3 Points to Fuel the Fire

Daniela Calvo - Chicago Fire/mlsfemale
Official Chicago Fire Reporter

By Daniela Calvo // @DanielaCalvo__

Saturday, April 7: 1-0 Win

Starting XI

Sanchez; Ellis, Schweinsteiger, Kappelhof; Vincent, Tchani, McCarty ©, Conner; Campos, Gordon, Nikolić

On a brisk Saturday night, the Chicago Fire won their first match of the season. After last week’s match against the Portland Timbers, Fire coach, Veljko Paunović warned fans that the Fire will have to “prepare for a tough couple of months” due to the team’s weak defense. With that said, and a couple of changes made by Paunović, the Fire defeated their Midwest rivals, the Columbus Crew

The Fire scored early in the first half on a mistake by the Crew’s keeper, Zak Steffen, who tried to pass the ball to one of his own but Nemanja Nikolić was there to intercept the pass, and then score. The Fire was able to hold onto the lead at the half.

The second half was intense; the Crew had more possession and shots on goal, two of which were saved by the crossbar. In the 75th minute, Columbus put the ball in the back of the net but the referee marked it offside. Moving Bastian Schweinsteiger to center back aided the Fire and the weak defense. Schweinsteiger logged 11 defensive clearances. In the end, the Fire escaped with a win- it was not a pretty win but it was an important one.

This match was goalkeeper, Richard Sanchez’s first shutout game in his 6 games with the Fire. He also won Man of the Match for keeping a clean sheet against the Crew.

Rookie, Diego Campos made it to the starting lineup at mid after a stellar performance during the Timbers game the week prior. During the match with the Crew, Campos created two opportunities to score but did not have his teammates there to help him close the play.

Drew Connor recorded his first start of the season.

Grant Lillard made his MLS debut when he was subbed in at the 36th minute.

Schweinsteiger will face his old Manchester United teammate, Zlatan Ibrahimović this weekend when the Fire play against the LA Galaxy at 2:30 PM CST.

Images courtesy: Daniela Calvo/mlsfemale

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Nightmare for Montreal in New England

Eve Powell - Montreal Impact/mlsfemale
Official Montreal Impact Reporter

By Eve Powell // @evejulia9

Friday, April 6: 4-0 Loss

Things were going so well … or so we thought. After picking up 2 consecutive wins while playing a 5-3-2 formation, Rémi Garde’s vision for the Montreal Impact seemed to be taking shape. Then, the team traveled to Foxborough to face the New England Revolution, a team who had also undergone a coaching change in the offseason. Fans were excited to see how the teams would stack up against each other so early in their new seasons.

Trouble announced itself for the Impact when the starting lineup came out an hour before the match. The team was playing a 5-3-2 once again, but Nacho Piatti’s name was nowhere to be found on the team sheet. The Argentinian maestro had not made the trip due to a slight injury. Instead, it was Anthony Jackson-Hamel, returning from his own injury, who took up the position as a secondary striker in Piatti’s absence.

Although the teams began the match on a fairly even footing, the 14th minute changed everything for the Impact. Saphir Taïder was attempting a roulette move, where he turned around and was meant to mislead an opponent with a dribble. As he was mid-turn, NE’s Luis Caicedo stepped in to challenge possession. Taïder’s foot was coming down and his studs made contact with Caicedo’s shin. Referee Jose Carlos Rivero did not hesitate to brandish a straight red card toward the Algerian midfielder. The Impact would now face the remaining 75+ minutes down a man, without either of their Designated Players.

Unsurprisingly, this turn of events resulted in a loss. What was surprising, was how quickly the Impact’s game unraveled, and how there seemed to be no solution to make up for Taïder’s ejection. This was Samuel Piette’s first night wearing the captain’s armband, and he undoubtedly had a Herculean task in trying to lead a group who had just lost their most important player.

The players who were on the pitch after the card played afraid. Passes were sloppy, communication was lacking, and other reckless challenges – including one which led to a penalty – dogged the ten men left on the pitch for the remainder of the match.

Although there is no magic wand a coach can wave to fix his formation or to make the right player magically appear, it remains a mystery what Rémi Garde attempted to adjust in the remaining lineup of players.

