All posts by Bridget McDowell

Graduated from Bethany Lutheran College (Mankato, MN) in 2012 with a B.A. in English. Soccer Supporter, soccer writer, kayaker, Midwest traveler. Reporter for MLSFemale.com | Contributor to BGN.fm | Co-Founder of Red Card to Racism

MN United Celebrates Guts, Glory, But Few Goals

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

After a hot-tempered clash in Dallas, Minnesota returned home for a midweek matchup against the Colorado Rapids who have been running cool toward the bottom of the table. Coming away with three points was crucial for the Loons who, sitting in third ahead of kickoff, needed every gain possible on an MLS match night heavy with playoff contenders.

The gap between the 3rd and 11th ranked teams was not so obvious in the first half though. Adrian Heath’s 4-2-3-1 was a little different from Saturday’s, with 8 of the weekend’s starters beginning on the bench, including wingers Miguel Ibarra and Ethan Finlay. Mason Toye was out of the 18 altogether due to his red card infraction. Angelo Rodriguez reclaimed his role up top, but wasn’t nearly as visible in the first half as Darwin Quintero behind him.

Together with attacking wingers Robin Lod and Kevin Molino, Quintero made runs that signaled a refreshing departure from the cross-and-pray tactic that has dominated the Loons’ attack recently. The change paid off in terms of shots and possession, with the Loons tallying 16 (6 on target) to the Rapids’ 5 with 62% of the possession. Unfortunately, nearly every ball the Loons managed to deliver to a threatening area was given away cheaply allowing the Rapids to make a number of counterattacks, short-lived though they were.

“The bottom line is, as I said to the players, what are we trying to do here? We’re trying to score a goal,” reflected head coach Adrian Heath. “To score a goal you have to get up the pitch, you have to run towards the goal. It’s not enough just to keep the ball in the mid-third. People have to run without the ball, people have to run forward. If we do that, we’re pretty good. When we play in our own half, we’re not as good.”

United had one of those “pretty good” moments late in the first half, just minutes after a horrible one. When defender Chase Gasper – who spent more time in the Colorado’s 18 than his attacking teammates – was taken down just inside the penalty area in the 37’, Quintero stepped up for the penalty. It was soft and low, an easy attempt for Clint Irwin to read and block. But “El Scientifico” redeemed himself two minutes later, beating the ‘keeper and his centerback to a beautiful ball from Molino which he tapped to the far post, well out of reach for Irwin who had come far off his line to cut the angle.

Irwin would face five more shots before the half, blocking two from Molino and Rodriguez while three others narrowly missed the frame. The score was 1-0 at the break and would remain there through the final whistle. But it’s not as if no one was trying.

The Loons came out for the second half with a slightly more motivated attack. And so did the visitors. That’s when Minnesota started sending a few quick crosses into the goal area, hoping for a connection that would double their lead. But there was a glaring absence at the front of the attack. A striker. And this has nothing to do with Toye’s absence.

Rodriguez has seemingly been getting fitter as the season goes on, showing a few more bursts of speed and prowess between the bouts of lead feet and hobbled movement, the attributes that earned him DP status. All too often though, his presence is forgotten as the ball soars over or past him and the midfield fills space ahead of him. Rodriguez wasn’t signed to be the lurking striker; he’s used more for hold-up play, but that only works when his teammates can get him the ball.

When Abu Danladi – the Loons’ perennial rookie due to recurrent injuries since his SuperDraft selection in 2017 – replaced the DP in the 71st minute, United’s attack saw a few more sparks. A few balls found Danladi camped out in front of the net, jockeying with the last defenders and eyeing the keeper. He had a header in the 78th minute that careened off the crossbar and out. In the 90th minute, he nutmegged Abubakar but the spinning shot was parried away by a diving Irwin. Late in stoppage time, he attempted to flick the ball around two defenders but deflected his own shot out of danger.

This is all well and good. As Heath said, “the kid got in the right spot so if he continues to get in the right spots, eventually one will go for him and hopefully his confidence will come.” Heath has expressed similar sentiments since Danladi’s rookie year. If his confidence depends on a few goals, he needs minutes somewhere that he can get those goals. And this squad needs someone who is already there.

With reinforcements coming for the midfield (Thomás Chacón’s arrival is imminent and Wilfried Moimbé will work into the squad as fitness allows), questions remain about the center forward position. Minutes for rookies and veterans are welcome, but dependable scoring is vital, especially in the heat of a playoff race that will likely come down to goal differential.

Unlike the typical Minnesota team, the Loons have the guts to close out a tight game. But if United really wants to set itself apart – from the locals and from the other playoff contenders – they need to score.

Featured image: Bridget McDowell

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MNUFC Climb Their Way To US Open Cup FInal

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

Minnesota United hosted the Portland Timbers for not one, but two matches this week. The schedule could not have worked out better for the Oregonians who’ve always wanted to be temporary citizens of the Twin Cities. Sunday’s MLS action will be discussed at length in another article. For now the spotlight is on the Loons’ first US Open Cup semifinal appearance as an upper-tier club.

After toppling the Timbers 1-0 on a last minute penalty kick on Sunday, the only thing certain about Wednesday’s bout was that it would be a nail biter. These two clubs are pretty evenly matched in terms of lineup and formation. Sunday’s match was an end-to-end battle start to finish and just minutes into Wednesday’s action, there was a clear repeat ahead, despite a much changed attack.

