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Minnesota United benefitting from fullbacks joining attack

Minnesota had scored 17 goals in 16 games until breaking out for six goals (three apiece) in the past two wins

MLS: Real Salt Lake at Minnesota United FC
Minnesota United defender Kemar Lawrence (92) attacks Real Salt Lake midfielder Anderson Julio (29) in the second half Sunday, July 3, 2022, at Allianz Field in St. Paul.
Matt Blewett / USA Today Sports
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ST. PAUL — Minnesota United’s goal-scoring issues this season have centered on a lack of production from strikers, but one outside element of the team’s attack has not been contributing chances at the same rate.

Within Loons manager Adrian Heath’s favored 4-2-3-1 formation, fullbacks are asked to join in the attack to stretch the defense by creating width and serve crosses into the box for the striker and other attacking midfielders. While the effectiveness of crosses is debated, Minnesota has been doing it less this season.

The Loons have averaged 11.4 crosses per 90 minutes, according to Wyscout. That’s the lowest average during Heath’s six seasons in charge and the fourth fewest in MLS this season.

MNUFC playing without No. 1 right back Romain Metanire in 17 of 18 games this season hasn’t helped. The absence of the 2019 MLS All-Star to nagging hamstrings led to a revolving door at that spot — Hassani Dotson, Oniel Fisher and now D.J. Taylor.

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MNUFC also was without its No. 1 left back Chase Gasper to start the season and needed center back Bakaye Dibassy to fill in there in four games until the team brought in Kemar Lawrence and traded Gasper to the L.A. Galaxy.

Lawrence was all-MLS fullback with New York Red Bulls before a stint with Belgium club Anderlecht. He returned to MLS with Toronto FC in 2021 but didn’t play for the Reds to start the season.

Lawrence has worked himself into fitness and his form has improved in recent games. His cross led to Franco Fragapane’s goal in a 3-2 win over L.A. Galaxy last Wednesday and his cross was turned into an early goal by Emanuel Reynoso in a 3-2 win over Real Salt Lake on Sunday.

“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that once we’ve started to get more in them positions that we’ve started to score a few more goals,” Heath said Wednesday. “Kemar is getting more and more opportunities to get in there, getting this run of games and getting his fitness. I think D.J. has done really well getting forward and picking his moments.

MLS: US Open Cup-Colorado Rapids at Minnesota United
Minnesota United defender D.J. Taylor (27) leaps over Colorado Rapids defender Anthony Markanich (31) in the first half May 11, 2022, at Allianz Field in St. Paul.
Matt Blewett / USA Today Sports

“It’s something that we’ve been speaking to … DJ about, playing forward more and playing positive,” Heath continued. “I think he’s done that, and I think it’s helped us certainly as an attacking force.”

Taylor took over for Fisher against Galaxy at Allianz Field on May 18, and his run and cross into the box led to Robin Lod’s game-tying goal in the 87th minute.

Minnesota had scored 17 goals in 16 games until breaking out for six goals (three apiece) in the past two wins. Emanuel Reynoso’s four goals and one assist have been a primary driver of the scoring outburst, but Loons fullbacks chipping in too has helped.

“It’s been nice to see people stepping up when they’ve had a chance,” said Lod, who has six goals this season. “I feel like game by game they are doing better. Obviously as a defender your first job is to defend, and when you get that done, slowly you can add some more value and get up the field. It’s nice that they are doing it now.”

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Briefly

The National Sports Center in Blaine will host the inaugural MLS NEXT Pro All-Star Game on Aug. 10 — in conjunction with MLS All-Star Game in St. Paul. There will be 44 players from North America selected by a committee, and they will play in an East vs. West format. … Vancouver has been one of the hottest teams in MLS, averaging two points per match in their last 10. They are 6-2-2 after a 1-6-1 start. … Each of Minnesota’s next six opponents through Aug. 6 are outside the MLS Cup Playoffs field. … RSL’s Erik Holt was suspended one game for elbowing Reynoso in the back of his head on Sunday, the MLS Disciplinary Committee said Wednesday. Holt was not carded during the match, nor after video review. … Galaxy’s Douglas Costa was given an additional one-game suspension for elbowing Joseph Rosales last week. Costa was given a red on the field; Rosales was issued two yellows for retaliation and was suspended Sunday. … Rosales and Lawrence weren’t listed on the team’s availability report Thursday; they missed training Wednesday due to illness. … Wil Trapp had a yellow card from the Galaxy game rescinded, the committee said. … Michael Boxall will be suspended one game for yellow-card accumulation if he is booked Friday. … The Loons return to St. Paul to play Sporting Kansas City during rivalry week on Wednesday.

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