Perhaps no event underlines the air of defeat with which the Impact played after the red card than when the much-maligned Dominic Oduro was given his first minutes of 2018 when the result was already sealed. Maybe it was meant to give a player who is actively on the market a few minutes to pull off some magic and up his value, but it seemed like a poison pill from the part of the coaching staff.

The only good thing the Impact will take home with them from New England is that Lyes Ould-Ramoul (LyesMTL) finished second in the eMLS Cup!

On the other hand, one can certainly hope that Garde benefits from having a week’s warning that he will be without Taïder’s services, as the player will be suspended for the Impact’s upcoming trip to Red Bull Arena.

Featured image courtesy: @impactmontreal

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Timbers Road Woes Continue

Sheba Rawson - Portland Timbers/mlsfemale
Official Portland Timbers Reporter

By Sheba Rawson // @shebainpdx

A few thoughts as we (FINALLY) head into our first home match of the season this Saturday. I want to look ahead to Saturday, but first, we need to take a look back.

Sigh.

I had a hard time writing this article because last Sunday’s Portland Timbers match against Orlando City SC was just SO PAINFUL, especially after the first 75 minutes or so showed such promise. I’ve decided that from now on I’m just going to use Phoebe’s philosophy when watching our away games.

Yep. Ahead 2-0 in the 75th minute, I can just turn the game off, right?

Wrong. Sigh.

We had a promising enough start. I was very happy to see Samuel Armenteros in the XI. He looked hungry and capable in preseason, and I’ve been waiting to see him get his chance. We still were without our erstwhile captain Liam Ridgewell, though this time it was apparently due to a knock in training as opposed to our appalling performance a few weeks back.

Between Ridgewell’s absence, Vytautas Andriuškevičius still getting back to fitness and Alvas Powell out injured, I was worried about our back line. I have to say they looked organized enough when we kept the line high, but when balls got inside our 18, it was a different story.

And then, of course, there was Baldomero Toledo. I have often compared his officiating to the actions of a bad substitute teacher, who lets everything slide until late in the day and then sends everyone to the office for things like tapping their pencils on their desks, so I readily admit that I am no fan of his handiwork.

But this particular brand of bad officiating was out of character for him. When  Mohamed El-Munir took down Sebastian Blanco in the box, not only did Toledo not call for a penalty kick; he awarded Blanco his second yellow card and was about to send him off. Fortunately, VAR helped him to see the error of his ways, and a penalty was awarded to the Timbers instead.

Diego Valeri coolly slotted it home, and we went into the half ahead 1-0. My thoughts at the time:

And then there was the second half. It also showed promise, as first Blanco and then Valeri hit woodwork, and then Bill Tuiloma opened his MLS account with a beautiful header fed by Valeri. Ahead 2-0 with less than 20 minutes to go. Time to turn off the movie now, right, Phoebe?

And then…

  • Chris Mueller scored.
  • Dom Dwyer drew a penalty that was much more in Toledo’s wheelhouse, a classic late-game call for minor contact.
  • And Dwyer went in for the kill with the go-ahead goal at 87′.

Takeaways

No excuses. Yes, we have a new coach. Yes, we have a new system. Yes, we had injured players. Yes, the officiating included some real howlers. Honestly, these are all beside the point. If you are ahead 2-0 with fewer than 20 minutes to go, you need to be able to close out the game. Period.

Still looking for consistency in the backWe have players with promise but we still don’t have a rock-solid back five. Both keepers are so-so. Our center backs include an older veteran who has struggled with injury over the last year, another older veteran of other leagues who has had uneven performance, and a younger player with much promise who still needs seasoning.

We also have fullbacks who come with strengths and challenges: Marco Farfan has speed and flashes of brilliance, but his youth and inexperience are also a factor. Vytas is still coming off an injury.

Alvas Powell, I’ve already written about a ton: tremendous potential to be simultaneously awesome and WTF. Zarek Valentin is a smart player and currently our Swiss army knife guy, playing pretty much wherever we need/ask in the back, but he lacks pace.  That back unit has to be SOLID if we are going to play the high line that Gio Savarese apparently wants.

The future has potential. I know these first five games have had grim finishes, but there is still hope. I really do like the look of our signings this year. I hope they find their footing, and quickly.

This Saturday marks the end of a LONG footy drought here in Portland. At long last, after months of offseason and away games during stadium construction, we will finally get to enter Providence Park once more; and I, for one, can’t wait.