While Portland held a slight edge on Sunday in terms of possession and forays into the final third, Minnesota took over that role on Wednesday. The Loons had made 4 runs into the Timbers’ 18 inside of 4 minutes and were able to shut down every counterattack before it could get dangerous. Of course, the deadlock was broken by a penalty kick. How else?

Darwin Quintero converted the penalty, called after his own free kick found a hand in Portland’s wall. Captain Ozzie Alonso was seen running 70 yards down the field to say something to Quintero before his attempt. When asked what the instruction was, head coach Adrian Heath quipped, “Probably, ‘score.'”

Fair enough.

Minnesota nearly made it into halftime with the lead, but Portland knocked in a stoppage time goal that left Heath wondering, “Where’s VAR when you need it, eh?” Brian Fernandez was potentially offside when he struck the ball from Jeremy Ebobisse, but it was not reviewed as VAR is not used in USOC play. One viewer captured this still frame which makes it doubtful a review would have been in Minnesota’s favor:

The second half was much the same as the first. The team’s traded shots, blocks, tackles, and fouls; Minnesota’s attacking players continued to struggle with their first touch; and the Wonderwall grew louder. Then, in the 64th minute, Mason Toye finally connected.

Toye and Kevin Molino have displayed great chemistry recently, often combining for great scoring chances. Molino dropped a beautiful ball right in front of Toye who beat Claude Dieina and Steven Clark to knock in the tiebreaker.

“Whenever Kevin gets the ball and has space and time, I’m just going to run and try to get myself into a good spot,” Toye said. He also said they did finishing drills together after practice this week: “That might have helped.”

Toye’s father was in attendance for what the striker called the most important goal of his career, his second match-winner scored in USOC play. Dad was probably biting his nails through the final 30 minutes while the Loons held off the Timbers who worked tirelessly for tying and winning goals. Despite their efforts, which ran well into the 5 minutes of added time, the Loons held on.

They will face fellow expansion side Atlanta United at Mercedes Benz Stadium on August 27. How does Heath feel about playing his club’s measuring stick?

“It’s nice for us, yeah,” he said, before adding another jab at ‘MLS dot com’: “The flags will be at half-mast in that building tonight, with Minnesota in the final.”

Jokes aside, Heath plows ahead. His squad faces two Western Conference foes over the next week (Dallas on Saturday, Colorado on Wednesday), important matches if Minnesota is to stay on top of the table.

By the time Minnesota lands in Atlanta, Lod will be more fit and the club’s first Young Designated Player, Thomas Chacon, should have his visa paperwork squared away. Whether Chacon will factor into the attack in Atlanta remains to be seen. That may depend on how the rest of the squad handles training and the intervening matches and on the Uraguayan’s fitness level.

The one thing fans can be sure of: This is a big year for Minnesota United. Year Three was billed as ‘THE’ Year and is shaping up as hoped. Playoff contention and the club’s first-ever US Open Cup final.

Over the next month, the Loons will definitively answer the question, “Who runs the North?”

COYL

Featured image: @MNUFC

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

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MN United Draw: A Team With Nothing To Lose

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

After a full week’s hiatus from match play, Minnesota United FC returned to Allianz Field to face the wind-whipped Vancouver Whitecaps. Fourth in the West hosting last in the West midway through the season… Who expected six months ago that the host of such a match would be Minnesota?

Coming off a stale performance in Salt Lake and at least one training session that had Adrian Heath threatening bench time for players not giving their all, the Loons put in an inspired first half shift.

Dominating in both possession and shots (a rarer combo that one would think), Minnesota gave the home crowd (coming off an eternal 10 days’ rest themselves) plenty to cheer about, even if none of the shots tallied were on goal. Shockingly, the Wonderwall did not launch into ‘Score, d**nit!’ as it normally does in such matches. On this night, it would have been understandable given another statistic, that of Heath’s favorite method of attack: the cross.

Copy/paste: The Law of Averages

In the first half alone, Minnesota tallied 16 crosses in the run-of-play. Had that tactic resulted in even 1 shot on goal, it would be reasonable to stick with it for 5, 6, maybe 8 plays. But 16 crosses resulting in 0 shots on goal? Absurd. Some of them were beautiful. Metanire, Finlay and Ibarra were all in on that action and Ibarra was on the receiving end of a few, as well. Unfortunately, Vancouver’s backline saw every single one of them coming, shutting down every ball and rebound, often before it could enter the six-yard box.

The second half shared a similar theme with one difference: The number of balls skimming over Vancouver’s crossbar late in the second half. With Vancouver quadrupling their first-half shot total halfway through the second, Minnesota’s dwindling attack saw a small spark from the addition of Mason Toye and Abu Danladi in place of Rodriguez and Finlay. That is not to say, however, that the bolstered shot total included any on frame.

Shots into traffic, shots into the crossbar, shots over the crossbar, shots past the post… those all added up. Shots on goal: one. 

At the final whistle, Minnesota had 16 total shots to Vancouver’s 8; 1 shot on target to their 5 and 32 crosses to their 7. A clean sheet against a struggling side, a scoreless draw against a squad that’s shipped 16 in their previous 4 matches. A match that saw half of the Wonderwall depart before most of the Loons had left the pitch. How does Adrian Heath feel?

