All posts by MLSFemale

MLSFemale is a group of knowledgeable soccer reporters. We bring you MLS from the female perspective.

The Loons, the bad and the ugly

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

It is high time to put the 2018 season to rest, but how about one more chorus of our favorite Simon & Garfunkel song before we go? Sing it with me:

“Hello Darkness, my old friend…”

Minnesota United FC finished 2018 tenth in the west with 36 points, just 5 more than the Colorado Rapids and 15 more than perennial bottom dwellers, San Jose Earthquakes. Seventy-one goals against is hardly an improvement over the Loons’ record-breaking freshman finish. However, Orlando City SC shipped three more than Minnesota this season. Feel better? No? Sorry, it’s all downhill from here.

I could nitpick all the negatives, but you and I have other things to accomplish this offseason than to rehash all of that.

Instead, here are my overall reflections and expectations, uninterrupted by clips and tweets because I know you all remember the blunders vividly.

[Lack of] Defense

MNUFC’s goals against stats will always be a black mark on the club’s first two years in MLS. A key issue in the backline, noted again and again by anyone who followed 2017’s performance, was the lack of a No. 6. So fans rejoiced the signing of Fernando Bob in August and saw glimpses of a decent future in the Loons’ final third. Unfortunately, the phrase ‘Not good, Bob’ took a turn from sarcasm to exasperation. The club declined to exercise options on the Brazilian and his countrymen, Ibson and Maximiano.

Brent Kallman, Michael Boxall and Francisco Calvo became mainstays on the backline, though Calvo’s primary role switched from centerback to left back upon his return from international duty, in place of injured Jerome Thiesson (also released at season’s end). It looks likely that the trio will remain intact going into 2019, but questions remain: Who will complete Heath‘s four-man backline and will they earn the respect El Capitan so often demanded? Between glimpses of brilliance and the great impressions of brick walls performed by both Boxall and Kallman, reinforcements will be desperately needed to staunch the bleeding.

And the young guys (Omsberg, Manley) if still on the roster, will need time to learn their role.

Discombobulated Midfield

While the front office spent much of the season blaming injuries to key midfielders Kevin Molino and Ethan Finlay for all their woes, the midfield at times showed significant improvement over last year with more consistency and drive. A new-and-improved Rasmus Schuller returned from loan to anchor the left and balance Ibson’s roaming efforts on the right, but the squad still frequently failed to connect with the attack and opened more holes for the already struggling defense to clean up.

The arrival of Darwin Quintero sparked more connections and possibilities in the final third, but you can only burn a candle from both ends for so long…  One DP caliber attacking mid is not a fix-all solution and Batman (Miguel Ibarra) can’t run all night, every night.

The club appears to be eliminating all the question marks (Ibson’s inconsistencies, Maximiano’s temper, Alexi Gomez‘s poor passing) by releasing their core midfield line-up to start fresh. This December is now a carbon copy of last winter: A roster heavy on the wings, with no clear identity. But, hey, DPs score goals! … Sometimes.

Strikers Striking Out

Just as Batman can’t run all night, Superman can’t shoot strong and true every time. Fan favorite, Christian Ramirez, had a poor start to the season and was not the clutch goal scorer longtime fans had come to know and love. With the midfield’s poor movement into the final third, the arrival of Quintero’s wicked speed and sticky feet unlocked Ramirez’s potential once again.

However, the attack continued to struggle and the FO announced a new signing. A veteran striker who could supposedly score when expected and take the Loons’ attack to new heights. At the expense of the heart of the club who also happened to be their most valuable trading card.

Ramirez was replaced by Angelo Rodriguez, the club’s second DP. Unfortunately, no matter how much you pay a guy, he can’t be expected to reproduce his highlight reel at every match. Rodriguez said himself, on multiple occasions, that he was ‘ashamed’ of his performance and his guilt over not meeting expectations was painfully obvious.

But he seems determined to get back to full fitness and a youthful production rate. And MNUFC is going all in, designing their attack around the veteran and the rookies, 2018 draft pick Mason Toye and 2017 draft pick Abu Danladi, both struggling to find their footing and maintain fitness in the big league.

In conclusion:

Remember when we all sang, “Hey – ho – the North is rising, rising up the table,” after the first 2018 home win? That was neat. Let’s carry that feeling through the offseason, just to balance out the #Panic. Someday we will sing it again. It could be a fluke, but it will echo through the Midway, if only for one night. Until then…

I recommend whiskey.

Featured image of Rodriguez and Quintero: @MNUFC

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

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Investing in Greatness: Atlanta United Wins the 2018 MLS Cup

Atlanta United Wins the MLS Cup 2-0 Over the Portland Timbers, Tata Martino Leaves MLS on Top, and a Perspective on the Future of American Soccer.

