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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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Columbus Crew SC Playoff Bound

Hilary - Columbus Crew/mlsfemale
Official Columbus Crew Reporter

By Hilary // @hils4crew

Sunday, October 28: 3-2 Win

The game was about as shaky and unpredictable as the Ohio weather.  Columbus Crew SC took on the Minnesota United FC in the final game of the season in Columbus. 

Before the game, the sun shone down and prepared the teams and fans for a game that determined the Crew’s playoff possibilities. However, nine minutes in, Ohio weather being Ohio weather, decided to change tactics.  Lightning and rain caused a delay–foiling the MLS’ plan that all games end at the same time leaving every teams’ playoff fate unknown until the final minute of all those synchronized games.  Well, as MLS has learned this year, Columbus rarely does it the way they want us to.

After about an hour delay, the game resumed in the blustering wind, rain, and a significant temperature drop.  Crew SC jumped back into the match quickly with a short corner from Federico Higuain to Milton Valenzuela.  Valenzuela sent in a cross, which Gyasi Zardes headed into the goal in the 11’ of the game

In the 41’, a scary scene emerged, as Columbus Crew’s Gaston Sauro in an effort to stop a streaking Angelo Rodriguez, collided with keeper Zack Steffen leaving both Rodriguez and Steffen on the ground for several minutes with Rodriguez being subbed out.  Steffen returned to the match with a collective sigh of relief leaving all Crew fans.

The first half ended with Crew SC up 1-0 and a playoff spot clinched as the Montreal Impact lost to the New England Revolution.   Despite the guaranteed playoff spot, it was important for Crew SC to get the win as they have struggled to get results as of late and need to get into form if they want to go deep into the playoffs and make a run for the MLS Cup.

Gyasi Zardes scored quickly again in the second half slotting a ball in the 49’ after following up a free kick from Higuain that bounced off of Minnesota goalkeeper Matt Lampson, but Minnesota had no desire to make this easy for the Crew.  Francisco Calvo, a Minnesota defender scored in the 68’ unmarked off a free kick, and again in the 77’, as a ball skipped between Harrison Afful’s legs right to Calvo.  Minnesota had evened up the score. 

However, Zardes decided that it was time to score his first career hat trick and scored the final goal of the night in the 83’ off a beautiful ball from Niko Hansen putting the Crew SC in fifth place.

Other thoughts:

I haven’t written a lot of articles this season about Crew SC.  First, I can’t watch away games at home due to some bizarre blackout rule that I have yet to figure out.  Second, my personal life outside of soccer has been a bit more crazy than normal.  And third, this was an emotionally hard season.  Due to the possibility of the Crew’s move to Austin, every game felt more emotionally draining than normal.  It was difficult to want to relive that in recaps and articles. 

However, it looks likely, due to a local ownership group that includes the Edwards and Haslam families, that Crew SC may remain in Columbus with Austin getting its own team.  Now until the final i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed, I will not feel completely calm, but it helped me enjoy this game a lot more. 

Zardes scored his first professional hat trick in this game and ended the regular season with 19 goals.  I have a lot of respect for Sigi Schmid, but I’m not sure what he was thinking trying to play Gyasi at leftback last season when Zardes was with the Galaxy.  Gregg Berhalter has a proven system that helps make his forwards successful goal scorers. 

As this was the last regular season home game, it always makes me pause and wonder who we are possibly watching for the last time as a Crew SC player.  Will Steffen and Wil Trapp head to Europe?  Will Berhalter be named the new USMNT head coach?  The answers to these questions, for now, remain unknown but I am very thankful that these men have played a part in Columbus Crew SC history.

Typically, Crew SC is on a hot streak going into the playoffs.   This season, we have not seen this streak.  In fact, it’s been pretty much the opposite.  If Crew SC can’t find their top-level form and make the mistakes they made against Minnesota, their playoff run will be short-lived.

Let’s hope Crew SC bring their A-game against a very tough DC United team this Thursday in the playoff knockout game

Featured image: @ColumbusCrewSC

Follow and chat with me on twitter // @hils4crew

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

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Minnesota United Frustration Club

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

I do not want to write this. Another loss in front of a lot of fans, another round of #HeathOut chanted instead of ‘Wonderwall,’ another night of bitterness and frustration.

