute he’s on the pitch. But seriously, Boxy’s steadiness and durability cannot be undervalued, especially with a sniper like Arango lurking. Obviously, it would be ideal to have Tapias back to team with Boxy in the middle, as they have forged a steady partnership in defending the middle of the field. But, with Tapias’ status yet to be determined for Saturday, let’s consider the alternatives. 

After turning in a respectable showing against Philly, Devin Padelford may have earned himself another start at center back if Tapias can’t go. Like Boxy, Padelford is a big-ish body to occupy the middle, but with the speed and endurance to factor in when the squad is pressing up the field and attacking the opponent’s box. With Padelford (likely) to occupy the middle if needed, I’d expect Joseph Rosales to step back into the left back spot as he did in Philly, as he continues to perform well when called upon. While those names mentioned are more familiar, might the Loons look to the youth of the roster to step in, particularly if a sub is needed later in the match? Coach Ramsay and his staff have shown they are more than willing to give untested talent their shot to shine, but who among them has built up enough trust to start Saturday night? Victor Eriksson did get some minutes in Philly, but it was a shaky showing. But, maybe the coaches have seen enough from the big Swede in training to believe he can be trusted against the likes of Chicho? Could they look at MLS SuperDraft pick Hugo Bacharach to show the skill set he can bring to this club? Or, could the staff look to a defending mid like Kervin Arriaga to drop back and provide even more athleticism to the backline? 

Whoever ends up getting the nod, the Loons defense, as a unit, must find ways to keep the counter-attack at bay. Against Philly, a number of deep passes nearly caught the Loons backline pushing up a bit too far and chasing, setting the stage for some tense moments for themselves, as well as goalkeeper Dayne St Clair. They were lucky not to see more of those runs turn into goals against Philly. But, this is Chicho Arango, and as St. Louis CITY can attest, he is the type of footballer that can flip the script of a match in a hurry. Hopefully, the boys can keep Real Salt Lake and Chicho in front of them and out of the net on Saturday. If they can, the Black and Blue can quickly get back to their winning ways.

Match Details:

Minnesota United FC vs. Real Salt Lake

Allianz Field | Saint Paul, Minnesota

04.06.2024 | MLS Matchday No. 8 | 7:30 p.m. CT

Watch on AppleTV’s MLS Season Pass