Is it Saturday yet? #RCTID

Featured image courtesy: @ProvidencePark_

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New York Red Bulls: CONCACAF’ed

Sylvana Budesheim - NY Red Bulls/mlsfemale
Official NY Red Bulls Reporter

By Sylvana Budesheim // @SylvanaSoccer

CONCACAF Champions League Semifinals
Leg 1: 1-0 loss
Leg 2: 0-0 draw (CD Guadalajara advance on aggregate)

So.

Here we are. Again.

Tired. Cold. Hungover (perhaps in more ways than one).

Leaving for home with no prospect of a trophy in sight. The New York Red Bulls crash out of the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League in the semifinals, losing on aggregate to CD Guadalajara, aka Chivas.

And not because the team we love was thumped. Not because there were own goals and fouls in the box and those thousand natural shocks that soccer is heir to…

But because there was so much… nothing. Those horrible scary things I just mentioned… well, they’d be *something.* But this was Nothing. Capital N. Like those traumatizing-movie-readers of a certain age will remember.

Twenty total shots for the Red Bulls, nine of them on frame. Chivas managed ONE. Of the 13 players who were on the field in the 2nd leg, only 3 were not credited with a shot– including goalkeeper Luis Robles. There were six corners by midfielder Sean Davis, and several powerful throw-ins by defender Kemar Lawrence that made it into the box as if they had been kicked from the corner.

But the ball never found the back of the net. It sailed over, breezed past, and got scooped up or kicked away.

Did Chivas do so much more? Perhaps not. But what they did was enough. They were physical. They ate the clock. They intercepted passes and won challenges and cleared balls going towards the net. And now they will face Toronto FC for the final. And while their current form in Liga MX has been less than stellar, they just might give TFC a real fight. Or they might roll over.

As a fan, I certainly have the urge to throw some stuff and grouse and be all–

And then…like the team must… I move on.

The only thing I can do is go back and continue to work, continue to give it my best, and know that there’s a group of great guys, great character guys, that are going to do the same. –Captain Luis Robles

There are brilliant things happening at Red Bull Arena. There is an entire season to fight for, as well as the Open Cup. And I am ready to be there for it.

Featured image courtesy: Sylvana Budesheim

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LA Galaxy Snap Back to Reality

Michelle Huitink - LA Galaxy/mlsfemale
Official LA Galaxy Reporter

By Michelle Huitink // @mchuitink

Sunday, April 8: 0-2 Loss

LA Galaxy Starting XI: David Bingham; Rolf Feltscher, Daniel Steres, Jorgen Skjelvik, Ashley Cole ©; Perry Kitchen, Jonathan dos Santos; Chris Pontius, Romain Alessandrini, Emmanuel Boateng; Ola Kamara

No game is going to ever live up to the LA Galaxy vs Los Angeles FC again in the MLS. So, it’s no surprise to me that reality would hit us in the face on this night.

If you’re a fan of the Galaxy and you’re reading this, you’ve known our defense needed work since preseason.

Our starting XI and our bench, with a couple of exceptions, are totally good players.

I hope this 2-0 loss to Sporting Kansas City reminds us of the work that needs to be done.  Let’s not overreact due to the past trauma that was the 2017 season; instead, let’s work on our finishing (because we had three shots that hit off the post, so now we are fighting the net at this point), and that we can’t rely on any single player. We are a better than decent team. We just need to follow through.

Michelle Huitink - LA Galaxy/mlsfemale
LA Galaxy with a chance off a corner in the first half. Image courtesy: Michelle Huitink

The first half, we played well, much better than versus LAFC. Let’s also not forget that Sporting was missing their main man, Felipe Gutiérrez.  Still, this game was consistent and steady. We attacked and we created chances, putting pressure and often forcing them to get the ball back to their keeper. In the second half, we got sixteen shots on goal, five of which came from Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Sebastian Lletget and Ibrahimovic are still getting back into fitness. It is ultimately up to head coach Sigi Schmid who he starts, but I, as a fan, have to trust in his decisions right now.

Romain Alessandrini and Jonathan Dos Santos, both designated players, starting and playing a good amount of minutes, and coming out hungry and strong, especially after returning from hamstring injuries is awesome but we can’t expect them to push past their limits.

I want everyone fit! We have a long season ahead still.

Overall, I didn’t understand the decisions made by the Galaxy when passing; they always play it on the sides, especially on the right. Then, they bunched up too much, which forced Ibrahimovic to go back with the ball, which doesn’t result in any chances.

