Category Archives: Western Conference

Western Conference

All[ianz] is bright

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

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

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

Well, not exactly dark. Nor silent.

Oh! And this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Featured image: @MNUFC

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

MLSFemale logo trans 100x

Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s introductory press conference in LA

Michelle Huitink - LA Galaxy/mlsfemale
Official LA Galaxy Reporter

By Michelle Huitink // @mchuitink

The press conference for Guillermo Barros Schelotto began with kind words about late former head coach Sigi Schmid. The impact he had on soccer in the United States was prevalent, especially after his passing, as many in the industry shared stories about him.

LA Galaxy president, Chris Klein, mentioned how Schmid influenced the sport and the club. Schelotto then added how important Schmid was to him and thanked him for also bringing him to play for the Columbus Crew.  

jerseyschelotto
Head coach Schelotto jersey debut. Photo credit: Michelle Huitink
interviewschelotto
Media scrum with Schelotto. Photo credit: Michelle Huitink

The LA Galaxy have looked good on paper. Schelotto is no exception. He has many honors and championships with Argentina and in MLS despite being only 45 years old. His experience makes him worthy of the position as head coach.  

He’s dealt with much higher profile players and teams and he’s developed younger players, as well. As a player with the Columbus Crew, the team won the MLS Cup in 2008. The Boca Juniors final was wild. It had been postponed due to a bus attack by fans. That aside, it was Boca’s decision to let him go according to GBS.

laioh_dtk
General Manager Dennis te Kloese. Photo credit: LA is Our House.

The focus is on moving forward, having patience, and doing the work needed to start winning. I was able to ask general manager Dennis te Kloese a couple of questions:

MH: Come opening day, what first impression can fans expect?

DTK: There’s a lot of things that will take a little bit of time. There are [some things] on the roster that need to be figured out, as we saw, and I don’t want to be judgemental because I don’t want to look back. I want to look forward, but there has been an imbalance defensively–with Guillermo coming in, with the experience that he has, in the coming weeks, with an intensive search for some players–that is one of the first priorities that we’re looking at because offensively the team showed a lot of promise last year and will show this year also.

MH: You mentioned wanting to have players ready for the opening of the season.  You believe you’ll have all the pieces that you need defensively by the start of the season before the summer window?

DTK: The construction of the roster in MLS with the rules that are given, that takes a little bit of time. We’ll never put any excuses behind anything here. We’ll just work hard.  We already started, and we’ll do our very very best to be top-class from day one. But it could be that certain pieces could fit in over the summer or a little bit later.

It was only the 3rd of January, but I felt management should already be talking to players for their positions on the roster and also figuring out who they want to have leadership on the pitch. No one wants to look back at the 2018 season, so it’s best to look at this as a fresh start. That said, I go into the 2019 season with cautious optimism.

There are more questions than answers at this point, and the motto for this year seems to be “we’ll see.” I was looking for a sense of urgency in the management to get things together NOW.  Opportunities can present themselves as late as the summer window or after, but fans expect to see results come opening day. Of course, patience is key and options shouldn’t be limited, but this Los Angeles team has a reputation to uphold as kings of MLS and that reputation has been compromised.

There have been many rumors including overseas interest in the Lion and other players. It’s speculated that, due to finances and MLS regulations regarding designated players and international positions, some players will have to be moved. Juninho and Chris Pontius have been welcomed back, but the Galaxy’s midfield is crowded.  The back line is what needs significant improvement, yet they re-signed Servando Carrasco. Schelotto’s style is an offensive one but the Galaxy need to work on defense which he assured they would work on.

In terms of forwards, there doesn’t seem to be a spot for Ola Kamara with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who is now confirmed to be staying with the club. Scoring goals wasn’t the Galaxy’s issue last season: it was allowing goals, which is a defensive issue. It’s speculated Kamara could also be traded for his spot. Romain Alessandrini is also a possible option. Gio Dos Santos would be a more favorable move. It hasn’t been announced who will captain the team either.

MLS has released the regular season schedule and it’s much shorter, which means it’s more important than ever for the team to build a roster with depth.

We’ll see soon enough.

Preseason kicks off in February with exhibition games and the Jersey Launch Party. LA Galaxy home games are at Dignity Health Sports Park (formerly known as StubHub Center).

The preseason schedule is as follows:

  • Saturday, February 9–LA Galaxy vs Toronto FC at home
  • Saturday, February 16–LA Galaxy vs Vancouver Whitecaps FC at OC Great Park
  • Sunday, February 17–Jersey Launch Party at The Novo
  • Saturday, February 23–LA Galaxy vs Colorado Rapids at home

The home opener is set for March 2nd against the Chicago Fire at 5pm PST.

