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Five games ago, Minnesota United made an unexpected change, switching from playing four defenders to five. Since then, the Loons are undefeated, with four wins and a draw.

Minnesota (7-2-3, second in the Western Conference) visits Colorado (6-5-3, sixth) on Saturday night, and it's likely the Loons will keep rolling out the new formation, especially against a team that some numbers suggest is one of the top teams in the West.

On paper, the formation switch is as simple as the removal of a central midfielder, and the addition of a center back. In practice, it demands more from a number of different players — none more so than the two outside backs, Joseph Rosales and DJ Taylor.

In fact, in soccer parlance, they get a new name: no longer "fullbacks," as they'd be in a back four, but now "wingbacks."

It's a lexical representation of the hybrid nature of the role. When the Loons are defending, the two have to defend like fullbacks; when they have the ball, Rosales and Taylor have to play as wingers, providing both the width in the attack as well as being a threat to cut inside.

"I think you really need to have the mentality of a winger in the way that we want to play when we've got the ball," coach Eric Ramsay said. "We want the wingbacks to be on the last line [the attacking line], and we've created a load of chances through the wingbacks getting on the last line quickly."

It's meant that both players have had to adapt this season. Rosales has been a midfielder, and even sometimes a forward, since arriving from Honduras in 2021. Taylor, meanwhile, has been a traditional fullback, making 69 starts there over the past three seasons.

Now they are both learning something new. Taylor was always responsible for getting forward into the offense as a fullback, but now he's playing differently. "I get more space to go 1-v-1 and be more attacking, instead of coming 60 yards back from behind," he said.

Rosales has always had the ability to play offensively, but he has had to add more responsibility to his game. "I've added more coordination. I've been more alert," he said, via team translation. "We know that it's a position where the opponent can hurt you a lot, and you have to be ready for those types of situations and stay concentrated."

Since the switch to the 5-2-3 formation, the Loons have given up just one goal per game, tied for the league's fifth-best defense over that span. And as far as offense, the assists on the two goals in last week's 2-1 victory over Portland came from — you guessed it — Rosales and Taylor.

Ramsay knows he has had to change both players, and is pleased with the results. "You've seen DJ going from being pretty conservative and reserved, with how we asked him to play in the opening games, to now often on the last line, creating loads of chances," he said.

If anything, Ramsay is even more effusive about Rosales, saying: "It's almost the perfect position for him. I think it's a role that means we can get the best out of a very versatile set of qualities."

The hybrid nature of the wingback role allows the team to play two different formations, based on whether it has the ball. When the Loons are defending, they will set up in a 5-2-3 or 5-4-1, depending on how high the two wide forwards are pressing. Offensively, though, this becomes a 3-4-3, with the two outside backs in midfield — and can end up looking more like a five-man attack, as both wingbacks push up to be part of that "last line."

For Ramsay, that ability to shift is the strength of the team's new setup. "That's what the shape gives you — you can look almost exactly as you want, based on the players' strengths, without too much awkwardness in how you have to do it," he said.

Over his short tenure, Ramsay has already shown his willingness to adapt formations to fit the players. If Rosales and Taylor can keep playing the way they have, it might mean that the two will be more permanently known as wingbacks.