Michelle Huitink - LA Galaxy/mlsfemale
Zlatan Ibrahimovic taking a free kick in the 82’. Image courtesy: Michelle Huitink

I didn’t expect to lose. I’m still not convinced Sporting should be in the number one spot in the western conference.

We had better control of the game and it was a physical match.  SKC just took more advantage of their opportunities when we let two balls slip past us. That’s all I have to say about that (Forrest Gump voice).

Our next match is Saturday, April 14, an away game vs Chicago Fire. It is available to stream via Twitter and watch on Univision Deportes at 12:30PT/2pmCT.

Romain Alessandrini takes on Zusi Graham image courtesy: Michelle Huitink

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Mueller Sparks the Fire to Bring Lion’s 3-2 Comeback

Shae Beaudoin - Orlando City/mlsfemale
Official Orlando City Reporter

By Shae Beaudoin // @ShaeEliz

Sunday, April 8: 3-2 Win

Not to say I told you so or anything but I’ve been saying since the home opener that good things would happen if we could just get MLS SuperDraft pick Chris Mueller on the field at the same time as Dom Dwyer. Sunday’s game against the Portland Timbers proved just that.

At first, spirits were low. Three minutes in, Portland had a shot on goal that slipped through goalkeeper Joe Bendik’s fingers, but luckily the return of our captain Jonathan Spector meant great saves by the defense. Samuel Armenteros was almost sent off with a red for a second yellow card, however, VAR overturned the penalty and awarded Portland the penalty kick. And thus, Orlando City found themselves down 0-1 at the half.

The start of the second half pushed spirits even further as Portland landed another shot to bring the score to 0-2. You could hear the disappointment in the stands. The Wall was unusually quiet and antsy. And Orlando City looked to be asleep out on the field.

Our saving grace came in the form of our 21-year-old SuperDraft pick. Chris Mueller came on as a sub in the 67th minute and turned the game around for us. Not sure if it was just having a fresh pair of legs or if it was the hunger of Mueller to get his first MLS goal, but whatever it was worked.

After a few missed attempts, the first goal came in the 80th minute when Mueller landed a header and officially put his name in the books for the first time. This was all it took to reignite the Wall and lift the spirits across the stadium. Just two minutes later, Orlando City was awarded a penalty kick, taken by Sacha Kljestan, and tying up the score. The most intense ten minutes of Orlando City history came when Dom Dwyer scored the winning shot, bringing the score to 3-2 in favor of Orlando.

I hope this team, from the 80th to 87th minute, is the team we see all season. This is what Orlando City is capable of. The remaining 80 minutes of this game was disappointing at best and I know we’re capable of so much more. So yes, we can celebrate this win and we can celebrate our 3 points, but let’s not get any false hope that we’re now invincible and a solid team.

We’ve got a lot of work to put in if we wish to keep the victories going. If we play like we played most of this game, we won’t be seeing 3 points all that often. If we play like we played in that ten-minute window, yeah. We’ll have a great season ahead of us.

Our next game is this Friday, we head to Philadelphia to face the Union for the first time this season. Check back here for match coverage!

Featured image courtesy: Shae Beaudoin

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @ShaeEliz

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Four games in: the good, the bad, the ugly

Bailey Brown - FC Dallas/mlsfemale
Official FC Dallas Reporter

By Bailey Brown // @baileystaysposi

Saturday, April 7: 1-1 Draw

If I’m being completely honest here, I didn’t get to watch much of the game even though I was at the game. That meant that I got to go back and re-watch it on Sunday to see everything the FC Dallas vs Colorado Rapids game had to offer. As always, there are things that I liked and didn’t like — this is the plight of the fan. However, I can’t help but think about a few specific things, and for these, I am breaking down the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Good – Diaz to Colman

It finally happened. IT FINALLY HAPPENED. We were always told they were supposed to work together. The unicorn was going to magically get Cristian Colman the ball and this was our future. However, this never came to fruition. Mauro Diaz was out on injury or not in form to play a full game. Colman never got the start. If one was on, the other was off.

Fans felt that we were never going to see this connection that was supposed to be there. On Saturday, we finally saw it. Diaz crossed a beautiful ball into the far post and Colman connected with a header to equalize the game. Will we see this again? Who knows. But, for once, we saw this thing that was only spoken of as a possibility.

