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Perhaps the most surprising change that Minnesota United made from Wednesday to Saturday was to include Minnesota native Caden Clark as the right back in a five-man backline.

The almost-21-year-old had made four starts already this season, but all four had come as a wide forward — and all on the left-hand side.

"We've played him in an unfamiliar role today," coach Eric Ramsay said after Saturday's 2-1 victory over Portland at Allianz Field. "He had some really good moments defensively, but when you're playing that role for one of the first times at this level, it will feel unfamiliar. [He's] slightly exposed in that sense, but I knew that was going to be the case for him today."

Ramsay prizes flexibility, something we have seen as he has felt free to play players in many different roles — such as Kervin Arriaga, who had played center back four games in a row but played in defensive midfield when he came on as a substitute in this game.

Clark, though, is a special case. "He's someone with a lot of different qualities," Ramsay said. "I do see him as one of the squad's more versatile players."

It's a new thing for Clark, who made his name as an attacking midfielder. Before this season, he hadn't played wingback at all, whether on the left or on the right. "It's tricky," he said. "I love the 10 [the attacking, creative central midfielder role], but I think wingback could really suit me going forward."

The Medina native said he's naturally right-footed, which would make him more suited to playing on the right wing, where he can use his natural foot to cross the ball. That said, he struggled to find his range against Portland, as a couple of first-half crosses sailed over the penalty area and into the crowd.

Said Clark: "I know I missed two today, but it's something I'm going to keep working on and hopefully get down, where we can get goals off of it."

Minnesota United's Caden Clark on Wednesday.
Minnesota United's Caden Clark on Wednesday.

Renée Jones Schneider, Star Tribune

Sending a new line over the boards

With five substitutions available, but only three opportunities to make changes, it's become normal to see a team make multiple subs at one time. This week, though, Ramsay took it to a bit of an extreme.

Against LA Galaxy on Wednesday, he sent on three new players at once; on Saturday, he made the rarely seen four-player swap, adding Robin Lod, Kervin Arriaga, Tani Oluwaseyi, and Sang Bin Jeong in the 55th minute.

For Ramsay, it's almost like hitting a reset button. "You get a really big momentum shift, as we have today, and in some senses from an organization perspective, it's easier to make wholesale changes," he said. "You can do everything in one fell swoop, change the shape, and change the approach."

Given the subs, it did lead to a slightly unexpected formation for a few minutes, as Arriaga ended up in midfield while Jeong had to play as the right wing-back. It wasn't until the Loons made their final sub, adding DJ Taylor to the mix, that the players were in more expected positions — and it took just three minutes for Taylor to find Jeong for the game-winning goal.

"We were kind of struggling in the attacking half to create chances, especially in the first half," Taylor said. "[It was good] for us to be able to switch four guys completely, and just bring a whole new energy."

Ramsay, who had always planned to rotate the team as much as possible this week, was hoping that the substitutes would make the difference. "I always felt like if we could get to the hour mark in good shape, then we would have a really good chance of winning the game," he said.

The concern for the Loons going forward isn't the players who came on as subs; it's players like Teemu Pukki, who hasn't scored in more than two months. Rotating players is all well and good, unless some are producing and some aren't. The challenge for Ramsay is going to be sticking with his rotation plans, even when some players aren't in very good form.