Sarah Kallassy - DC United/mlsfemale
Official MLSFemale Contributor

By Sarah Kallassy // @SarahKallassy

On Saturday Atlanta’s skies were grey and a chilly rain persistently pelted the city causing anyone in the streets to look for cover. It was not a beautiful day for a soccer match, but for Atlanta United and Portland Timbers supporters, the weather couldn’t dampen their enthusiasm.

Sarah Kallassy - MLS Cup/mlsfemale
Image: Sarah Kallassy

The Timbers Army began their MLS Cup day by planting trees at the Morningside Nature Preserve before their afternoon tailgate. Atlanta United supporters’ groups, such as Resurgence, gathered in the Gulch, pushing their way under an overpass to avoid the rain while they waited to enter Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

73,019 fans. A record-breaking number, attended the 2018 MLS Cup, rocking the multi-use Mercedes-Benz Stadium with soccer fervor.

Sarah Kallassy - MLS Cup/mlsfemale
Image: Sarah Kallassy

Before the match even began, the excitement inside the stadium was palpable and very, very, loud. It was definitely Atlanta United’s house, the crowd awash with black, red, and gold, broken only by the small contingent of the Timbers Army clad in forest green.

Tifo flags bearing Atlanta’s logo and statements such as, ‘bless your heart,’ waved amidst the ‘fireflies’ that lit the stands and conjured the image of a summer night in the heart of Georgia.

As the match began, the Portland Timbers hoped to recreate the magic of their 2015 MLS Cup victory over the Columbus Crew, while Atlanta United’s young team looked for a perfect end to their electrifying second season in MLS. The home team did not disappoint.

Early on in the match, it was clear that playing at home gave Atlanta a clear edge over the Timbers. Feeding off the energy coursing through their stadium, Atlanta continually denied Portland possession and chances on goal, keeping the pressure on during the first half.

Josef Martinez, the Venezuelan Striker who was named the 2018 MLS MVP, scored his 35th goal of the season in the 38th minute, putting Atlanta United ahead 1-0 right before halftime. Predictably, the fans at Mercedes-Benz Stadium went wild. Martinez’s performance during the match would lead him to be named MLS Cup MVP by the end of the night.

Portland made several attempts on goal throughout the game; however, Atlanta United goalie Brad Guzan kept the sheet clean. In the 42nd minute, a particularly dangerous shot by Timber’s striker Jeremy Ebobisse looked like it would see the back of Atlanta United’s net and tie the match before halftime. Atlanta’s fans seemed to hold their collective breath as the ball soared toward Guzan. Not to be bested, Guzan made the difficult save, and the Timbers Army, cloistered on the 300 level of the stadium would have to continue to hope that Portland would make it on the board.

The Portland Timbers emerged from the locker room for the second half with a renewed sense of urgency. They began to place more pressure on Atlanta, but it would be for naught. In the 53rd minute, Franco Escobar made a second goal for Atlanta United, giving the team a comfortable lead, 2-0 over Portland.

Sebastian Blanco, Diego Valeri, Alvas Powell, and Dairon Asprilla all tried to fire shots at Atlanta’s Guzan in the second half but were unable to send the ball into the net. Diego Chara of the Timbers and Chris McCann of Atlanta United were both issued yellow cards toward the end of the second half, but neither Atlanta nor Portland scored again.

Sarah Kallassy - MLS Cup/mlsfemale
Image: Sarah Kallassy

As the five minutes of stoppage time that referee Alan Kelly had added to the second half came to an end, the sense of anticipation and excitement in the stadium grew. When the clock hit 95 minutes, Atlanta, the city that hadn’t claimed a sports championship in over 20 years, had won the MLS Cup.

In the post-game press conference, Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese was predictably solemn, he said that both teams had put up, “a good fight.” He expressed his frustration with the officiating of the game and stressed that “for this final, for a final so important… I expected more. And I think, sometimes the little things are very important.” Savarese stressed that he did not wish to detract from the great performance of Atlanta United with his statement.

Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino, Atlanta United head coach, was of course jubilant. Doused in champagne after the traditional toast in the locker room, he stated that, “the club never modified their plan,” that was established in 2016 when he came on board as head coach. Martino said that “the most satisfying thing was to be able to fulfill all the plans the club presented to me at the beginning. I think we’ve got the best training facilities in the league, we’ve got the best team in the league… they give the coaching staff absolutely everything they need to be successful, and that’s what makes it the most satisfying.”

Sarah Kallassy - MLS Cup/mlsfemale
Image: Sarah Kallassy

While some may say that the stars aligned this season for Atlanta’s win, it seems rather that they positioned their own stars, aligning them through careful investment in the team, the facilities, and the staff. Both the Portland Timbers and Atlanta United played terrific soccer in the MLS Cup and their supporters should be proud, but Atlanta United proved a point on Saturday night about the future of American soccer; we will get out of it what we put in.