Our defense is consistent as well. I love the combination of Nedyalkov, Ziegler. Hedges, and Cannon in the back. They’re a solid back line. Hedges is doing his job of communicating and being the captain we need him to be.

Did Colorado score on us? Yes. But, they did what they should have in a 2 on 1 situation. I even think Hedges did well pushing a little more forward once Cannon came off. I firmly believe the consistency and communication from our defense is why we haven’t lost yet.

The Bad – Pareja, Diaz, and Much More…

Can Óscar Pareja command the field as the coach we need him to be? This is the question I find myself asking. I see some of the substitutes he makes and I am left scratching my head. I can say that I no longer can tell if he has lost the team, if he doesn’t have the personnel he needs, or if it is something else.

Pareja has respect in the FC Dallas community beyond measure and the team really seems to respond to him. However, is the relationship Pareja has made with people off the field ever going to come back to the field? I think we will really see by the end of the season.

A Few Quick Takes

  • I am over the Tesho Akindele experiment. I need him to make a difference with the minutes he gets on the field, and quite frankly, he is just another body to me at this point. That’s all I really have to say about him.
  • 2016 pre-injury Mauro Diaz may never come back. Actually, I think he is gone.
  • Carlos Gruezo needs to step up. At this point, I would prefer Jacori Hayes on the field over him every game. I already wrote about my love for Hayes previously, but if you look at the charts from the game on Saturday, you will see that for playing essentially the same spot, Hayes makes a much larger impact.
Bailey Brown - FC Dallas/mlsfemale
Hayes left, Gruezo right. Courtesy of MLS.

The Ugly

Even though FC Dallas is undefeated, we are 7th in the Western Conference. We have had 4 home games already with only one win. The issue is NOT shooting. Let that be known. The issue is FINISHING.

Out of 17 shots on Saturday, Tim Howard only had to make 4 saves. That is unacceptable to me. We have to get our shots on target and finish. Why does this matter? We are about to go on the road with our first away game against New England Revolution this Saturday.

FC Dallas is notorious for not getting points on the road. If we want to make the playoffs this year, we must connect through the field and put the ball in the back of the net. I’ll be interested to see how we do when we visit Boston (Foxborough… whatever) this weekend. I think it will be very telling of how we will fare on the road this year.

In the “real world”, I am a coach and I preach that offense wins games and defense wins championships. I would like to be proven correct this season by how our defense plays. However, FC Dallas needs more than just defense to be able to compete or we will end a mid-table team. This should not be where we, as a community, should settle.

I hope to see the team connect more in the top ⅓ of the field and hopefully start winning more than drawing.

Featured image of Cristian Colman courtesy: @FCDallas

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ATLUTD: Battle(s) of the New Kids


Robyn Saghini - Atlanta United FC/mlsfemale
Official Atlanta United Reporter

By Robyn Saghini // @robynsaghini

March 31: MNUvATL, Win 0-1; April 7: ATLvLAFC, Win 5-0

I’m playing catch up again, and we have lots to cover, so strap yourself in! Here we go…

Atlanta United traveled up to the frozen tundra of Minnesota a couple of weeks ago to try for a repeat of last year’s early season goal-fest. There was no snow this time, though, and Minnesota United has improved a bit since last March. They did get a little help from the referee, though, when Leandro Gonzalez Pirez was given a yellow card 45 seconds into the game and then another about 35 minutes later when he had a sloppy foul outside the sideline.

This mishap on LGP’s part caused the team to sit back and defend most of the game, and the only goal came on an own goal that was meant to be a clearance in front of MNUFC’s goal. There was very little going on offensively for ATL in this game, but it did show that we can manage to defend and keep our lead when we’re down a man, something that will surely come in handy at some point down the road…

LGP’s exit from this game meant that we were now down two defenders for the next game at home vs newbies LAFC, who has looked really good despite that one tiny loss to their cross-town rivals while ATLUTD was freezing their butts off. During the MNUFC game, Greg Garza left the game early when he re-injured his shoulder and Jeff Larentowicz (aka “Larry”) left the game with an ankle injury, plus Franco Escobar was still out on concussion protocol. This left the ATLUTD twitter-verse to freak out about who was going to play in front of Brad Guzan against LAFC.

