All posts by Bridget McDowell

Graduated from Bethany Lutheran College (Mankato, MN) in 2012 with a B.A. in English. Proud MNUFC fan and Dark Cloud, self-professed soccer junkie and avid kayaker. If something fun is happening outside, I'll probably be there.

Loons Reveal Secondary Kit, Primary Keeper

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

In the middle of the messiest snowstorm of the year (so far), MNUFC took over the Mall of America rotunda for what is often the most exciting part of the preseason: the kit reveal.

I had planned to be there to hear the fan reactions to the new design, but had to turn around after just five sketchy miles of freeway driving. While I waited in a checkout line with 100 pounds of tube sand to balance my car on my Monday morning commute, a quick peek at Twitter replaced the sound bytes I had hoped for: Meh.

The 2019 away kit is appropriately called the Drift Kit:

*For those of you who don’t follow winter sports, the Xcel Energy Center is home to the Minnesota Wild hockey team.*

Fans seem to be fed up with the Adidas templates that are sweeping the league and Minnesota United fans, still accustomed to the individualistic lower league designs of yore, are certainly no different. But, I’m going to put a positive spin on these icy whites.

The Loons are poised for an improved away performance this year that will put the design in perspective: The shirt is simply a template in which the Loons will build a road team identity. And if they don’t…

Maybe Clorox Bleach will replace Target as shirt sponsor.

The keeper kits are a tad more interesting, even more so given who walked out in one.

Italian keeper Vito Mannone has joined MNUFC on a one year loan from English Championship side Reading FC. He comes to MLS with Premier League experience, including seven seasons at Arsenal. Mannone is set to take the top spot between the sticks, demoting Bobby Shuttleworth (who, to my knowledge, was not seen at the kit reveal) to the bench.

When the Mannone rumors first started, I was not convinced he was the upgrade that Adrian Heath & Co were so openly shopping for. After some comparison between Mannone and Shuttleworth’s stats though, I’m a little more comfortable with this game plan. Based on numbers reported by Transfermarkt, Mannone averaged 62.5 minutes between goals conceded over the 2017/18 season, while Shuttleworth averaged 47.3 minutes in 2017 and 44.1 in 2018.

These certainly aren’t the definitive stats to go by, but Mannone, combined with the D-line upgrades made in January, indeed appears to be an improvement.

New looks abound in the North. Come. On. You. Loons.

Featured image: @MNUFC

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

MNUFC’s pivotal year three spending spree

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

With preseason matches kicking off this week, it is time for that deep dive I’ve been teasing. This will, unfortunately, be a low dive, but I’m sure the next few weeks will give us plenty of material to build on. After all, I believe there’s still some TAM, GAM and JAM (or is it jelly?) in the coffers, ripe for spending.

We’ve had enough Twitter. This one is all words. Ready, Loons? Dive.

Minnesota United is making strides in rebuilding one of its weakest links on the pitch ahead of the club’s third MLS season, with nine additions to the backfield: Osvaldo “Ozzie” Alonso, Jan Gregus, Chase Gasper, Hassani Dotson, Dayne St Clair, Romain Metanire, Mitchell Osmond, Kevin Rodriguez and, most recently, Ike Opara.

Of the five expected to immediately compete for starting roles, only two (Metanire and Opara) are true defenders, but doubling down on the defensive midfielders certainly isn’t a bad thing for this club.

In 2017 and 2018, compounding on the issue of the Loons’ leaky defense was a discombobulated midfield that struggled to move the ball into the final third and struggled even more to maintain possession in their own half, meaning the defense was nearly always on their back foot before they came face-to-face with the opposition’s attack. Adrian Heath’s experimentation with the 3-5-2 sparked hope, but like a line of dominoes, no matter the formation, one mistake would lead to total collapse.

