The gnashing of teeth: Minneapolis City’s malaise.

A friendly reader sent me a post from Boys In Rouge, a fantastic Detroit City blog, that has a key passage worth quoting at length when considering Minneapolis City’s slow start to the season:

“…something else struck me when I watched Sunday’s match play out as so many have in recent memory: the divergent mindsets between City and its opponents.

DCFC’s reputation as a big lower-division club was built over the years as it stacked up wins at Cass Tech and its outsized support turned the place into a cauldron that caused visiting players to visibly lose their composure. Consequently, every single opposing team now comes to the match with their very best in the hopes of knocking City from its perch. This is why their players celebrate goals exclusively in front of the Northern Guard rather than their own fans. That giant-killing mentality seems to fuel each and every one of them.”

It may seem like too large a stretch to draw parallels between Detroit City and Minneapolis City while Le Rouge draw in the thousands and the Crows draw in the hundreds. And yet.

In this division there is, like Detroit in the Great Lakes, one team that everyone wants to beat. One team with fans to celebrate in front of. One team with the coverage, the photographers, the video and the hoopla around it to make heroics matter.

Consequently, to paraphrase Boys in Rouge, every single opposing team comes to the match doing every single thing they can in the hopes of knocking City from its perch.

If you’re Duluth, that means studs-up fouls on the City attackers every time they touch the ball. If you’re Med City that means tireless hard work to close down, block shots, get on the line and make a save. If you combine those two, you get teams that come into Edor Nelson with focus, commitment and fire. It means you get teams that run beyond exhaustion, that press and harry and kick, that block crosses and shots, that run at the back line, that never stop hunting for the ball, that never make anything easy.

The other teams are hungry while City look surprised that players without their pedigree are squaring up to them.

Well, as I have said at this blog from the beginning, this division is full of good players and good coaches and none of them care about pedigree, nor should they.

Other teams have internalized this message that City thinks it’s going to walk all games 4-0. Of course, that is all in their minds, it isn’t anything anyone at City has said, but it is a powerful narrative.

To fight that, City needs its own narrative and, as much as I hate to say this, they should take a look at Jose Mourinho for inspiration because it’s a situation that is begging for a bunkered “us against the world” mentality.

The facts back it up. Everyone wants to beat City. Duluth didn’t even win the game and they have spent the week in adulation, trolling and conspiracy theories such is their glee. They have spent more time this week tweeting about City than about their own club because they want City to lose and they are not the only ones, just the most vocal. Use that. Change the narrative. Become the underdog and get into a proverbial street fight and scrap and work and put your body on the line, do anything to get the result.

Additional thoughts.

1. This was somewhat of a freak result. Med City scored on their only two shots on goal and saw a ball hit the inside of their post and bounce out and, also, they cleared three shots off their line. That said, a dazed first 20 minutes from the home team and a mad minute where the Crows conceded two goals isn’t good enough and was the impetus for today’s post.

2. The season is young. I know it is a short season, but we are talking right now about one last-gasp draw conceded and a surprising loss. If it continues, City are hosed that is true, but there is, right now, more than enough time to recover and it is important not to overreact.

3. The City midfield just isn’t working. The substitution of Ben Wexler for Brian Kallman in the second half made a big difference, but yet again there were huge gaps in the center of the park and a distinct lack of cohesion between the players. This is the big challenge for Adam Pribyl and how he handles it will define the season.

4. Worries about lack of goals were valid. Three games, four goals and three of those four from set pieces is not the recipe for continued success and, disappointingly, even the shots cleared off the line and that one that hit the post were front set pieces as well. Much of this is because of the dysfunction of the central midfield, but there is also a lack of understanding and plan of attack in the final third. How, exactly, are City supposed to be playing? It’s not entirely clear.

5. Now what? For me, it starts with the midfield and finding a shuttler who can link play between the defensive center midfielder and the attacking center midfielder. Martin Browne has been far too good and is far too valuable to drop, the key is to get him not to be so isolated and I would lean on Ben Wexler, who was so good last season and played that role in the Open Cup, to step in and make that happen. Hopefully that change encourages Ian Smith to play further forward and gives him options for quick, short passes instead of the ball flat to the fullback. Whatever it takes to make the play less labored.

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