Turns out, Tata had it all figured out – or maybe he just guessed – because the lineup vs LAFC was not what many of us were expecting. Tata kept the 3-5-2 formation, but the backline of Chris McCann, Michael Parkhurst, and Miles Robinson was a surprise.

Atlanta’s first pick in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft, and the second overall pick, Miles Robinson, was finally getting his first MLS start (he did not play for the first team in 2017). We saw him play a little with the Charleston Battery last year and in the first ATLUTD2 game, but weren’t sure what to expect from him in this game. And then he goes and does this and we all forgot why we were doubting him:

Speaking of 2017 rookies, Julian Gressel is having himself a year. Last year’s rookie of the year has been nothing short of amazing this year. Gresselmania racked up a goal and an assist against LAFC. That cross to Josef Martinez was a thing of beauty.

That goal was Josef’s 25th in 24 games – an MLS record. Josef currently has five goals on the season and is tied for the lead in the Golden Boot race. If he stays healthy this year, y’all better watch out!

There was some questionable refereeing in this game and two plays were reviewed with VAR, both to Atlanta’s advantage. First was the red card to McCann 38 seconds into the game that was reversed to a yellow (phew!). The second video review came late in the second half when Georgia native Walker Zimmerman fouled Miguel Almiron in the box. It was initially called a corner kick, but after VAR, a PK was given to Atlanta, making it 3-0 in favor of ATLUTD.

A few minutes later, one of LAFC’s rookies made two rookie mistakes back to back. A foul on Miggy got Joao Moutinho his first yellow and gave Miggy a free kick outside the LAFC box. On that free kick, Moutinho jumped with his arms in front of his head and the ball hit his arm for a handball and his second yellow.

The one call that should have been reviewed but wasn’t was Laurent Ciman‘s elbow to Josef’s head/face late in the first half. Referee Ted Unkel did not even call a foul on Ciman and the crowd reminded him of that call for the rest of the game.

Atlanta’s fifth goal came in the last minute of added time and was Romario Williams‘ first MLS goal – and it was a peach! (Sorry, I had to reference the King Peach kits at some point.)

Atlanta is at home again this weekend, hosting NYCFC for the teams’ first meeting of the year. NYCFC and Atlanta are currently first and second in the Eastern Conference, respectively, so Sunday is going to be a big test for both teams.

In other news:

  • ATLUTD2 have drawn both of last 2 games; their record is now 1-0-2. They have a bye this weekend but are back at home again on April 21 hosting Louisville City FC.
  • Lagos Kunga won USL goal of the week AND USL goal of the month with his first professional goal.
  • ATLUTD injury report – because there’s a lot going on this week:
    • Barco started training again this week!! Hoping to see him at least as a sub on Sunday, but no word on his game fitness yet.
    • Zero word on when Franco Escobar will return from concussion protocol. He has not trained with the team since the Vancouver Whitecaps game.
    • Tito Villalba appeared to ask to be subbed out of the LAFC game earlier than expected on Sunday. Some people have said he was indicating he may have injured his hamstring. He has not been training with the team so far this week (insert Robyn freaking out dot gif here).
    • Josef Martinez left the training field with an air cast on his left arm Wednesday. The team did not say if there was an injury or what it was, but he returned to practice on Thursday with a cast on his lower arm and seemed to be okay for Sunday’s game.

Featured image courtesy: atlutd.com

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Starting a DP could mean finishing on frame

Bridget McDowell - Minnesota United FC/mlsfemale
Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

Bye week

Most games involving a red card ejection end in favor of the fully-staffed squad. So when Atlanta United’s Leandro Gonzalez Pirez was sent off in the 38th minute last Saturday, Minnesota United fans were right to feel optimistic. Down one-nil after Calvo’s own-goal, surely they could earn back at least one point against ten men.

They would not. Eleven Loons faced a white wall rooted in front of the goal. They would have been better off with ten men against a full squad of mobile peach-clad men.

Historically, Minnesota plays better with the disadvantage. Their home match against New York Cosmos in 2016, MNUFC’s final season in the NASL, is a prime example.

 

Both teams played high, quickly moving the ball forward to get shots into the box. Both sides had chances early on, only to be beaten on the counterattack just one touch shy of the goal. Minnesota’s Sammy Ndjock made some beautiful saves with his infamously sticky gloves, Ibson was in prime Ib-sanity, and every ball trick was deployed in search of the elusive difference-making goal. Ben Speas even had a chance at a Zlatan-esque goal on a shot from midfield (4:55).