But I do want to write about how real, live Minnesotans do indeed want to watch live soccer, for better or for worse; about how the Supporters could not be silenced, even after Zlatan Ibrahimovic left his mark; about the strides the club must make to erase the bitterness of these past two seasons; and about the fact that despite my frustration, when the fireworks gave way to a different kind of light show, I experienced the goosebumps usually reserved for ‘Wonderwall.’

Last weekend, Minnesota United FC set a new state record for attendance at a professional soccer game. 52,242 fans watched the Loons close out their residency at TCF Bank Stadium making the club’s #50ktoMidway promotion a huge success. The downside, however, was that there were 30,000 more fans present to witness the second consecutive home loss. L.A. Galaxy’s Ibrahimovic argued that they were all there to cheer for him and his squad and by evenings’ end a few United fans probably wished that’s why they had come.

Ibra kicked off what would become a 3-1 rout of the Loons, with a goal in the 30th minute which swung the momentum in Galaxy’s favor after a number of good opportunities for Loons came to naught. Three L.A. goals went unanswered until the 53rd minute when Angelo Rodriguez – who had scored in the first half only to be called offside – finally got his head on a long cross from fellow DP Darwin Quintero and sent it past Bingham into the net.

 But that would be all for the Loons. Adrian Heath spoke positively about Rodriguez’s prospects, but seemed to blame the rest of the squad for his ineffectiveness: “I thought the big man [Rodriguez] led the line really, really well again… We’ve got to start to work out how to use him better and once we do, when we start to play off him, I think there’s a lot of promise in the attacking half.” 

That response is too little, too late for me. He echoed what supporters said of the DP’s first appearances. That was quite some time ago and Rodriguez himself seems to know it. When asked about the fan support that night, he said, “That’s why I tell you that personally, I feel ashamed. We always try to do well during the week to give [the fans] joy on the weekend. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but truthfully I’m amazed [by their support].”

The squad’s poor performance was overshadowed by the MNUFC digital team’s response to Ibra’s talk in the lead-up about how the ticket sales reflected Minnesota’s love for him rather than support for the Loons. The Bank erupted in cheers and laughter when an error message appeared on the video board in place of Ibra’s head shot as lineups were announced:

The forward nearly had the last laugh though when he sailed a free kick in the 65th minute over the crossbar and into the capo stand, connecting with a Dark Clouds capo.

But, true to form, Nach Karnik and the Dark Clouds turned that moment into a badge of honor:

Bridget McDowell - MNUFC/mlsfemale

Minnesota’s Supporters have learned to find joy in every moment. It’s a necessary coping technique in a season full of bitter losses, questionable decisions and poor performances. If MNUFC wants to fill Allianz Field, they need to do more than talk about improvements and tout the ubiquitous ‘Three Year Plan.’ According to Heath, playing at Allianz “will be nice. I think most people think it’s going to be good. I don’t think they realize how good it’s going to be. This is going to be a game changer for this club moving forward… but we’ve got a lot of work to do before we open up the stadium.”

That’s for sure. Heath and his staff will need to put those words into action, and quickly, to ensure that the emotions evoked by Allianz are matched by the club’s performance.

My anger and high blood pressure quickly dissolved into goosebumps and tears of joy as I watched a live stream on my phone of the Fan Appreciation Night fireworks. The Supporters present at TCF were able to watch a special presentation on the video board while the fireworks burst above them, but my stream showed only the pyrotechnic display, then faded to black. Then another light show began.

https://youtu.be/xNBIx5vAm2o?t=1788

That stadium is ours. Our colors. Our club. Our home. But before we can enjoy our home, our boys must face another team celebrating a triumphant return. If Columbus Crew‘s Decision Day opponent was not MNUFC, I would be cheering for the black and yellow as they celebrate the success of #SaveTheCrew and vie for a playoff berth. But they will play the Loons, a club with no chance at the postseason, but with every opportunity to make a statement.

If the Loons lose, they must do so while gutting it out to the final whistle. Sunday is their last chance to prove to both their supporters and their detractors that they want to be here, that they are worthy of support and of their place in the league.

The Loons must win.

COYL

Featured image: @MLS

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

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Montréal Impact keep the Playoff dream alive with win over TFC

Eve Powell - Montreal Impact/mlsfemale
Official Montreal Impact Reporter

By Eve // @evejulia9

Result: 2-0 Victory vs TFC

It was a matchday like no other. Rivals Toronto FC were visiting Stade Saputo looking to put the final nail in the coffin of Montréal Impact’s playoff hopes. Elsewhere, DC United were officially claiming the fifth of six playoff spots, while Columbus Crew continued a tie game with Orlando SC, a team which boasted the most porous defense in the league.