Featured image of Resurgence SG: Grant Russell

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @SarahKallassy

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

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And then there were 17…

Aaryn Vivian - Vancouver Whitecaps/mlsfemale
Official Vancouver Whitecaps Reporter

By Aaryn Vivian // @aarynvivian

The Vancouver Whitecaps first wave of roster moves under new manager Marc Dos Santos came this week as it was announced on Tuesday that options had been picked up on seven players, while another nine would be packing their bags and leaving Vancouver.

Among those picked up were striker Erik Hurtado, midfielders Nicolas Mezquida, David Norman Jr., and Yordy Reyna, defenders Doneil Henry and Brett Levis, and goalkeeper Sean Melvin.

The club will be bidding adieu to striker Myer Bevan, midfielders Marvin Emnes and Aly Ghazal, defenders Jose Aja, Roberto Dominguez, and Aaron Maund, and goalkeepers Stefan Marinovic and Spencer Richey

Last but certainly not least, the Whitecaps elected not to exercise the option on Brek “Public Enemy #1” Shea.  Shea faced harsh criticism during his time in Vancouver largely surrounding status as a designated player (DP) in 2017, his salary and the complete and utter lack of return on investment.  As the second highest paid Whitecaps player, Shea made 28 appearances and scored 3 goals during the 2018 season.  He struggled to stay healthy throughout his two seasons in Vancouver and was not a regular starter under former club manager Carl Robinson

The people of Vancouver have been rejoicing since the announcement that Brek was on his way out of town:

But there are many in the Twitter-verse who are hoping their teams pick up Shea in the offseason, including Minnesota United FC and his former clubs Orlando City FC and FC Dallas.  Only time will tell if he lands back in the MLS but if Vancouver has any advice at all to offer the other teams in the league: Check yourself before you Brek yourself.

Featured image of Marc Dos Santos: @WhitecapsFC

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @aarynvivian

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

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Finding a New ‘Home’ in DC

Sarah Kallassy - DC United/mlsfemale
Official DC United Reporter

By Sarah Kallassy // @SarahKallassy

Soccer has the power to transcend differences and create a vibrant community. This is just one of many reasons I am a DC United fan.

The DC Metro area is one of the most diverse in the nation, with 29% of residents speaking a language that is not English. We come from all over the country and the world to work and live here. Some of us were born and raised here.  None of that matters when DC United takes the pitch though. Our differences fall away as we enter the stadium, where we are only soccer fans.

When I first moved to the DC area, I had just finished my time on active duty in the Marine Corps. I was searching for work and adjusting to my new life outside of the military when I found DC United. I had always loved soccer and played avidly growing up. As I got older, I enjoyed connecting with friends over matches. It was refreshing to take time out of a busy day to sit together and share our thoughts, often loudly, about a game.

Watching DC United’s games, either on tv or in person, helped me to find a new sense of home in the DC area and gave me something positive to look forward to on a regular basis. Work and school took me away from the District for a few years, but since returning, the community around DC United feels as vibrant and welcoming as it ever did before I left.

I was fortunate enough to attend DC United’s final match at RFK Stadium. I remember seeing a middle-aged, hijabi, mom, who was attending the game with her teenage son, start the wave. She was met with nothing but enthusiasm as she got up on her feet to support our team. Of course, we all followed suit.

This moment stands out so clearly in my mind from that day. Off the top of my head, I couldn’t tell you who scored or who made the best plays in the game. But I remember the feeling I had when I saw the way fans were interacting with each other that day, brought together by a mutual love of the Black and Red.

In July of 2018, United moved to their new home at Audi Field, a beautiful, state-of-the-art stadium at Buzzard Point. While the venue is different, the overwhelmingly positive sense of community that was built at RFK has stayed the same. The fanbase is still incredibly diverse, inclusivity is key to events the club holds, and everyone is always welcome.

For me, whether at RFK or Audi Field, when DC United is playing, I know I’m home.

Featured image: Sarah Kallassy

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @SarahKallassy

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

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Standing Alone and Representing Many: Collin Martin

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

It may have been a less than stellar sophomore season for Minnesota United FC, but our Loons gave us plenty to be proud of off the pitch in 2018. Inspiring stories of players giving back and taking a stand only go so far in balancing out a non-competitive product, but they can reassure us of one thing: the Club places community on the same playing field as business.

Two Loons who did not receive much attention for actions on the pitch (and not because of poor performance, but because they did not have many opportunities to perform) made national headlines this season for two very different, but equally important, reasons. Matt Lampson is the other Loon who shines out of the water. Read his story here. 