“I’m really pleased with the effort, the desire, energy,” he told the media. “The energy from the players was terrific. The only thing lacking was the final ball in the final third […] I can’t remember the last time I was involved in any team that got 37 crosses on and probably didn’t get on the end of one or two or three. That’s an issue.”

Rookie left back Chase Gasper, Heath’s Man of the Match, when asked if he felt the result adequately reflected their performance, responded, “No, I don’t. I thought we deserved the three points, but – That’s soccer. We have to tip our hats to Vancouver. They came in, fought to the very last minute and played the game very close.” 

Gasper and ‘keeper Vito Mannone both repeated the sentiment that they could take positives and negatives from this match when looking ahead to their next MLS match against Portland – a game with huge playoff implications – and their next US Open Cup match, also against Portland, the club’s first semifinal appearance as an MLS franchise.

Don’t #Panic

While some fans may be frustrated with this lackluster performance against a bottom-of-the-table side, they should take a note from Gasper:

“What we’ve really been working on these past few weeks is not conceding goals. So, I thought the team, defensively, we did our job at not conceding so we’ve got to just take the positives out of the game and that was the biggest positive.”

Indeed. Minnesota United has been in Vancouver’s place. They’ve played the spoiler plenty of times, holding off an attack on the road and splitting points with playoff contenders. This time Minnesota was the home team, fending off Yordy Reyna and Fredy Montero while occasionally challenging Maxime Crepeau in goal. The Loons kept their composure against a side with nothing to lose, walking away with just 2 yellows (though Quintero’s will prevent him from dressing on Sunday).

This is still a better team than in years past, despite repeating familiar patterns. The Loons swim on.

Bonus highlight footage:

Featured image: Bridget McDowell

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

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Minnesota Rises Above After 95 Minute Battle For the Ages

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

Minnesota United FC v FC Dallas: 1-0 win

After a come-from-behind victory in Montreal and a thorough trouncing of USL’s New Mexico United in a US Open Cup quarterfinal, Minnesota United returned to conference play on Saturday on home grass against FC Dallas. Their third match in seven days was a big one: Minnesota sat 4th in the West, Dallas 5th entering the weekend. It was everything you’d expect from two evenly matched teams.

Chippy. Cheeky. Scoreless for 90 minutes.

Through the first half, Minnesota struggled to get into the final third with the ball, continuing the trend of easy turnovers and poor passing. For their part, Dallas struggled there, as well, losing many an opportunity to a well-timed tackle or screen play inside of United’s 18. With 43% possession through the first half, Minnesota was level with Dallas on shots taken, 7, but Dallas was more efficient in that area and it felt as if they held the upper hand. That may simply have been due to the visitors’ decision making. By contrast, poor choices and touches abounded for the Loons.

After the 6-1 win over New Mexico, Adrian Heath praised his players for their selfless decisions. “My favorite saying, give it to people when they want it, not when you finish with it and that’s what we did,” he told the press. For the first half against Dallas, and much of the second, the Loons were not living that motto.

But each player held the other accountable in a very much one-v-one match. Most notably, captain Ozzie Alonso was furious with Chase Gasper when the rookie, in a scramble to avoid having to use his less-favored right foot, sent the ball over the touchline rather than allowing it to go out for a goal kick. Gasper wasted no time in making up for the gaff; he went right back to his mark at over 100% effort.

Gasper was one player singled out by Heath after Saturday’s win: “I’ve got to single out the two kids, the fullbacks. I’ve never seen anyone play [Michael Barrios] as well as Chase Gasper’s done today.”

That other fullback, Hassani Dotson, has made himself known in Romain Metanaire’s absence. He may be supplanted on Metanaire’s return, but he will, at the very least, be a known quantity off the bench.

It was a contentious 90 minutes, but the 5 minutes of added time were downright stressful. And euphoric. And then very stressful. And euphoric.

Sophomore forward Mason Toye has been on a tear recently, scoring 3 goals in his last 4 appearances (after going scoreless across 17 appearances in 2018). He added to that tally on Saturday, scoring on the rebound just as the 4th official raised his board announcing 5 minutes of added time.

As 19,906 fans celebrated the goal heard around the Midway, Dallas mounted a comeback. Fresh off the bench, Dallas’ Bryan Reynolds charged toward a loose ball in the Minnesota box and there was little Mannone could do:

“I’m calling for this ball to kill the game and Chase [Gasper] didn’t hear me. I was coming, I was screaming and obviously the crowd was loud. He had the touch, and once I’m there, I’m trying to stand still. And he’s going away from the goal, he’s going wide, he’s not even going through the ball and I thought, with his run he came into me, but. Anyway, he gave it.”

Video review rewarded a penalty to Dallas after Mannone’s collision with Reynolds. Defender Reto Ziegler lined up for the shot as Minnesota fans held their breath. Fortunately, for Mannone, two days of study paid off: “His run up was telling me something different from what I saw in the video[…] It was quite long and on an angle. When he approached the ball, I thought he couldn’t put it on this side anymore, and I thought, let me try and guess over there.”

He guessed correctly. If Toye’s shot was the goal heard around the Midway, Mannone’s stop was the save heard around St Paul.

