Category Archives: Minnesota United FC

Loons win and lose all in one night

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

Saturday, July 14: 3-2 Win

Just days after a 2-1 ‘friendly’ loss to Costa Rican club Saprissa, Minnesota United FC took the field again on yet another hot evening in Minneapolis. Fans who have seen more than their fair share of temperature fluctuations over the years flocked to TCF Bank Stadium in the hopes of being cooled off by a solid Loons performance… But hopefully not a cold one. They wanted to sing Wonderwall again after facing the team that gave them their first chance to sing last season: Real Salt Lake.

The first half was a mixed bag for Minnesota. The back three, especially Brent Kallman, made some big clearances and the attacking trio of Chris Ramirez, Darwin Quintero and Miguel Ibarra provided plenty of sparks. Unfortunately, no one could get into position in the final third to finish the job. The Loons’ best chances came from Ibarra’s speedy runs and Quintero’s newly unlocked long-range shots. Too bad they were up against Nick Rimando this week. Oh, wait…

Too bad Rimando was up against Darwin Quintero this week.

Minute 52: Quintero finds space, turns with the ball on a tight angle near the right post, opts to cross it in front of Rimando where the inside of Ibson’s right boot is waiting. Goal.

Minute 62: Quintero receives a beautiful ball from Calvo and turns to fire it from long range between the heads of two defenders and over Rimando. Yes, over. Another long chip from the Scientist finds the upper left corner. Goal.

Minute 68: Ibarra, on the run, one on one with Rimando. Rimando goes to the ground. Ibarra passes him and slots the ball into the net. Goal.

There is a reason I highlight the timing…

Jeff Rueter, of The Athletic, led the press box into the Twilight Zone.

Then, it nearly all came crashing down when Plata scored for RSL in the 77th minute (a set piece, go figure) and 85th minute. A nearly sterling defensive performance broke down, allowing two goals inside of ten minutes.

And just as three points were nearly tossed away, so were most of the words I had written before heading downstairs to coach Heath’s presser and then on to the locker room.

After Heath stormed away mid-interview with on-field reporter Jamie Watson; after he sent the players’ kids out of the locker room and gave his team a dressing down which could be heard through the concrete walls (“Nothing I can really repeat,” said defender Michael Boxall); after he settled down just enough to sit in front of the media, Heath was asked to describe the takeaway: “Three points. Did our best to throw it away. Tried to throw away 75 minutes of good work by people deciding that they know best. They’ll do what they want rather than doing what we know is right.”

What does he want from his players moving forward? ” For them to understand that they don’t know everything. And do what’s asked of them. And they’ll be okay. There are too many people in and around this football club that have an opinion on it.”

Neither Boxall nor Miguel Ibarra (who was once again one of the strongest Loons this night) could shine any light on that last statement from their coach. But both spoke of the mental lapses and lack of focus in the dying minutes of both this match and the win against Toronto FC last week. Ibarra added, “I think we’re fine. I mean, we as a team talked about it right after [Heath talked]. He’s right, we gotta do better at closing out games, but we got three points which is the most important thing.”

A win is a win is a… Well, sure, couldn’t it always be better?

Featured image: @MNUFC

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In Minnesota, if it’s not the heat, it’s the set pieces

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

Recapping the week

Fresh off an exhilarating win at home against MLS defending champs Toronto FC, Minnesota United flew to Houston and quickly rediscovered their reality. The Loons’ 3-0 loss to the Dynamo on Saturday night was the club’s eleventh on the season, with most of those losses coming on the road.

Despite the Loons’ poor performance in set pieces being an overwhelmingly obvious factor in the loss, coach Adrian Heath told the media, “I don’t think we were sharp enough all evening. Overall it was just another indication that we have issues on the road. I am disappointed with the level of commitment considering where we were on Wednesday.”

Fans were disappointed with Heath’s lack of ownership in the loss and Minnesota soccer Twitter succumbed once again to a barrage of #HeathOut statements, including one from the #HeathOut barometer:

Another quick turnaround to yet another hot, humid, Wednesday night match brought seeds of hope, but also anger. The international friendly against Costa Rican club Saprissa, planned long before United’s recent woes, nonetheless came at a very inopportune time.