Among the banners in Minnesota’s Supporters Section is a rainbow flag reading “All Fans Welcome.” It has been on display since the club’s tenure at NSC, before the promotion. It is not an empty statement: If you are a human who wants to stand and support the club, you will be treated as a human. But at one match each year, it means more. This year, on June 29, an announcement by a quiet, young midfielder, added even more depth to that statement.

In response to a slew of homophobic comments and allegations that Collin Martin’s announcement was orchestrated by the club as a political statement, owner Dr. Bill McQuire responded by calling the announcement a “human statement.” The club affirmed their message of inclusion to the entire LGBTQ+ community, awarding the L’etoile du Nord (Star of the North) to Dot Belster, Executive Director of Twin Cities Pride. And Belster isn’t the only LGBTQ+ Star recipient. The first L’etoile du Nord, awarded on March 17, went to former Minnesota Viking, Esera Tuaolo, who came out in 2002 after his retirement from the NFL.

It is no small thing that the country’s only openly gay male athlete active in professional sports is one of ours. And it is no small thing that our club supports him so strongly.

For Maggi Heyer, a Dark Clouds member and self-proclaimed Token Queer Capo, the club’s handling of Martin’s announcement reinforced the positive aspects of MNUFC.

“For me, this year was a lot of ups and downs. I think overall the lack of progress from last year was frustrating. Some of the moves that the FO made, while I understand the need for them, were especially frustrating because the FO failed to handle them well,” she explained. “I’m not sure that Collin’s announcement changed my feelings, per se, as affirmed what we knew about the club. I have found our supporter culture here to be so open and welcoming and it was great to see that this extends to the team.”

The message goes well beyond this MLS season. Martin will make an impact on a new generation of athletes, fans and human beings.

“I am the mom of two kids and I think the visible support that the club has shown for Collin goes a long way to showing kids that they are welcome in sport, regardless of how they identify,” Heyer said. “Visibility is so important. I would love for an athlete coming out to not be headline news a few years from now, but for now, I truly appreciate Collin’s bravery and the clubs welcoming culture.”

During his time in Minnesota, Martin has taken an active role in advocating for human rights issues, even campaigning for, now governor-elect, Tim Walz. And the state and its greater sporting community have thrown their support behind Martin as well. At the 2018 Minnesota Sports Awards, Martin received the Courage Award.

Sure, the numbers don’t look good, but while we are all waiting for that famous Three Year Plan to come to fruition, we have plenty to appreciate and lots to look forward to.

“This years’ Pride Night did seem a little different [from previous years], especially from the supporters perspective,” Heyer told me. “I think the tifo really helped to set the tone and with Collin’s announcement earlier in the day there was just this amazing energy. I’m excited to see how we can top it next year in Allianz though.”

Featured image: fox5ny.com

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

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The Survivor Between the Sticks: Matt Lampson

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

The lists of players who have been cut by their club usually includes at least a couple players who fall into either of these categories: ‘dead weight’ and not expected to stay, fan favorites who are poor performers, or great performers who are not fan favorites. More rarely, there is a player who, regardless of performance, is an incredible human being who you don’t want to let go. Matt Lampson is one of the latter.

With only two wins in nine appearances through a season bookended by 2-3 losses (in San Jose on March 3rd and Columbus on October 28th), Matt Lampson’s time in Minnesota was not fantastic on the pitch. His work off the field, however, was worthy of recognition.

A cancer survivor himself, Lampson founded the Lampstrong Foundation to brighten the lives of childhood cancer patients and their families. Since coming to Minnesota from Chicago, he has built a relationship with the U of M Masonic Children’s Hospital, and with the son of a Minnesota United supporter who was ready to walk away from the out-of-reach club.

A few years ago, Nate Howells’ support for United was cemented when a number of the NASL club’s representatives threw their support behind his youngest son after a traumatic brain injury. Broadcaster Chris Lidholm and forward Christian Ramirez were among those who contributed to his fund. “And one player, Brian Kallman [the older brother of current defender Brent], came to the PICU at Children’s and sat with my family. It was an incredibly meaningful experience,” said Howells. “Because of these actions, I have a loyalty to the club.”

But a lot has changed since the jump to MLS. Fans are no longer able to linger on the touchline with the players after a match, they don’t have the same opportunity to become a surrogate family for international players. And the competitive product is no longer… competitive.

“In early August, my frustration with Minnesota United was at its highest. I tweeted angrily that I was considering cancelling my season tickets. How I’ve never hated this FO more,” Howells said. But the next day, while I was up at Masonic Children’s at the University of Minnesota with my 10-year-old son who is being treated for embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma, Matt Lampson and Michael Boxall made a special trip downstairs to see my son. This was such a positive moment. They showed up wearing Loons attire, representing the club, doing something meaningful in the community.”