The locker room celebration was a subdued affair. Joyous, certainly, but quiet. Most of the guys cleaned up, dressed and headed home. They’d moved up to third in the west, the job was done for the night. While the reserves take a swing at Aston Villa in a friendly on Wednesday, most of the starters will have a long rest ahead of next Saturday’s trip to Salt Lake.

Other notes:

  • Ozzie Alonso exited in the second half after taking a heavy shot to the shoulder and another to the gut. He’ll have an MRI on Sunday, but the medical staff is confident his clavicle is only bruised.
  • Romain Metanire landed in Minnesota on Friday after Madagascar’s exit from the African Cup of Nations. Heath said he will get an emotional and physical rest this week before being re-activated for league play.

Featured image: Bridget McDowell

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

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Team Goals And Cup Goals A Reality For The Loons

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

Minnesota United v New Mexico United: 6-1

The biggest US Open Cup match in Minnesota’s MLS history did not disappoint. Allianz Field hosting a quarterfinal against the last remaining USL side in the tournament, a club whose fanbase quickly bought out at least one charter plane and coach bus – a club that reminds Minnesota’s fans of the way things used to be.  But Minnnesota has a new story now and it might include the Cup.

After conceding yet another early goal, a 7’ corner that made the Loons’ set-piece defense look like pieces in a Football Manager match animation, it appeared it would be an ugly match of slip ups. Adrian Heath was critical of his squad in the post-match presser, saying it was exactly that kind of play he’d prepped his squad for, a known favorite of the USL side:

“We’ve watched probably their last four or five games and they’ve come up with sort of trick plays and that was another one of them, but we’ve been through that. It’s not like we hadn’t seen that corner. That’s the disappointing thing and that’s what happens when you turn off for a split second and that’s what happens at this level of football.”

But the post-goal rally by the home United did not disappoint. Just three minutes later, Angelo Rodriguez notched the first goal of what would be his first MLS hat trick. Rookie sensation Hassani Dotson, making another start at right back, picked out Rodriguez and Kevin Molino right in front of goal and sent in a high cross. Both players went up for it and celebrated immediately, with the PA announcer and the press announcing that Molino had notched the tying goal.

It was in fact Rodriguez who got the most vertical (thus, our confusion) putting his head on the ball to send it off the right hand of New Mexico keeper Cody Mizell and into the net.

That aged well. The Loons scored 4 more goals before the whistle sounded for halftime. You should probably just watch them all.

The second half was a more subdued affair, Minnesota allowing the visitors to complete passes and occasional venture outside of their own half of the field – a stark contrast to the first 45 minutes.

Chances abounded for the Loons and New Mexico made some clean counter attacks after poor turnovers. By the 60th minute, it was still 5-1. Fifteen minutes had gone by without a goal and even the cheers had begun to dry up as fans settled in to enjoy the beautiful summer evening. But then the home crowd witnessed the end to what may have been the most difficult drought to watch at Allianz Field.

Miguel Ibarra – the fan favorite winger who returned to Minnesota after a spell in LigaMX to be one of the handful of NASL Loons to make the jump to MLS – had scored but a single goal all season. Despite numerous possibilities, the final ball just hadn’t materialized for Batman at Allianz Field. In the 62’, he fixed that, right in front of the Wonderwall, the fans who’d dubbed him Batman half a decade ago.

As the Wonderwall celebrated the milestone – sadly without smoke, just the latest example of Minnesota fans under-budgeting goal-related expenses – Heath made his fitness management subs, beginning the preparations for Saturday’s pivotal conference matchup against FC Dallas. Rodriguez made way for Mason Toye, Chase Gasper for Eric Miller, like-for-like changes. Ethan Finlay replaced Quintero 10 minutes later.

The remainder of the match saw plenty of runs from both sides, but the Loons sealed the deal and paid their visitors the respect of playing out the remaining minutes with a competitive edge and clean play despite the lopsided scoreline.

New Mexico played to the whistle, looking for a final goal to reward a couple hundred travelling supporters who sang for the full 90 minutes. With just 1 goal to Minnesota’s 6, New Mexico United – players and fans alike – left the tournament with their heads held high.

While Heath and his staff prep the players to face Dallas, the Front Office and stadium staff have some work to do, as well. As delightful as the last few weeks of goals have been, Allianz Field has experienced a few hiccups that left fans with a bitter taste in their mouths. With only lower-bowl tickets available for Wednesday’s semifinal, fewer security gates were opened for fan entry and screening began just 60 minutes prior to kickoff, rather than 90.

Hundreds of fans, some of them still frustrated over staffing and streaming issues during the USWNT Brew Hall watch party on Sunday, were still lined up around the stadium after kickoff. Tweets abound showing fans spending extra time up close and personal with the ‘UNITED’ statue at the southwest corner and the granite bench-barriers on the north lawn.

CEO Chris Wright – who could be heard in the press box, not long before the opening goal, triaging the logistical issues on his cell phone before meeting up with stadium staff downstairs – issued a statement on Thursday addressing both incidents and urging patience and cooperation as the club, and fans alike, adjust to their new home.

After a few more pivotal weeks of league play, MN United and Allianz Field will face their next big test on Wednesday, August 7, when they host Portland Timbers for the US Open Cup semifinal. But first, league play.

The Loons face Western Conference foes FC Dallas on Saturday, July 13, at 7 PM CST.