All the usual starters got a rest or rode the bench, except for centerback Francisco Calvo (having rested in Houston on yellow card accumulation) who captained the squad of young or untested players. Frantz Pangop, a high profile signing in the preseason, was a bright spot that night, scoring his first goal in the Black and Blue (yes, I know the shirt’s grey, but the song has been ‘Boys in Black and Blue’ for as long as Minnesota has been horrible in set pieces). Unfortunately, that was their only goal. The Loons would give up two goals to the visitors, both on mistakes from Pangop’s countryman, Bertrand Owundi Eko’o.

Fans and analysts all agree that United’s defense desperately needs help and the midfield needs effective coordination. These were the expectations as the transfer window opened. Signing announcements came quickly. And, just as quickly, criticism followed.

First came 23-year-old Romario Ibarra of Ecuador, an attacking midfielder from Club Deportivo Universidad Catolica. But he is neither the Ibarra (“His brother is better,” said nearly everyone on Twitter) nor the midfielder (they just signed a DP mid who likes to score so why add another?) the Loons so desperately need.

Next was 29-year-old Colombian, Angelo Rodriguez. The forward for Club Deportes Tolima (Columbia) signed as Minnesota’s second Designated Player. These additions are confusing considering their positions and their international status. Jerome Thiesson received his green card this week, clearing the way for Ibarra to fill Minnesota’s seventh and final international spot.

Someone will have to go before Rodriguez clears up his visa paperwork and arrives in Minnesota. Rumors cite an end to Alexi Gomez’s transfer deal to clear the way for Rodriguez.

International slots aside, the signings are confusing in light of these most recent displays of MN United’s problem spots. Why splash money on goal scorers when your defense is leaking goals? When you have a striker in Christian Ramirez who you have held on to despite bids from MLS and Liga MX clubs? Heath’s praise for the two signings offer no real explanation other than stressing each player’s ability to score.

On Rodriguez: “He is a big-time player. We have just added a difference-maker to our roster. He’s a player who is physical, skilled and knows how to score.. He causes stress on defenses by closing down and pressing.”

On Ibarra:  “We have been looking for some change-of-game pace for the team and that’s one of the best things Romario does: He changes games with his pace and he challenges defenders.”

Maybe there is a huge surprise, a big change, in the works for the defense. The Loons did shock everyone earlier this week when they drilled on set pieces in training ahead of Wednesday’s friendly so…

Anything is possible.

Featured image: Minnesota United Facebook

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Loons make some MLS history

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

July 4, 2018

The Loons returned home Wednesday night for an Independence Day cross-conference matchup against the reigning champs Toronto FC. Both sides came in looking to break a three-game losing streak and, for once, Minnesota United FC was not the cure-all drug for another team’s woes.

There were some changes in Minnesota’s lineup with defender Francisco Calvo returning from World Cup duty and midfielder Miguel Ibarra back from a red card suspension. Their roles were shifted somewhat in a 3-5-2 lineup, with Calvo sitting in a three-man backline alongside Brent Kallman and Michael Boxall, while Ibarra was shifted into a wingback position on the right side of a five-man midfield. A pyramid of Canadians awaited them.

But the base of that pyramid crumbled quickly. For the first time in a long while, Minnesota took ownership of an early lead, rather than give it away. Just eight minutes in, Darwin Quintero broke down Toronto’s five-man defense, setting up a shot that would split two frantic defenders and float into the upper-left corner. One-nil in under ten minutes, in favor of Minnesota. A Christmas miracle in July, courtesy of The Scientist.

Just five minutes later, Calvo saw Ibarra ready to make a run and sent him the ball. Batman sped down the center of the pitch, just one man in red on his flank, Irwin coming far off his line in hopes of intercepting him. He did not. Ibarra knocked the ball right past the keeper to put Minnesota up 2-0.

Toronto managed to take one back before halftime, after a mistake in what coach Adrian Heath would later call a “busy box.” Ibson failed to clear a ball from Kallman, instead passing right in front of Justin Morrow, who connected easily on a slide. 2-1 Minnesota.

From the start of the second half, it was obvious that Toronto’s halftime chat centered around containing Quintero. The five defenders certainly had his number, but they misdialed a few times…

52nd minute: Quintero finds a gap, steps into the box and shoots. Goal. 3-1.

58th minute: Quintero is triple-teamed, but the three defenders pay no attention to each other’s movements and lose him again. Quintero makes a run, shoots. Goal. 4-1.