A goalkeeper himself, 10-year-old Xavier (a.k.a. Iggy) looks up to Lampson as both a player and a survivor. Lampson’s visits broke up the monotony of chemo treatments. “Week-long hospital admissions can get quite boring and Iggy, as positive as he most certainly is, sometimes feels that he is missing out on the normal, fun things that his friends and siblings take for granted on a daily basis,” his dad explained.

The Loons’ work off the pitch is certainly more inspiring and impactful than their play. “Soccer in Minnesota is more than a sport,” Howells said. “It is culture and it is community. It brings people together and shows that we can do good.”

Lampson’s representation off the pitch – and the club’s support of it – went a long way in patching up the Howells family’s support of MNUFC after the trade of fan-favorite Christian Ramirez and the squad’s flat-lining performance. But that complex relationship was dealt another blow on Monday when United released a list of players whose contract options were not being exercised. The third name on that list: Matt Lampson.

I reached out to Nate for his reaction to the news. From home, where Iggy is resting after his first five-day hospitalization of this chemotherapy cycle, Nate expressed the return of the same frustration he felt with sporting director Manny Lagos and the FO after the Ramirez trade: “This is incredibly discouraging,” he said. “This is actually devastating. I can’t tell my son this.”

“Xavier has said that when he gets older, he wants to do the same thing for other kids,” Howells said. “He hopes to provide hospitalized kids with opportunities to do the special or normal things they want to do.”

No matter what badge Lampson wears in 2019, his work in Minnesota will live on.

Featured image: mnufc.com

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

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The Crew: Pushing through the Playoffs

Hilary - Columbus Crew/mlsfemale
Official Columbus Crew Reporter

By Hilary // @hils4crew

Knockout Game

Thursday, November 1: 2(2) – 2(3) Win

Columbus Crew SC started their playoffs on a Thursday just four days after their final game of the regular season.  Due to a lackluster end to the season, Crew SC played the team currently ending their season on a hot streak and one of the Crew’s original rivals, DC United, in a knockout game away from home. 

If I had to pick a word to describe this game it was reminiscent.  It was reminiscent of the Crew’s knockout game in Atlanta last year.  It was a physical game.  It was a tough game, and it went to penalty kicks.

After 90’, the game was tied 1-1 on a DC goal from Brillant in the 21’ and a goal from Federico Higuain in the 30’.  In extra time, Higuain, typically a master with the ball at his feet, headed home a goal in the 96’.  Then, DC’s Nick DeLeon scored the tying goal off a poor clearance from the Crew in the 116’.  The game’s extra time ended in a 2-2 tie and proceeded to penalty kicks. 

Zack Steffen repeated his masterful performance during PKs last year in Atlanta, by blocking both Wayne Rooney’s and Luciano Acosta’s shots.  Gyasi Zardes’s shot was blocked by the DC keeper, and Patrick Mullins knocked his off the post.  The PKs ended, not by a Crew player shushing the crowd as Adam Jahn did last year in Atlanta, but as DeLeon, the hero of the extra time shot his PK over the net. 

Thoughts on this Game:

Pipa, who is fantastic much of the time anyway, has turned it up a notch in the playoffs scoring 3 goals (one a PK) in this match.  He definitely is showing his hunger for an MLS Cup. 

DC was a tough opponent, but we gifted them the two goals.  The first when Steffen allowed a cross to go through his fingertips and drop to Brillant and a poor clearance by Crew led to DC’s second goal.  We need to minimize these errors to keep moving forward in the playoffs.

My heart can’t handle these overtime, go to PKs, knockout away games against strong teams.  However, the Crew continues to win them. However, during this game what shocked me the most was when Gregg Berhalter was stopping a ball that had gone out of bounds and Acosta shoved and then tripped him.  Now, I’ve seen Berhalter do this in many games, but I’ve never seen a player respond in that way.  I don’t know if it resulted in any discipline for Acosta, but it should have.

Conference Semifinals—Leg 1

Sunday, November 4: 1-0 Win

Gregg Berhalter showed why he is being considered for the USMNT coaching position after the Crew’s 1-0 result against the Supporter’s Shield winners the New York Red Bulls.  

Again, the Crew were playing on shorter rest than their opponents—playing only 3 days after their lengthy game against DC.  Berhalter shifted his line-up from the DC game into a free-flowing 4-4-2.  Pipa started the game on the bench.  Patrick Mullins and Gyasi Zardes started up top, and rookie Luis Argudo started out right. 

While there were a few chances for both teams, the more memorable one in the first half was by the New York Red Bulls in the 27’.  The ball was headed off a corner, bounced off the post toward the goal line, went off the head of a diving Zack Steffen, and then traveled out of the goal area.  Despite the close chance for New York, the first half ended, 0-0.