Featured image: @MNUFC

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A Goal Epiphany: MNUFC Sees The Other Side Of A Goal Windfall

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

Saturday, June 29: 7-1 win

Starting XI: Vito Mannone, Chase Gasper, Michael Boxall, Ike Opara, Hassani Dotson, Osvaldo Alonso (Lawrence Olum 70′), Jan Gregus, Miguel Ibarra, Darwin Quintero (Kevin Molino 61′), Ethan Finlay, Angelo Rodriguez (Mason Toye 62′)

Minnesota United FC have struggled to find the back of the net this season, winning low-scoring games and losing on the back of a stale attack. Any Minnesota sports fan will tell you not to count on a shaky expansion side like FC Cincinnati to pad your goal average, but just 30 minutes into the match everyone in blue and orange was sweating and not just because of the 95 degree heat index.

Sure, scoring 4 goals in 45 minutes is less impressive when it comes against a squad depleted of internationals, players the club relies on to stave off overwhelming defeat. Scoring 7 in 90 minutes against said club… Well, that’s not expected from a club that used to be that club.

Despite a low 38% share of overall possession, Minnesota United pulled out a 7-1 win over the newest expansion club, with 6 different Loons making the score sheet and 2 forwards sharing in the spoils.

For the first time in a long time (or ever) Adrian Heath’s go-to slogan, “Goals change games,” was a positive reflection of his squad’s performance. With a trio of first half goals sinking Cincy’s possession-based momentum. True to recent form, backfield players were credited with those goals, continuing the Loons’ offensive drought.

All 4 were beautiful goals, but the most impressive perhaps came from rookie Hassani Dotson. Cal Williams, calling the nationally televised game for a local radio audience on SKOR North, called it “a pure Minnesota Black-and-Blue belter.”

Cincinnati came out of the locker room after halftime primed to slow Minnesota’s momentum. They made one substitute at the break, taking advantage of a lopsided 3-0 scoreline to give midfielder Tommy McCabe his MLS debut before the regulars return from international duty. It wasn’t long before their quick movements bore fruit. Midfielder Emmanuel Ledesma was able to slot a quick shot past Vito Mannone to put the visitors on the board in the 56th minute.

Typically, conceding an early goal is enough to damper any offensive moves from the Loons. Cue another Heath standby: “I said to the players at half the first 15 minutes will dictate the other 30. Which it does. Because we conceded a sloppy goal. You know, there’s no way we can dress that up because it was a poor goal to concede.” Indeed. But Saturday was far from typical, as Heath added, “The response from that was terrific.”

Unbelievable and beautiful were just some of the words heard around in the press box and on the broadcasts to describe the Loons’ second half offensive renewal. Following a 70th minute brace from Opara, Mason Toye finally scored his first goal for the club in MLS competition in the 75th minute.

I’ve been trying to score goals since I got here. It’s been a bit of a roller coaster for me, a bit of a mental game. I’ve just been trying to work hard and I’ve heard the goals will come. So, it feels really good that my hard work is paying off.

Twelve minutes later, he added an assist as Kevin Molino, fresh off of a Gold Cup stunner for Trinidad & Tobago, poked his way into the box to put the final nail in the coffin.

It was a true team effort. Defensive mid Jan Gregus, back from Slovakia national duty, tallied a gentleman’s hat trick, assisting Dotson, Opara and Toye. Darwin Quintero marked 2 assists and very nearly made a couple goals of his own. Rookie Chase Gasper made his first career start and stood tall for a full 90 minutes on the left flank.

Midfielder Miguel Ibarra still had energy to burn in the waning minutes of the game, sprinting the full length of the pitch as if the Loons were down a goal rather than up by 6. Opara stunned his Cincinnati counterparts with his first career brace.

FC Cincinnati’s defenders look on helplessly as Ike Opara heads in his second goal of the match in the 70th minute. Photo by Louis Livingston-Garcia

“Sporting Kansas City didn’t want to win,” people said after the Loons’ Fourth Round Open Cup victory. “Houston wasn’t at their best,” they said after the Round of 16. “It’s only Cincinnati” was a justifiable reaction after the first half. Seven goals. Six, beautiful, perfect strikes – and one off of Opara’s… thigh? This match wasn’t ‘just’ anything in any way, shape or form. 

Goals change games. Goals also change mentality, spirit, drive, confidence. Goals change hearts and minds. Goals from those who were brought in to score them and score them often earns trust. Goals from players not thought of as ‘strikers’ in any sense earns respect. Goals are what fans at Allianz Field and dozens of travelling supporters should have been witness to from Day 1 of the 2019 season.

On Saturday, 19,778 fans witnessed goals galore. “Downright bizarre,” said Williams. Downright glorious. And the Loons go marching on – to two matches that will set the tone for the rest of their season.

MN United FC hosts fellow Western Conference playoff contenders San Jose Earthquakes before a cross-conference trip to Montreal Impact on Saturday.

Featured image: Louis Livingston-Garcia // @LouisGarcia12

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Dylan Wolpers: MNUFC Legend… From Houston

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

On Tuesday, June 18, Minnesota United FC will travel to Texas for a U.S. Open Cup Round of 16 matchup against Houston Dynamo for the second year in a row.

Last year, the lucky few fans who could find watchable livestreams of the same fifth round pairing witnessed a glitch in the second half. Their feeds froze on a shot of Houston’s video board where a special announcement was displayed. As Minnesota fans listened to the broadcasters drone on about a poor match – which presumably continued unchanged whilst the cameras were focused elsewhere – they took to social media to comment on a moment – and a man – which would become part of the fabric of MNUFC’s supporter culture.