Featured image of LA Galaxy management panel: Michelle Huitink

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @mchuitink

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

MLSFemale logo trans 100x

 

 

 

 

New Year. New season: LAFC gears up for 2019 following roster moves and match announcements.

Araceli Villanueva - LAFC/mlsfemale
Official LAFC Reporter

By Araceli Villanueva // @Aracelv1

In 55 days, the Los Angeles Football Club will kick off their 2019 campaign at the Banc of California Stadium – looking to repeat a historic inaugural season.

Major League Soccer released a list of the 2019 home openers on Thursday, December 20 and listed LAFC’s match for First Kick on Sunday, March 3 against Sporting Kansas City. Sporting KC delivered the black-and-gold’s first home loss on August 11 and suffered a 2-1 defeat at Children’s Mercy Park on Decision Day.

Before entering this marquee match, LAFC will host Japanese club Vissel Kobe in a preseason friendly match on Thursday, January 31. The star-studded team from the J-Leauge features world football legends Lukas Podolski, Andres Iniesta, and David Villa – whom recently left New York City FC to join the top division team.

With the friendly fast-approaching, the club continues to strengthen their roster. Shortly before the holiday break, the week of December 12 proved to be challenging for the club, as the black-and-gold found themselves on the other side of trades.

LAFC was spared in the expansion draft though not everyone had a chance to relax when Chicago Fire selected Marco Ureña during the waiver draft shortly after, including, having to endure a trade and two new signings all within 24 hours of each other.

João Moutinho goes to Orlando via trade for Mohamed El-Munir 

Last season, LAFC was suffering from their lack of defenders. Could El-Munir be the solution?

The 26-year-old defender appeared in 26 regular season contests (23 starts) for Orlando City SC, registering two assists in 2,089 minutes during the 2018 season. El-Munir also played in all three of Orlando’s U.S. Open Cup contests, playing all 300 minutes of the competition.

LAFC selects Ricky Lopez-Espin in Waiver Draft

Lopez-Espín’s signing comes as a surprise since the young forward only appeared in one game for Real Salt Lake last season. However, he did appear in eight matches for Salt Lake’s USL side, Real Monarchs – logging just two assists.

Still inexperienced, he could have the potential to develop. Even though an official contract has not been offered yet, all things considering, I think Lopez-Espin will be offered one following January’s camp. And he could possibly be loaned to a USL team – although the club recently severed ties with the USL side, Orange County SC who hosted a wide range of players.

New Contracts

Thus far, three players have inked new deals with the club for the 2019 season. Mark-Anthony Kaye, Eduard Atuesta and Jordan Harvey are all staying put in Los Angeles.

Kaye and Harvey took to social media to express their gratitude and excitement for the new season:

*Atuesta is not very active on social media and expressed his gratitude via statement.

Miller remains the lone keeper

No goalkeepers have yet been added to the roster, still leaving Tyler Miller the lone keeper. I assume LAFC will make more moves before the draft, if not find a few keepers in Chicago.

LAFC is rumored to be seeking to bring back Luis Lopez on loan from Real Espana and could be interested in keeper Cody Cropper from the New England Revolution. The 25-year-old has earned nine clean sheets in 29 appearances. But it seems the club is good at keeping secrets. Anything can happen at this point.

I would hope another keeper is signed soon, since Miller, along with Christian Ramirez and Walker Zimmerman, all received call-ups to the USMNT’s January camp. The camp will begin on January 6 in Chula Vista, California. Miller and Ramirez will be seeking their first cap when the USMNT compete in two friendlies against Panama on January 27 in Glendale, Arizona, and Costa Rica on February 2 in San Jose, California.

Featured image: Araceli Villanueva

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @Aracelv1

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

MLSFemale logo trans 100x

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

MLSFemale logo trans 100x

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

MLSFemale logo trans 100x

LAFC Weekly Roundup: Kaye Returns, Eddie Segura joins LAFC, Gold Links

Araceli Villanueva - LAFC/mlsfemale
Official LAFC Reporter

By Araceli Villanueva // @Aracelv1

Los Angeles Football Club had a remarkable inaugural season and after setting the bar – the black-and-gold looks ahead to the 2019 season.

Kaye Returns

Mark-Anthony Kaye received a late-birthday gift from the club of a three-year contract extension through 2021 with a club option in 2022.

The 24-year-old Canadian International started in 20 regular season matches, recording two goals and five assists before acquiring a season-ending injury on July 26.