In the second half, Pipa came off the bench, and the tempo of the game for Crew SC changed.  In the 59’, New York’s Daniel Royer had a breakaway that ended as Steffen ran 35 feet up the field to tackle Royer.   Then the Crew scored their goal in the 61’, and it was a thing of beauty.  Milton Valenzuela sent a ball across to Higuain who flicked the ball across to Zardes who finished off the shot.

Both keepers made important saves in the waning minutes of the game.  Luis Robles saved a hard shot from distance from Pedro Santos in the 89’, and Steffen made a fingertip save of a Bradley Wright-Phillips header in the 93’.  This final save sealed the 1-0 win for the Crew.

Thoughts on this Game:

In the playoff games played thus far, the Crew have shown why they should not be underestimated.  While they did not go into the playoffs on a winning streak as in years past, they have apparently found their playoff mojo.  They did a nice job minimizing the Red Bulls scoring threats.  If our defense can keep up the defense they showed in this game, the Crew can go deep into the playoffs. 

Today, it was announced that Zack Steffen was MLS Goalkeeper of the Year.  While some other fans don’t seem happy with the result, I think he has definitely earned the accolades this year.  I’m not saying the other keepers didn’t deserve it—being a professional goalkeeper takes skills—I am proudly a fan of Steffen. 

Finally, it is clear that Gregg Berhalter’s meticulous strategizing brings positive results.  Let’s see those results continue this Sunday when the Crew take on the Red Bulls in the second leg of the Conference Semi-Finals.   

Featured image: @ColumbusCrewSC

Follow and chat with me on twitter // @hils4crew

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

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The Loons are alright

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

It could have been the social anxiety or that initial sense of imposter syndrome or merely my habit of observing rather than participating or any combination of the three. But my observational approach to reporting this season taught me more about this fanbase, this club, and this sport, than being in the stands or asking cerebral questions ever would. And it gave me some confidence in the club’s building process.

Minnesota soccer fandom is an obsession for me. Minnesota’s fans have been through it all. From “the team that nobody wanted” in the lower division to the team that everyone doubted in the Major League, they have been singing, chanting, screaming for their boys. The flags, the tifos, the scarves… through two dismal seasons in the MLS, they have not let up.

And they want more to cheer for.

On many occasions, I wanted to ask Adrian Heath: What steps are you taking to be competitive? How long are you going to use the same tactics that get the same crappy results? When does this ‘Three Year Plan’ kick in?

I did not ask any of these questions, or many others, in fact.

Instead, match after match, presser after presser, trade after trade, I’ve watched Heath respond and react to fan criticism and media skepticism; I’ve observed the players interact in the locker room after wins, losses and draws; heard everyone from the front office to the back plead for patience and confidence. I learned that:

  1. Heath does have a plan which may, in fact, be leading somewhere, but which has sputtered along through the process of making fan favorites and potential standout newcomers mesh together on short notice;
  2. the players want to be a cohesive unit and are willing to put in the work, but have limited opportunities to earn one another’s confidence while playing within the lines of the game plan; and
  3. that the club knows full well where the inadequacies lie, where improvements need to be made to earn the confidence of the diehard supporters but have chosen to pave the way to their end goals one small piece at a time.

Yes, I would have like to have sung ‘same as it ever was, same as it ever was’ on more than one occasion, in response to Heath’s standby answer, “We know what we need to get better.” I wanted to ask, WHAT pieces?, every time he said, “We just need one or two more pieces.” But I did not.

Minnesota United FC is attempting to put together a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle with all sorts of oddly shaped pieces. The border is complete. Next, they have to fill in the picture, but the package was missing a number of pieces so there are a couple completed sections floating around unanchored.

The fans want a hint at what the completed picture will be. At the end of Year One, Heath pointed to the completed border. “We know what we need to get better.” At the end of Year Two, he pointed to his two Designated Players in the front; the oft-noted trio Molino, Finlay and Cronin; Kallman and captain Calvo in the back – all roster groupings that appear to be semi-permanent portions of the picture, bent and faded as they may be today. “We need to bring in one or two more pieces.”

I have the same sources you do; I don’t know any secrets. I am as frustrated as you are.

However.

I have seen them acknowledge the frying pan. Or, rather, the Iron Skillet. They know that they won’t have a pretty presentation of a shiny, nearly-completed stadium with which to distract the Supporters if that ubiquitous Year Three ends with the same bitter taste as the last two.

This Club is building its MLS identity the same way the squad has earned it’s tastiest goals: A series of clean passes, a couple of long shots and, occasionally, pure dumb luck.

So. Heath out? If we see too many long shots this offseason, maybe I’d board that train. Panic? If we start leaning on dumb luck, yes.