As you prepare for Tuesday’s edition of the Dylan Wolpers Derby, just weeks after its debut at Allianz Field, you may be wondering, Who exactly is this Dylan Wolpers guy? And why do we celebrate his birthday every time these two clubs face off? Why was Bridget wearing a party hat all night that one time she watched a match from the Wonderwall this season?

Questions asked, questions answered. Introducing the man himself, Dylan Wolpers (and girlfriend/Twitter intermediary for this Q&A, Veronica Stark):

How long have you been a fan of Dynamo? Are you a casual fan or a hard core supporter?

I have been a Dynamo fan since Day 1! My Dad has purchased season tickets for us since the inaugural year (2006). So you can definitely say I’m a diehard fan and supporter.

What was your reaction to the social media response after your in-stadium birthday announcement? How do you feel about the ongoing attention?

I didn’t know exactly what had happened. We did our usual post-game ritual of getting tacos. When I arrived at the restaurant, my brother and his friend asked me if I had seen Reddit and told me to check it out. When I saw it I just laughed and didn’t think anything would come of it. We just thought it was funny, at that point everyone was basically posting “Who (tf) is Dylan Wolpers and why do I care if it’s his B-day?” I find it hysterical that the fans have really just taken and keep having fun with it. The attention I’m getting has basically become a new form of entertainment. It definitely keeps me laughing.

Is it exciting to have a derby named after you or are you over it?

Are you kidding? I LOVE having a derby named after me! I don’t think I will ever be “over it”, it’s now become something I look forward to. I know that every time we play MNUFC it will be a blast!

Before the last match, when Houston visited Allianz for the first time, Dynamo tweeted a pic of a jersey with your name on it hanging alongside the kits of the Starting XI. Have you had more interactions with the club? Have you discussed naming rights for what is now known as the ‘Dylan Wolpers Derby’?

We have a friend that works with the Dynamo media team. He had shown the director/crew the social media frenzy behind the joke. They thought it was amazing and came up with ideas. I really didn’t know much outside of that. My friend just said look at Twitter and Instagram on gameday. Naming rights have not been discussed, however, my girlfriend’s mom keeps telling me that I should get my name trademarked. Haha! I don’t think it’s really THAT big for me to be concerned. It’s all good fun!

You have a lot of friends in MN who’ve offered their couches and guest rooms if you travelled for a match: Are there any plans in the works, for Dynamo games or otherwise?

Traveling has been something that we have definitely looked into. I just don’t know when. I do appreciate all of the offers, but I do have relatives that live in St Cloud [an 80 minute drive up I-94 from Allianz Field] if I needed to stay. So it is gonna happen, I just don’t know when.

For those fans who may not have seen USOC livestream and are wondering, “Who is this Dylan Wolpers guy?”, what do you want them to know about you?

Um, wow, I don’t even know how to answer that. I am just a huge fan of the game. I eat, sleep, breathe soccer. I just got lucky to get a couple minutes of fame.

[To Stark]: Did he feel bullied into joining Twitter or was his Derby Day debut in the plans?

He said, “I wanted to have more of a direct form of communication instead of my gf’s Twitter being blown up, not that she minds.” I say, he was bullied in the best way possible.


Wolpers joined Twitter shortly before Houston visited Allianz on May 25, just in time to enjoy renewed fame ignited by a banner held by new Wonderwall SG, Glitteratti. The sign was photographer Tim McLaughlin’s idea:

“I asked a few friends if they thought the idea was funny and they said yes, so I went with it,” McLaughlin said. “The day before the game I sent a friend a message making sure they were still willing to display it and they said, ‘Wait, that’s too big. That’s considered a tifo and we need to get it approved through the Wonderwall and someone working for the team.’ At this point I was telling them that it’s a hassle and not to worry about it, but they got party hats and hyped it up and made it way more fun.”

Photo (and banner] by Tim McLaughlin

It was way more fun for the Wonderwall anyway. For Dylan – Well…

Whether Dylan and his Dynamo can get redemption against the Loons early remains to be seen. But one thing is for sure: The U.S. Open Cup is helping MLS supporters keep soccer weird.

Happy Birthday, Dylan Wolpers! Again.

Featured image: @HoustonDynamo

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MNUFC Continues Consistent Inconsistent Streak

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

Wednesday, May 29: 0-3 loss | Sunday, June 2: 3-2 loss

After the exhilarating home win last weekend, the Loons traveled to Atlanta to face their expansion rivals in a midweek match, then turned tail to host Philadelphia Union at home. Through the two matches, Minnesota’s defensive streak came to a screeching halt. Would their attack rise to counterbalance?

It nearly happened in Atlanta, but the best chance came from a much contested play, when Brad Guzan’s goal line save appeared to be a goal from one angle.

There was just enough reasonable doubt that many Loons fans expected a VAR call and were frustrated when it didn’t come. Had it happened, the call would not have changed, but not using VAR on a possible equalizing play is a bit confusing, but that’s another story. Josef Martinez got his mojo back and Atlanta went on to win 3-0. The Loons turned around to prepare for a Doop duel.