With TFC eliminated from playoff contention several weeks ago, the match was more about pride than anything, as most had written off the Impact’s playoff hopes, even if mathematically the Bleu-Blanc-Noir still had a chance to make the cut. With Victor Vazquez and Jozy Altidore sidelined through injury, TFC still brought out a strong lineup, looking to play spoiler to their enemy.

For the home side, left back Daniel Lovitz, whose offensive spark contributed to a goal and five assists on the season, found himself injured and unavailable for selection. Jukka Raitala entered the starting lineup at left back and Rudy Camacho, whose previous performances against nimble opponents like Sebastian Giovinco or Lucho Acosta were nightmarish, returned to central defense.

Regardless of what would happen in the match, the supporter groups 1642 Montréal and Ultras de Montréal were ready to stand behind their team with season finale tifo displays.

With the Impact having firmly established their identity as a counterattacking team, it comes as no surprise that TFC enjoyed the lion’s share of ball possession during long stretches of the first half. Evan Bush was called into action as once again Camacho allowed Giovinco to slip behind him, but the Italian’s one-on-one shot lacked any conviction and Bush smothered the ball. In the 35th minute, the Impact had the ball in the back of the net, but following a VAR consultation, referee Baldomero Toledo ruled the goal offside and the teams retreated to the locker rooms in a deadlock.

Following the break, it was clear that Rémi Garde’s request for more aggressivity from his team was heard loud and clear. Several times the Impact hit TFC on the counter, but both captain Ignacio Piatti and striker Quincy Amarikwa wasted their opportunities, and keeper Alex Bono made a heroic save on a header from Saphir Taïder.

Finally, in the 71st minute, VAR was called into action again. Substitute defender Eriq Zavaleta, who has long struggled when facing Piatti, was found to have pulled on the Argentinean’s jersey inside the TFC box, and this time VAR ruled in the home team’s favour. “Nacho” stepped up to the spot and calmly converted the shot.

In the 88th minute, the Impact sealed a 14th victory of the season when Piatti beat a defender and the goalkeeper to casually slot the ball into an empty net, marking his 16th goal of the season. Unbeknownst to the team, results elsewhere allowed the Impact to remain in the playoff race, with Orlando claiming their first win in over a dozen matches in the last seconds to leave Columbus only 2 points above the Impact and that vital red line.

With the last home game of the season in the books, it was only fitting that coach Garde, whose adaptation to the team and the league was painful but has now blossomed into something beautiful, rang the North Star Bell to celebrate the victory.

Since the playoffs are still in reach, the Impact must travel to New England Revolution and claim a Decision Day victory, while hoping Columbus lose or draw in their match versus Minnesota United. No matter how the 2018 campaign ends, to still be in the playoff discussion after such a dismal start speaks volumes to how the team has flourished over the course of the season and fans are waiting for that do-or-die match with baited breath.

Featured image: Montréal Impact

Follow and chat with me on twitter // @evejulia9

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Minnesota, the team to beat

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

How did we get here? To the lowest of the low? The team that makes the worst look good?

From a club that won more than it lost, that entertained its fans no matter the scoreline; that was able to draw moral victories from nearly every loss; that brought the heart and soul of its lineup along to the big leagues. To a club that could only win at home; that saw its fans turn off their TVs and walk out of the stadium; that lost its temper in the ugliest way possible; that jettisoned its heart for some coupons and didn’t give its soul nearly as many opportunities as he deserved.

On September 29, I spent a chilly evening losing my voice in the Supporters Section of TCF Bank Stadium for the last time. Minnesota United FC still had two home games left to play after that night, but that match against NYCFC would be my last of the year to enjoy from the stands and was probably my last time seeing soccer at TCF. After a horrid road trip, United could have flopped that night. But the home turf magic took hold once again and the Loons soared to a 2-0 victory on goals from Angelo Rodriguez. And with stout defense from  Brent Kallman:

Singing Wonderwall with my friends was a great end to my year, but the season was far from over. United still had playoff hopes: a win on the road in Philadelphia could help them eek closer to that bold cutoff line.