But, hey! We live here now.

And I have a notebook full of questions to ask during the offseason, I promise.

Featured image: mnufc.com

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

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Match Day: How Beer Brought Two Teams Together

Bailey Brown - FC Dallas/mlsfemale
Official FC Dallas Reporter

By Bailey Brown // @baileystaysposi

Saturday, November 3

When I started writing this piece, the Columbus Crew were heading to FC Dallas for their only away game in Texas since the news that they may be moved to Austin. Tensions were high between supporters of the Crew, Austin FC, and the Dallas fans who were being stuck in between it all. Nobody knew what potentially could happen that day as fans from all three sides descended upon Toyota Stadium in Frisco, TX.

The entire day gave me the inspiration to write about a unique beer that was brewed between Peticolas Brewing Co. in Dallas, TX and Land Grant Brewing Co. in Columbus, OH.

As the President of the Dallas Beer Guardians, two of my favorite things are soccer and craft beer. The passion that comes with both is often noted as two things that go hand in hand. I couldn’t agree more.

I decided to reach out to both breweries for more on the beer to share with our readers. I hope you enjoy this celebratory piece on craft beer, passion of soccer, and the saving of the Crew.

Saturday, October 13

Craft beer and soccer: These certainly are two things that most people are not surprised to hear together. For some reason, they seem pretty “peanut butter and jelly” if you really think about it.

Across the United States, you see teams and supporter groups embracing local beers that exude the same passion in brewing as they have for their team on the pitch. There is no better example than the collaboration series that Land Grant in Columbus, OH started.

I reached out to brewers and employees of both Land Grant Brewing Co. and Peticolas Brewing Co. for the story. The beer, Match Day, is the focus of this article and I hope that you will find time to make it to Columbus or Dallas to get your hands on this amazing American Pale Ale.

Land Grant opened right after the rebrand of the Crew and felt that they wanted to connect with the community of Columbus more. According to brewers Justin and Adam, one of Adam’s roommates was working for the Crew and they were looking to expand their work with local vendors in the stadium.

“They had mentioned they wanted to do a Crew beer... which everything we had ever seen along those lines is that a brewery takes a beer they were brewing and do a fan vote for the name. We felt that was dishonest and wanted to brew a beer that supporters could be part of its creation.”

After brewing 2 black beers and 2 gold, they came up with Glory American Wheat which became the official beer of the supporters in Columbus. In their 3rd season of partnership with supporters, Land Grant looked at collaborations with breweries in the cities of the 9 original MLS teams who partnered with teams or supporter groups.

Peticolas Brewing, Co. of Dallas, TX became one of the target breweries alongside Boulevard out of Kansas City, MO.

The story for Peticolas and their connections to FC Dallas and their supporters isn’t as harmonious. Peticolas Brewing, Co. owner Michael Peticolas and head brewer, Chris Martinez have been lifelong soccer fans and soccer has been at the core of the brewery culture since they started in 2012.

Bailey Brown - Peticolas/mlsfemale
Image: Bailey Brown

With the grassroots feel and refusal to sell out to large corporations and distributors, Peticolas couldn’t get their beer into Toyota Stadium in Dallas. Originally brewed for FC Dallas, their beer Irish Goodbye was rebranded when it was declined by the organization due to their lack of distribution and the front office ties to Budweiser and Legends Hospitality.

Determined to get their beer into the hands of supporters of the beautiful game as themselves, Peticolas formed a partnership with the independent supporters group, the Dallas Beer Guardians. Starting in 2016, Peticolas was pouring at every tailgate for the Dallas Beer Guardians and established themselves as the premier brewery of soccer supporters in Dallas, TX.

The beer, Match Day, is a 5.5% ABV American Pale Ale that shows a true collaboration through and through. Land Grant took care of the malt bill and yeast while Peticolas took responsibility of the hops profile. What you find, is a crisp and citrusy pale ale that works perfectly on any game day. While both breweries brew their own batches, you won’t find many differences outside of the water used and that Land Grant cans and Peticolas does not.

Bailey Brown - Land Grant Brewing Co/mlsfemale
Image: Bailey Brown

So, where can you get your hands on this beer? Land Grant’s partnership with the Columbus Crew is beautiful in that they were able to convert a storage container and serve their product in stadium. Peticolas, on the other hand, not so lucky for the in-stadium sales. However, you can find Match Day on tap at many of the Dallas Beer Guardian tailgates and in the taproom.

It’s beyond just what’s in the beer, though. There is a true feeling of connection between soccer supporters with this collaboration. Match Day dropped a year before the news of the potential move of the Columbus Crew to Austin. The connection between the beer became much more personal with the ties to the teams and the supporters.