As opposed to a number of previous matches when, even after a win, Heath would criticize a handful of players for poor performances, he sang their praises on Sunday afternoon, refusing to address any mistakes or poor quality.

Even in the face of a league-high shots tally (29!), Heath refused to discuss the elephant in the room – his strikers’ failure to finish when putting up all those shots: “A little higher percentage of [goals to shots] we would’ve been, probably, clear. But I’m not going to let that mask what was an outstanding performance on top of the shift that the guys did on Wednesday in Atlanta.”

Instead, he put Sunday’s loss down to fantastic “last-ditch defending” by Philadelphia and their “very, very good – shall we say, professional” ability to go to ground cheaply and stay there. The latter was certainly a factor, earning deafening boos from the Wonderwall, but the former was made easy by some poor finishing from Minnesota’s attackers.

Rookie defender Hassani Dotson, who scored the first equalizer on his first ever MLS career shot, was asked by media if he would do anything to commemorate his first goal: “It was a nice moment, but it doesn’t feel good because we lost.” He did add, however, “Everyone put in a good shift and we were unlucky to not get three points.”

The players, especially defenders, were disappointed. Brent Kallman, involved in Philadelphia’s third goals, said: “I was looking around, I was kind of – we didn’t have many numbers at the back post, we had no guys there. So I stayed on the spot. The ball came in and I kind of got frozen[…] If I keep my feet moving, then I can attack and and it’s not a problem […] It’s obviously one I’d like to have back.”

That self-criticism and drive is one reason Minnesota fans like that hometown boy. Another is his honesty about his teammates. Kallman had words for Dotson on a few occasions, when he didn’t feel enough support from the left back, but he also had some feelings about the Loons’ attack when questioned on their shot total:

“We got to be better going to goal. I mean, when you have enough quality, you know where the defenders are, you know where they’re going to put their legs. You miss that on purpose, so we [defenders] push for it. Those point guys were flying around, but we just have to finish our chances.”

Hassani’s goal was a byproduct of the attackers quitting on the play. The body language before Dotson strikes is telling:

While their coach looked at the big picture, for once, the players are stuck thinking of moments. Wishing they had reacted a little differently here or could have done more to make a play matter there. So many numbers that should have added up to something – a gutsy draw, a gritty win – fluttered away and left Minnesota with zero points earned on a two-match week.

Improvements to be made

Defense: Clean and tough. Minnesota has become a defensive team rather than a ‘let’s score one more than we concede’ team. Communication among the back three/four has dramatically improved thanks to veteran additions and their 90 minute stamina is bolstered by the youthful legs and workhorses, but conceding free kicks in dangerous areas and giving up unnecessary penalty kicks have proven costly.

Midfield: Passing and possession. These are the Loons’ Achilles heel. Philadelphia turned into a turnover battle more than once and there was no strength there in Atlanta on Wednesday. Minnesota needs to find a way to connect their improving defense with the floundering attack to see any overall improvement.

Attack: Finishing. Even when the Loons do finally get the ball into the final third where the strikers can take a shot, those same strikers who saved many a match over the last couple seasons are having trouble finishing the job now. Rodriguez is often slow on the final touch; Abu Danladi isn’t strong enough to muscle past defenders and maintain the ball; and Quintero seems to have lost his confidence, missing simple shots and quitting on the play.

Playing roles in both losses were: Officials, solid opposing defense and Minnesota defensive mishaps. What’s the best way to counter those factors?

An attack capable of scoring goals with – shall we say – consistency? Perhaps with the same consistency with which MNUFC recognizes and celebrates Pride – but that’s, again, another story.

COYL

Featured image: @MNUFC

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MN United follow Road Loss with Six Points and New Identity at Home

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

May 11 at Chicago Fire: 2-0 loss, May 18 v Columbus Crew: 1-0 win, May 22 v Hertha Berlin (friendly): 0-1 loss, May 25 v Houston Dynamo: 1-0 win

Minnesota United FC put up a pathetic showing in Bridgeview on Saturday, May 11, just days after offloading their left back and perennial captain on the Fire. If they had hoped to prove that night that they could live without Francisco Calvo, they failed to do so.

One moment encapsulates those dismal 95 minutes – and the two seasons of road woes the Loons thought were in the past – and it involves two big names in the United story: Darwin Quintero, the Loons’ best hope for goal opportunities, and the ousted captain, Calvo.

Quintero, making a lonely run toward goal, dribbled the ball right into Calvo who hardly had to move his feet to dispossess his former teammate and direct the ball out of Fire’s third. That was about as close as the Loons got to a goal. Even Callum Williams, whose optimism lightens most matches, had nothing to say about this one:

Thankfully, the next three matches, including a poorly timed friendly against Hertha Berlin, would be played in front of the Wonderwall. Admittedly, I haven’t watched the Crew match in its entirety: I caught the condensed version after following the live scores from Minnesota’s North Shore.

The fact that the Loons’ scored first after trading shots with the Crew for 70 minutes was not a surprise – with 19 shots to Crew’s 4, it was bound to happen for the home side. However, the play which created it was.

Jan Gregus‘ short corner found Quintero who passed it to Romain Metanire at the top of the third. The right back appeared to be looking for a lurking striker. Instead, his ball to the far post was met by centerback Brent Kallman whose diving header found Ethan Finlay. The former Crew midfielder buried the ball and remained subdued while Loons jumped on top of him in celebration. His strike and a clean sheet from the Loons’ defense secured three points at home.