So United needs to get back to the basics. Defensive stalwarts like Opara and Alonso will provide a solid backbone to a successful transition. Both would operate well in either the 4-2-3-1 or the 3-5-2. I would pair Opara with Michael Boxall in a four-man backline, with Calvo and Metanire to their left and right, respectively. In a three-man backline, I see Wyatt Omsberg (or Gasper?) on Opara’s left and Kallman on his right.

There are too many variables for me to lay out the midfield, but in either formation I want Alonso and Jan Gregus orchestrating with Rasmus Schuller and Miguel Ibarra anchoring the wings.

The varied experience brought by Alonso and Opara counteract many of the negatives cited (over and over and over) on Minnesota Soccer Twitter. These are two MLS veterans with hefty postseason resumes, not just grainy highlight videos from another league. Their composure and leadership will balance the youthful inexperience of the fresh legs around them and give the other Minnesota mainstays (i.e. Calvo and Kallman) more favorable conditions to rise to their potential consistently. And I have a feeling that consistency will be the buzzword this season.

Yes, we need depth. Yes, we need more starters. Yes, we need to score goals, too. But when the Loons’ receive their credit statement for the past month, the transaction history will, for the first time since the club’s promotion, hint at forward progress in the building of a team with playoff hopes.

Is the third time the charm? Either way…. [Insert photo of shiny, new stadium here.]

COYL

Featured image: @MNUFC

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

All[ianz] is bright

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

I know I teased a deep dive into a formational rabbit hole in this first piece of 2019, but then Minnesota United FC had a busy SuperDraft first round and I changed my plans. This will instead be a shallow dive into a very deep pool of my thoughts on Minnesota’s 2019 newcomers.

Following a disappointing sophomore season in which the Loons’ overall performance could not quite outshine their horrendous freshman year (they picked up one more W in 2018 than in ‘17, but shipped one more goal, finishing with 71 against, compared to 70 in ‘17), everyone expected – or, rather, hoped – to see Minnesota’s front office make immediate strides toward shoring up their defense and pulling together the stray threads in the midfield. Instead, they jettisoned many of 2018’s signings and then… Darkness. Silence.

Well, not exactly dark. Nor silent.

Oh! And this:

Jan Gregus was announced as a DP No 6. Unfortunately, it’s pronounced like Grey Goosh, not Grey Goose. And, he’s not a No 6. While Gregus was occasionally shifted into the center-back role with his last side, FC Copenhagen, and the Slovakian international team, he usually played more of a center mid or right-wing role.

But that’s okay. Minnesota found themselves a real, true, bonafide, known-entity Number 6. (Yes, that’s a transition, but don’t worry; wings will feature heavily in the true deep dive.)

In a rare transfer-rumor-comes-true moment, Minnesota brought aboard a Seattle Sounders original: captain and center back Osvaldo “Ozzie” Alonso. This is one of few signings in United’s MLS era that makes perfect, immediate sense.

The Honey Badger not only fills a position of need but also brings 10 years of MLS experience to a side still searching for an identity. That resume and his history of playing (thriving even) through pain are nearly enough to overlook the fact that he is not the youthful puzzle piece that the Loons sorely need for league longevity, but his leadership may be more important.

On Friday, January 11, the club made three picks who all look set to join the fight for a place with the club, whether that role is off the bench in 2019 or on loan to train for the future. The two brightest prospects come with chemistry. Goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair and defender Chase Gasper, picked seventh and fifteenth respectively, played together for the Maryland Terrapins, the 2018 NCAA Champions.

St. Clair adds depth between the sticks, where Shuttleworth was the only rostered player going into the draft. Ideally, he’d be the second backup by opening night, but if the reports about his distribution style are true, St. Clair will be an intriguing addition to the lineup. And do you see how excited his roommate, Gasper, is in this interview?

That’s how excited I am to see the young fullback training next to Ozzie. This is a player who will buy into a system and develop quickly. We can only hope the aforementioned system is an effective one. There is lethal potential to a backfield with options like Alonso, Kallman, Calvo, Boxall, Gregus and Gasper.