“Soccer is tribal,” says Grayson Hall, head of distribution and sales for Peticolas Brewing. “It’s not tribal because it’s cool… it’s because that’s how things grow. Soccer fans aren’t the same as football and baseball fans. They want to feel a connection that doesn’t exist in your run of the mill professional sport.”

That connection is not just with the supporters, but this collaboration became personal with the #SaveTheCrew movement. This became a family who was being affected in a real way.

“You can’t buy passion. Passion is earned.”

This rings true through craft beer and in soccer culture in America. Just as with the passion and support that comes with local breweries being supported by their communities, soccer supporters banded together to support the Crew staying in Columbus.

Over the past year, American sports fans saw one of the most unique movements that showed the support that can come from a community for a cause. Fueled by the supporters in Columbus, the #SaveTheCrew movement was established to not only bring awareness to the situation in Columbus and put social pressure on Precourt Sports Ventures to leave one of the foundational teams in Major League Soccer in their home city, but to show that soccer culture cannot and will not be bought out.

This parallels the craft beer scene in that people want to ask about what’s truly local and want to support the community that they come from. Hall says, “Once that money comes in and the big company comes in and wants to move and change what was an established part of the community, people don’t want to be a part of that anymore.”

This is not only seen when visiting your local breweries around the United States, but this was seen with the idea of the Crew moving to Austin. Almost instantaneously, supporters across the United States stood up to say, “Big money will not beat passion.”

Bailey Brown - FC Dallas/mlsfemale
Image: Bailey Brown

In speaking with members of both Land Grant and Peticolas, there is a real sense that this community that came together in the beer scene was also seen in coming together the entire past year for this movement. Adam Benner said, “it showed the communal aspect of soccer can bring separate fans together separated by hundreds of miles but connected on the same thing with soccer.”

This is what makes this beer, Match Day, so special. What started as a collaborative brew between MLS original communities became a show of strength and unity against large corporations and the greed that fueled decisions.

I received information from Adam and Justin on Friday, October 12 for this story which became a more special day. We were exchanging text messages throughout the day and it almost seemed fitting of the potential news that was to come later that day. “As of 1:47pm EDT there has been no official announcement, but if all the rumors are true our friends at Save the Crew accomplished their goal, and we are honored to be a part of it.” said Benner.

We are all honored to be a part of this; not just the collaboration and what it stands for, but for the support given day in and out to the community of Columbus, OH in saving the Columbus Crew.

Want to visit Land Grant and Peticolas? Check out their info below:

Peticolas Brewing Co. – Dallas, TX
1301 Pace St.
Dallas, TX 75207
www.peticolasbrewing.com
Twitter: @Peticolas

Land Grant Brewing Co. – Columbus, OH
424 W. Town Street
Columbus, OH 43215
www.landgrantbrewing.com
Twitter: @LandGrantBeer

Featured image: @baileystaysposi

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @baileystaysposi

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

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A momentous, appropriate end to Minnesota’s sophomore season

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

Sunday, October 28: 3-2 Loss

Minnesota United FC‘s sophomore MLS season ended the way anyone who had followed the club this season could have expected. In fact, the 3-2 loss to Columbus Crew is a perfect sample of the season as a whole.

It was momentous. Not in the Merriam-Webster approved sense of the word. It was full of moments. Glimpses of brilliance, glimmerings of hope, pleasant surprises… all things which the Loons present to us with every match. Two of the brightest moments of the finale came from Darwin Quintero and Francisco Calvo.

Quintero’s early run:

Calvo’s first goal:

But it was also full of the same mistakes, the same subpar performances, that have plagued the team week in and week out. Case in point:

The only thing more surprising than defender Francisco Calvo notching two goals in the season finale was that Zardes was allowed to close a slow, regular season with a hat-trick. Except, Minnesota fans can’t actually be surprised anymore.

No, having a lightning delay called just minutes into the match certainly didn’t help things and an extremely slick pitch was not in their favor. But the Loons are no strangers to the proverbial wrench thrown into the game plan, a fact which coach Adrian Heath and the front office like to call attention to in every interview (injuries to key players Kevin Molino, Ethan Finlay and Sam Cronin and questionable VAR calls, for example). By week 33, adjusting to these factors should not be an issue.

When asked about his team’s performance on Sunday night, Heath responded as he has every week, his assessment of this particular match a carbon copy of that of every other loss (and even a few wins) this season:

  • “You do not win many games conceding three [goals] on the road.”
  • “We know what we have to do to get better.”
  • “We need one or two more pieces. If we get them, we have a chance at being more competitive.”

Have we grown or improved in any measurable way on the pitch? Not so much, no.

Are we still just happy to be here? That will depend on what happens in the offseason.

And on how you define happy.

Featured image: @MNUFC

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

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