Hosting a Wednesday night friendly between two Saturday matches was not an ideal situation, but it was an opportunity for Minnesota to let some rookies shine in a match with no conference table consequences. Hertha Berlin of the Bundesliga opened their first US tour with a win at the newest member of their Allianz stadium family.

Though it was his error which led to Hertha’s lone goal, when he knocked an attempted ball right into the path of Peter Pekarik for the rebound, keeper Dayne St Claire, MNUFC’s 2019 Super Draft pick, made some huge saves and proved that he is worthy of some MLS minutes.

St Clair’s fellow loanee, forward Mason Toye, showed growth and composure Wednesday night despite failing to find the back of the net. (If the Dark Clouds had a Charity Over-the-Crossbar Club in addition to the Charity Card Club, I would have gone broke this week.) The 2018 draftee showed he’s capable of finding open space and taking up positions that are most likely to move the ball forward.

The best rookie performance came from midfielder Hassani Dotson. He so impressed the coaching staff that they selected him to make his MLS debut in the Starting XI on Saturday’s match against Houston Dynamo, out of position no less.

With winger Kevin Molino forced to rest ahead of international duty after taking a knock in the friendly, Miguel Ibarra was moved up from the left back role he’d taken after Calvo’s departure. Dotson filled that spot with a confidence that reassured even the most cynical Loons fans.

After some opening-minutes jitters, Dotson made some ice-cold stops against a stout Houston side, partnering well with Brent Kallman, who himself displayed an almost indifferent composure for the full 90 minutes. With those two on the left and Metanire and Michael Boxall on the right, the United defense controlled this game. Previously the Achilles’ heel of a club struggling to find an identity, the defense was stalwart in its own third while also leading the attack.

Metanire, whose 5 assists include 2 game winners, got the lone goal of the night on what was intended to be another assist. Cal Williams may be the only person more surprised than Metanire himself. Listen here:

For a team whose midfield and defensive troubles have dominated headlines since entering MLS, this shift to midfield and defensive dominance is refreshing. Constant communication, accountability, and teamwork has created much-needed chemistry both on and off the pitch. When the veterans are dialed in and happy, the rookies thrive. If Minnesota’s forwards can just start sending the ball into the net instead of over the crossbar, United could be a fearsome foe both home and away.

The Loons face a huge challenge on Wednesday in Atlanta without assist-leader/defender Metanire (yellow card accumulation). Who gets the next chance to shine?

COYL

Featured image: @MNUFC

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What’s A Point Between Friends: MNUFC Welcomes Seattle

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

Minnesota United’s freshly minted full-time captain, Osvaldo “Ozzie” Alonso, faced off against his former club on a beautiful Saturday evening in St. Paul. It was a great night for soccer, a great night for friends, a great night for a game which no one would lose.

There were plenty of story lines surrounding Seattle’s first trip to Allianz Field – the Sounders’ shallow bench, Roldan’s rescinded red card, Calvo’s move to Chicago, the Loon’s new-look defense – but none were quite as prevalent as Ozzie’s new role in the Black & Blue. The Honey Badger made his presence known for the full ninety minutes, playing a safe game but not doing any favors for his former teammates.

The former Sounder took a few long shots toward goal which, despite finding the hands of Stefan Frei every time, lit a fire under his new squad to open the scoring and give their captain the win. It was fairly obvious early on that a cross into the box would not be the answer (It never is, guys. It never is.) so what were the chances that a set-piece would solve the Sounders? Unfortunately for poor Ike Opara‘s head, pretty darn good:

Unfortunately, Seattle pulled level before halftime when Cristian Roldan unleashed a rocket that somehow wound its way through five Loons and just out of reach of Vito Mannone.

No arguments from anyone on that ball. Beautiful.

Both teams emerged from the locker room with all pistons firing. Midfielders Miguel Ibarra, Ethan Finlay and Rasmus Schuller, and lone striker Angelo Rodriguez, all made memorable runs and give-and-go plays. Miguel and Ethan, especially, were out to prove their worth on the wings, from box to box. Heath’s substitutions threw more bodies forward (Romario Ibarra for Finlay and Darwin Quintero for Schuller) and the go-ahead goal looked imminent throughout the final twenty minutes.

But the same can be said for the Sounders. The second half was just as level as the first and when the final whistle blew two exhausted squads met at midfield to shake hands.

Sealing the shared point with handshakes and hugs. Image: Bridget McDowell

For the club that has struggled to fill the gap left by el corazon, it was a satisfactory road trip. For a club that has struggled the last couple years to maintain an even keel, let alone a competitive edge, for a full ninety minutes, it was a point well-earned by a club finally building an identity.

“I don’t think it’s a story between two players in this game specifically,” said Roldan. “I think it was two teams higher up in the western conference side competing out there, but anytime you play against Ozzie you need a little bit of grit because you know he’s going to bring it.”

That is what Minnesota United has brought in this season: Grit and determination to tease that extra edge out of the club’s existing core. It’s been exciting, but there’s still work to do: “I think we played really good, a little disappointed for the result because I wanted the three points but it is what it is,” Alonso said. “You have to keep going now.”

On the Loons go, to Calvo’s Chicago on Saturday, May 11.

Featured image: @MNUFC

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