United also picked up Oregon State midfielder, Hassani Dotson, with the fifteenth pick. Dotson is in the Potential Pool: If United hangs onto him into the regular season, he’s bound to be on loan to Forward Madison SC to hone his craft before being plugged into the Loons’ midfield.

How that midfield comes together in the preseason will be the biggest indicator of the season to come. Yes, the defense needs work, the forwards need to score; but defense starts up top. A composed midfield would make the Loons competitive. Those inside puzzle pieces are still floating aimlessly across the field.

So stock up on whiskey (or Grey Goose) and stay tuned for a deep dive into a jigsaw puzzle.

Featured image: @MNUFC

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

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MNUFC faces ever-growing faultline

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

Saturday, May 12: 1-3 Loss

Going into Week 11, San Jose Earthquakes had notched just one win. That was way back on opening night, when they hosted Minnesota United. That night, the Loons started a disturbing trend of going two goals in the hole before halftime. They would give up one more in the second half before Minnesota midfielder Kevin Molino got two back to make the stats recorded under the loss look slightly less depressing.

This time around, Superman himself returned to the lineup after two matches off. A good sign in itself. Then the Loons gave up a penalty kick in the second minute.

Minnesota conceded all possession to the Quakes for the first twenty minutes, allowing themselves to be dispossessed much too easily, failing to carry the ball out of their own half over and over and over again.

Until a pass finally found the right foot of Superman in the 26th minute. And wasn’t it pretty?

He nearly added a brace in the 41st. It would’ve counted in FIFA, but in real life, it dinged the crossbar and was cleared. Defender Jerome Thiesson nearly scored in the first half’s injury time (that one wouldn’t have counted in FIFA), but they went to the locker room deadlocked.

In keeping with debut trends, making his MLS debut this day was referee Victor Rives. And what a performance it was. No one in the black and gray was happy with him after the match, least of all Adrian Heath and Francisco Calvo, especially after this play:

It wasn’t all Rives’ fault though. Sure, some calls (or the lack thereof) were debatable, but Minnesota had plenty of opportunities to take control. Instead, they forgot to put the cap back on the Hoesensauce bottle and paid dearly for their mistake. A lurking Danny Hoesen was assisted by Chris Wondolowski in what may have been the most easily poached goal allowed this season. And open-air TCF Bank Stadium seemingly deflated.

Wondo notched another on a penalty. And so the Loons dropped another perfectly winnable game to the least-winningest team in the west.

You can point to as many mistakes as you want and Calvo knows you will:

“If you want to point at me, point at me. I’ve been playing as a pro eight years. So, I know what this pressure is. So, if you want to say Calvo is doing mistakes, Calvo is not playing well, you can say whatever you want. But we are 11 on the field. Alright? So, if you want to talk, talk about the team. Don’t talk about me or any of my teammates.”

But the bottom line is this: If United can’t find a way to link their play from one end of the pitch to the other – for all eleven to work the same game plan, to play with the same energy and focus during the same match – they will have much bigger problems than San Jose.

And so it goes in the North.

Featured image: Bridget McDowell

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

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Loons and the Law of Averages

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

Wednesday, May 9: 2-0 Loss

With two forwards injured and one serving a red card suspension, there were a lot of questions surrounding Minnesota United FC‘s midweek clash at LAFC. While Chris Ramirez is the lone forward with a goal, accounting for just one of the club’s eleven, the concern over getting a result had more to do with how the midfield would piece together with no true forwards in front.

Mids ran the show Wednesday. While they account for the other ten goals, five were made by players no longer on the active roster (one by Nicholson who was traded to Colorado Rapids last week and two each for Molino and Finlay, both out for the season with ACL tears) and two were made by Ibson, who Adrian Heath chose to rest for Saturday’s match against San Jose Earthquakes.

Designated Player Darwin Quintero has accounted for two goals and Miguel Ibarra for one (plus three game-winning assists), but could they function as a ‘forward’ unit?