Kaye has a made a full recovery since then and is expected to return to training in 2019.

New Player Signing

Just days before officially announcing their offseason moves, LAFC signed Colombian defender Eddie Segura from Atletico Huila on a six-month loan beginning in January, with a purchase option.

“At such a young age, Eddie has accumulated a wealth of experience in Colombia, and we believe he has the requisite potential and qualities to make an immediate impact to our backline next season.” said general manager and EVP of soccer operations John Thorrington in a team statement. “Eddie is a strong, dynamic defender who fits well with how we play, and, similar to our other players, will continue his progress as a player here in Los Angeles.”

The 21-year-old center back is set to occupy an international spot and will fill a much-needed role, should Walker Zimmerman and Dejan Jaković leave LAFC. But even if they remain on the roster, two CBs could always use reinforcements.

The club’s loan agreement for Danilo Silva has expired. As a result, he will return to Internacional of Brazil after LAFC did not exercise their purchase options.

Segura marks the black-and-gold’s first offseason signing ahead of the preseason camp in January.

Roster Moves

Offseason moves are fast approaching. The good news is it seems we’re keeping our main core of guys. The bad news is we have to say goodbye to a few good players.

The club declined contract options on goalkeepers Charlie Lyon and Quillan Roberts, midfielders Nico Czornomaz, Calum Mallace and James Murphy, and forwards Steeve Saint-Duc and Marco Ureña.

Additionally, defenders Jordan Harvey, Dejan Jaković, and Walker Zimmerman, and midfielder Benny Feilhaber will be out of contract on December 31.

Jaković, Mallace, and Roberts are eligible to participate in the MLS Re-Entry Draft on December 15.

Zimmerman received a Bona Fide Offer and will not be eligible for the Re-Entry Draft. However, rumors have been flooding around Zimmerman since October that he could potentially be leaving LAFC for overseas.

*Click here to view the full list of roster moves

Gold Links: 

Featured image: Los Angeles Football Club Facebook

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @Aracelv1

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

MLSFemale logo trans 100x

Sporting Kansas City’s season ends in 3-2 loss to Portland Timbers in Western Conference Championship

Araceli Villanueva - LAFC/mlsfemale
Sporting KC Contributor

By Araceli Villanueva // @Aracelv1

Sporting Kansas City‘s 2018 season came to an abrupt end on Thursday night in a devastating season-ending 3-2 loss against the Portland Timbers in leg two of the Western Conference Final at Children’s Mercy Park.

In front of a sold-out, energetic crowd Sporting KC delivered a solid performance filled with chances, goals and controversial calls.

Sporting KC kicked off the match maintaining strong possession that later helped Daniel Salloi earn the chance to claim an early lead for the home side in the 20th minute.

However, things turned sour quickly after the restart when Sebastian Blanco blasted a strike into the top corner, to level the match in the 52nd. Blanco’s strike would stun fans and even fellow captain Diego Valeri – who gained a surge of energy to double the Timbers lead nine minutes later.

Now trailing 2-1, the home side had to rally quick. In the 81st minute, Sporting KC would get a glimpse of hope as Gerso Fernandes scored the equalizer after a brilliant combination from the team. On the cusp, of potentially scoring another goal to advance, the match went into sudden death for the final remainder of the half.

Despite all effort, Sporting KC’s offseason would begin deep into a grueling nine-minute stoppage time after Valeri’s breakaway finish – claiming the Western Conference Champion title and stamping the Timber’s ticket to the MLS Cup.

As fans thanked one another for their dedication, several Sporting KC players took to Twitter to express their disappointment and gratitude:

Even Daniel Salloi appeared to have hinted to be returning to the Blue Hell next season following speculation of transfer rumors for Europe:

Not even 24 hours after the loss, the club dug a little deeper into fans’ wounds by announcing which players have had contract options declined: forward Kharlton Belmar, midfielder Cristian Lobato, defenders Amer Didic, Brad Evans and Colton Storm.

At the end of the day, the contract options didn’t come as a shock to fans, since most of the core group (Matt Belser, Graham Zusi, Seth Sinovic, Roger Espinoza, and Ilie Sanchez) had recently re-signed. And with the addition of long-time veterans like goalkeeper Tim Melia, next season is shaping up to be a promising one.

Featured image: @sportingkc Instagram

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @Aracelv1

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

MLSFemale logo trans 100x

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

MLSFemale logo trans 100x

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

MLSFemale logo trans 100x

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

MLSFemale logo trans 100x