They did not win. The Loons I watched on the 29th did not make an appearance in Philly on October 6. And I did something that I never imagined I would do during a MNUFC broadcast.

Twenty minutes into the match, I was still troubleshooting how to connect my tablet to the smart screen in our hotel room so my friend and I could enjoy it on the big screen. We were about to give up when Minnesota conceded a third(!) goal in the 23rd(!) minute. Rather than turn off the TV and watch on the tablet, we muted my livestream and watched an episode of Kitchen Nightmares from 2007 and turned off the tablet altogether with ten minutes to play after Minnesota conceded a fifth goal.

Bridget McDowell - MNUFC/mlsfemale

We chose a 10-year-old reality show over a Loons game and any regrets about that decision evaporated upon opening the post-match press release:

Bridget McDowell - MNUFC/mlsfemale

The Loons’ playoff hopes evaporated along with my regrets. Surely, their return home would be better, especially given the opponent, a Colorado squad on a seven-game losing streak. Neither club with a chance at the postseason, both looking for a moral victory on which to coast through the final weeks of 2018.

Narrator: Nope. No moral victories were had on October 13. But the Loons continued their streak of making bad teams look good.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to interview MN Kicks defender Alan Merrick about the growth of soccer culture in Minnesota. We talked about the winning tradition of his NASL Kicks and all the signs of growth around Minnesota’s soccer communities:

“We have a great soccer culture. We perhaps need to make it so it’s a little bit more, uh, into a winning mode [laughs], but that takes some time to develop…”

There were plenty of lows in his playing days (the Kicks folded along with many other NASL clubs and attempts at revival were short-lived), but the highs are legendary. Many of the positives we’ve seen from MNUFC are reminiscent of those from the Kicks.

I would like to think that in forty years I will stand outside the offices of a growing Twin Cities-based soccer club with a recorder in hand as I question Miguel Ibarra about his legendary days of playing for MN United FC in the MLS. With any luck, this past Saturday’s bench-clearing melee in the waning minutes against the Rapids will be a distant memory, a fleck of embarrassment overshadowed by the success of the club’s much-touted ‘Three Year Plan,’ a well-developed winning tradition and a backbone of players who came up with the club and shared in its successes before moving on.

Until then, all we have is a bitter loss in which two goals were given up much too easily, so easily that the Dark Clouds became lethargic in their support, a handful even leaving the stadium long before the whistle. Those were the lucky few who didn’t have to witness their favorite player shove an opponent who made the poor decision to taunt the home fans with his goal celebration and the coach’s son to spring up from the bench to grab the throat of another celebrant.

Until this match, our club had had its share of embarrassing moments, but we could make light of most of them, such as this lovely moment that garnered international laughs.

Until we made the joke our own:

But even the NASL Loons’ production department would not be able to salvage the club’s dignity from this moment:

There was no honor in that fight. No moral victories can possibly come from that night.

This weekend, MNUFC will honor the legends with #50ktoMidway, livening up the final match in their adoptive home with an attempt to break an attendance record set forty years ago by the MN Kicks.

I can only hope that forty years from now, when I interview Ibarra, we will not be talking about a club that folded decades ago after failing to maintain a foothold in a league that talked bigger than it acted; a club that was being celebrated for one or two moral victories, but also held as an example of how not to run an expansion club.

Instead, I hope that we will talk about how the Loons honored those legends and 50,000 fans with an epic rendition of Wonderwall; the fight all but forgotten; the club’s clear strides to get better with each match, with each passing season; and the community honoring the key players who saw that struggle through to a title.

I would like to leave you with a response to that fight in the tradition of #BlameItOntheJelly, but I’ve already said that such a thing will never exist.

All I have to offer you is this cover of ‘Wonderwall.’

I’m not crying. You’re crying.

Featured image: @MNUFC

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

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Wake Up, It’s (Almost) #DOOP Day!

Cait Costello - Philadelphia Union/mlsfemale
Official Philadelphia Union Reporter

By Cait Costello // @caitcostello

There were three main reasons behind my decision to move home to the Philadelphia area after living in South Carolina for a decade: it was because I wanted to be closer to my family, I wanted to live in a bigger city (with public transit) and I wanted to be close to professional soccer.

There wasn’t a single MLS team in the South before 2015, but with my move to Philadelphia, I finally had a team to root for based in the city I love.  My first game was in June 2016, when my boyfriend’s company held a work outing for employees and their families. 