They certainly tried. Unfortunately, Quintero’s best chance was foiled by the goal post and Ibarra’s two shots on goal were blocked. LAFC had similar run-ins with a goal post, last-second flicks and a keeper with quick hands, but the new club had two key factors on their side Wednesday night: The Law of Averages and defensive placement.

Minnesota had three beautiful shots on goal, out of seven total shots, from five different players.

LA had seven shots on goal. Out of… 29 total shots?! 29 shots from ten different players. Yes, in oversimplified terms, everyone but the keeper sent at least one shot into the box on Wednesday night. So it is actually quite remarkable that they only managed to put two in the net.

The home side also had the advantage of a defensive line, led by Laurent Ciman, which was always in the right place, at the right time, whereas Minnesota’s back four… wasn’t. Captain Francisco Calvo, in fact, found himself out of position a few too many times. His partner, Michael Boxall, who is not typically a fan favorite actually drew praise from Calvo’s fan club defectors who enjoyed the effect of his wall-like frame:

So while dropping three points on the road is far from ideal, the 2-0 scoreline really isn’t so bad. The Loons, hopefully joined by a healthy Ramirez, a rested Ibson and a refocused backline, will be welcomed home on Saturday by fans who have come to not expect much from road games.

But they expect a bit more at home. Namely, for the keeper to not be Man of the Match.

Featured image: @MNUFC

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

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MNUFC’s Ten-Man Wonderwall

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

Saturday, May 5: 1-0 Win

The Loons have had their share of ups and downs in 2018, just two months into the season, and Saturday’s match was no different. The early afternoon matchup against the Vancouver Whitecaps saw three players make their first starts for the club, a superhero get his first goal, a rookie get his first career red card and a 2017 stalwart get his (and the club’s) first clean sheet of the year.

It was a thriller of a game between a blue sky and baking turf. Minnesota United FC led in first-half possession but had little to show for it, managing just a couple shots to the Whitecaps’ eight. That said, the new-look front four led by rookie forward Mason Toye (first start, seventh appearance) and anchored by Miguel Ibarra, Darwin Quintero and Alexi Gomez (first start, second appearance) gave the fans plenty to cheer for.

There were some changes on the other side of the ball, too. Eric Miller, a Minnesota native acquired from Colorado earlier this week, got his first start in the back four. He left the match late with cramps (“I forgot how hot it gets here in the summer,” he said in the locker room), but made a solid impression when the Loons transitioned from the 4-2-3-1 to a 5-3-1 bunker.

That ten-man bunker was forced by the ejection of Mason Toye, who drew a red card when he elbowed his defender in the gut, forcing him to the ground in the box. After a pre-interview pep talk from Francisco Calvo, Toye called his first career red a “rookie mistake” and thanked his teammates for taking and maintaining a lead after his departure.

The Loons were left without a forward in Toye’s absence (Ramirez and Danladi still on the DL), but just minutes after the ejection, a cross in from Gomez found Ibarra, who has emulated the “next man up” mantra all season, lurking near the far post. After ‘Caps keeper Marinovic tipped the high-angle shot away, ‘Batman’ followed the ball and knocked in his own rebound for his first (onside) goal of the season.

Batman’s game-winner was heavily insured by United keeper Bobby Shuttleworth. The “Clean Sheet Shuttleworth” chant of late 2017 was revived for a stellar performance which saw Shuttleworth go, full-on acrobat, multiple times.

One of those blocks led to a rare display of MLS ingenuity when officials delayed the start of the second half so that a hole in the side netting of the west goal could be mended by a crew armed with white tape. Having punched a hole in the net in the first half, Shuttleworth kept up the trend in the second, punching his ticket to the Save of the Week highlight reel with a leaping save that drew roars from the crowd.

There were still eight minutes to play, plus stoppage time, but after that save, fans were already hearing ‘Wonderwall.’ For the second week in a row, the roller coaster came to a stop pointed uphill.

Here’s hoping a forward-free lineup stays the course against LAFC on Wednesday.

Featured image of the team walk out courtesy: Bridget McDowell

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

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