Christian Ramirez, who was severely hampered by Atlanta’s wall after replacing Danladi, had plenty of chances that night against New York. Every attempt was thwarted by a quick and desperate Cosmos defense until the 90th minute when Justin Davis caught Ramirez on the run (6:25), delivering a ball just behind the final defender which Ramirez settled with one touch before sending it under Maurer and across the line for the match winner.

That finish made all the difference.

Darwin Quintero’s finishing could be the difference this season. Minnesota’s first Designated Player, known as ‘El Cientifico del Gol’ – The Scientist of the Goal – the Columbian forward is known for finding his way through tight spaces and beating defenders in the box. Check out these highlights from his 2016 season with Club America.

At 1:50, Quintero is surrounding and shoots past two defenders and a keeper who are struggling to regain their footing after a messy clearance. This skill and composure in traffic would have been a huge asset for MNUFC last weekend versus Atlanta.

As for his work inside the 18, fast forward to 3:05, where four defenders in the box are focused on the attackers and the ball on the right wing. The Scientist sneaks through the center of the group unseen to receive the cross behind them and smashes the ball into the back of the net.

Quintero’s role as a withdrawn striker in those games would have made him a perfect fit in the Loons’ lineup against bunkered Atlanta. Sure, by now the 30-year old’s speed may be somewhat diminished, but he could make a more dependable target in the box for Ethan Finlay or Sam Nicholson than an injured Ramirez or the speedy but tactically-deficient Danladi.

The Scientist’s debut depends on the arrival of his visa paperwork, but rumors point to sometime in April. Whenever that is, Quintero is sure to add more intrigue for fans frustrated by the Loons’ last showing.

Featured image courtesy: @MNUFC

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RSL, I love you but you’re bringing me down.

Ambrosia Tonkovich - Real Salt Lake/mlsfemale
Official Real Salt Lake Reporter

By Ambrosia Tonkovich // @heyambrosia

Well hello there, it’s been a while. Life and all that fun stuff.

Let’s just jump right into this fire we’re fighting, shall we?

Mike Petke in his latest post-game interview has summed up the anger pretty well: 

…yep.

Petke is now in his first full year as coach. After taking over the team last year when Cassar was let go, we all knew that come around July, we would start seeing more improvements in the team, whether it was communication, play style, or formation changes. So this year I’m pretty hopeful. Our team has now had offseason and preseason, all under Petke’s direction. In addition to that, we have signed A LOT of new players, and let a few go as well. So how have we been doing this year?

Well… not very good. Since I’m a little late in the writing season, I’m going to do a bit of overall coverage for the past few games with some stats.

We have had a total of four goals this year (five if you count our own goal), two of them scored by Joao Plata in the first two games. Kudos to Plata for stepping it up after Petke and he seemed to have some disagreements last year in regard to Plata’s commitment level. He has made me proud this year. One goal has been scored by Albert Rusnak (and what a pretty PK it was, that slow sneak into the goal was satisfying to watch) and Corey Baird scored his first MLS goal in the game against Toronto FC on Friday!

Nick Rimando. Can we just take a second? I am still so glad he’s here with us. His stats are impressive.

The number of goals we would have had scored on us even just this year if we didn’t have him… it’s scary to think about. We allowed 8 shots on goal just this last Friday against Toronto, let alone all of the other games that could have turned out MUCH worse had he not been in the box.

The good news – we’re doing better than last year. We had five straight winless games in a row last year, and I’m sending thoughts and prayers that we don’t repeat that again. I hope that Petke’s push to change the team’s mentality after the last loss (3-1, Toronto) is going to be beneficial.

Losing to a new MLS team at home 5-1 (LAFC) is devastating enough, so we need to pull back, and pull back hard. We’ve had one win and one tie. And two devastating losses that I really hate to think about.

My takeaways from the team right now – we have poor communication and shaky teamwork. We are unsure of ourselves. Justen Glad is a damn fine defender, and I can’t wait to continue to see him grow and succeed. I will be there in the rain for the game this coming Saturday, cheering as loud as always, because I do love and believe in my team, no matter what the hardships are. I recognize we haven’t done well, but I do look forward to the rest of the season, and still bleed Claret and Cobalt.

Featured image courtesy: @RealSaltLake

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