We met with a marketing representative from the team, and as a marketing/public relations person myself, I was fascinated to learn the origin and design of the team crest. The boys in blue went on to defeat the Columbus Crew 3-2 on that balmy Wednesday night, and I was hooked from the first #DOOP.

I grew up playing soccer despite never being good at sports that require hand-eye (or foot-eye) coordination. Sports that require endurance and a certain amount of stubbornness—cycling, running and, for a few years, roller derby—are a better fit for me. That’s what drew me to the Union. It’s not a team that spends the most money on the highest-skilled players, but it is a team that works hard and will tough it out.

That’s a very Philadelphia mentality, which is appropriate when you remember that the Union grew out of a group of passionate (and a bit rowdy) fans. No other team in the MLS formed after its supporters group willed it into existence, and the Sons of Ben continue to energize the entire stadium, no matter the score.

Cait Costello - Philadelphia Union/mlsfemale
My boyfriend and I at the match

For the past two seasons, that passion brings my boyfriend and me to Chester. Watching the Union play is one of our favorite things to do together, and we’ve had the good luck to mostly see wins at the games we attend.

Now, I’m excited to share my love for the Philadelphia Union at MLSFemale. Come #DOOP with us.

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @caitcostello

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“Don’t let the ball behind the defense…”

Bailey Brown - FC Dallas/mlsfemale
Official FC Dallas Reporter

By Bailey Brown // @baileystaysposi

It’s been a while, I know. But, a lot has happened since I last wrote about FC Dallas.

We seem to be hitting a groove, but fans are still not entirely pleased. Dallas sits in first in the Western Conference and it just doesn’t seem to be good enough for many. Amongst rumors of Oscar Pareja interviewing for the USMNT team, we must keep going forward because the season isn’t over.

With a win in Vancouver, Dallas is the only team in 23 matches to defeat another team at their home. We are still seeing good stats out of the team and just clinched a playoff spot with our draw in Portland. But, is how we are playing going to be enough?

(Side note: I do think Pareja would be great for the USMNT, but I’m not ready to see him go. It seems that these rumors have been laid to rest. Many people seem to be calling for Pareja to be gone, okay well not many, but enough that it annoys me if he doesn’t get us a star this year. Personally, I think that is dumb. Yup, I said it. Where else is Dallas going to get a quality coach for the amount in the Dallas budget? I mean it. I suppose we can promote from within, but I think a good playoff run after last year is enough to keep him here in Dallas.)

I’m not here to break down the game against Portland Timbers. You can go elsewhere for better coverage of that. And, if I am being honest, I don’t get to watch a ton of games in their entirety. Last night was an exception. I loved it. I mean, I didn’t love everything about the game, but I loved that I just got to sit and watch.

However, one thing really hit me hard last night and that was when I was talking with fellow members of the Dallas Beer Guardians about what people said were “keys to the match”. One of these keys were to “not let the ball behind the defenders” or something to that extent. I mean, come on guys… isn’t this soccer 101? We should probably try to get the ball in the net as well, right? But, if this is really one of the keys that we are looking at as Dallas fans, we are in trouble.

I will admit, I like seeing Reto Ziegler and Matt Hedges in the back, but there has been a disconnect between them and whoever is playing left back and right back. I am seeing that the timing is just off on a lot of shifting and I am sure they’re practicing it, but in games, that can’t be the case. It leaves people especially open on the far post, which is definitely a scare for me.

We have been lucky that it hasn’t hurt us more. This won’t fly in playoffs. Also, where is Pablo Aranguiz? Why did we spend TAM on him and an international spot? I would like to see more of him as a playmaker and really bring that missing #10 spot on our field. (Also, goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez can stop wasting time. I’ll admit, I think we are all sick of it.)

Fans are upset because we aren’t seeing the dominating wins that we know our team is capable of. Instead, we see Pareja seeming to play to draw. Or, maybe even to not lose. I partly understand last night. All we needed was the draw for the playoff clinch.

Going forward, I would like to see us really solidify the plan for playoffs and how it will be executed. I would rather us experiment and figure that out in the next few regular season games so that it’s not an issue come that first playoff game.

I’m feeling hopeful about the future of this season and I hope others are, too. We will just have to sit back and trust in Papi.

Featured image: @MLS

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @baileystaysposi

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