That goal marked Quintero’s first hat trick as a Loon (the fourth in his career) and the first for MNUFC since joining the MLS. Quintero cited an observation of Irwin’s behavior as the key to those three goals: “I noticed from the beginning that he took two steps forward to anticipate plays. In some games it works, in others, it doesn’t. Today all of them went in.”

Study the evolution here:

He celebrated in the corner, with fans who tossed him their caps, and his teammates who piled on top of him. Christian Ramirez put a cap on the DP’s head which earned him a yellow.

“I thought it was the right thing to do at the time; didn’t know it was deserving of a yellow,” Ramirez said with a chuckle in the locker room. “I asked him to give me the yellow instead, but…”

Toronto’s Sebastian Giovinco, quiet all evening, a shadow of his former self, notched a goal in the 70th minute that seemed a message to all present, “Hey, I’m not retired yet.” Bobby Shuttleworth could do nothing other than watch it float by him and into the net.

We have to give Heath credit for maintaining the formation, not simply parking the bus. His first two subs were offensive-minded: Mason Toye for Ramirez, Collin Martin for Schuller. Martin earned a standing ovation and the loudest (non-goal) cheers of the night as he made his first appearance since coming out last Friday.

It wasn’t until the 86th minute that United parked the bus, with Quintero pulled in favor of a defender, Eric Miller. But they left the windows open.

Toronto pulled off one more goal in stoppage time, in the final minute of play. 4-3.

But the whistle blew. A streak was snapped. Minnesota came out on top for the first time since May.

Cue Wonderwall.

Before the goosebumps subside, before the last notes of Wonderwall can fade from the supporters’ consciousness, the Loons will play a match with bigger consequences. On Saturday, United face Houston Dynamo, a club well ahead of them in the playoff race and they will have to do it without Calvo (yellow card accumulation) and with a depleted squad on tired legs.

At least we will always have Wednesday.

Featured image: @MNUFC

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Loons lose two, despite not allowing early goals

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

Minnesota United’s last two matches are about as ridiculous a juxtaposition as I have ever seen between two performances with the same result. The first appeared an easy win on paper, but in reality, while allowing the brightest ‘up-and-coming’ names to make their case, tested the Loons’ grit and the coach’s tactics. The second matched a daunting foe with a depleted side in a new formation. Opportunities mounted, celebrations sparked repeatedly and….

And nothing. The Loons have nothing to show for it.

United played perhaps its most passionate game of the season in Colorado last Saturday and throngs of away fans were there to disrupt the home sides’ broadcast mics for the whole show. And both sides did put on quite a show. The Loons struck first. When Rapids keeper Tim Howard blocked Darwin Quintero’s tap-in, he sent it spinning just off his line. Few players on either side reacted quickly, but United midfielder Miguel Ibarra rushed the box and launched both the ball and himself into the back of the net to put the Loons up 1-0.

Colorado wouldn’t answer until the second half, when Edgar Castillo sent one past Bobby Shuttleworth to tie it up in the 50th minute. Fifteen minutes later Christian Ramirez tapped one in, assisted by Ibarra and Quintero, to regain the lead. For nine minutes, it appeared the lead may hold, that the Loons could hold them off, but Shkelzen Gashi and Danny Wilson worked the gaps to set up a beauty from Joe Mason. 2-2, in the 74th minute. Then disaster.

Ibarra, attempting to take the ball from Joe Mason of the Rapids for quick restart, appeared to (from the official’s perspective) take a swing at Mason’s head. Ibarra was shoved to the ground by Jack Price and further agitated. As his teammates ran to his defense, Ibarra was shown red. Ejected.

The ten-man side looked dejected as they fought to maintain a one-point result away. The Loons gutted it out for thirteen minutes and both sides showed some, um, passion as they defended their goals at all costs. But grit and passion weren’t enough for United.

Nearly eight minutes into the announced minimum six minutes (yeah, you read that correctly) of stoppage time, Gashi takes a corner and connects with Joe Mason’s head. Goal. Whistle. Loss.

Cue fan anger. The sentiment #HeathOut, having grown from an occasional addition to banter to the first reaction of many fans on Twitter, spawned an account with the handle @HeathOut. Since that match, Is Heath Gone Yet? has tweeted every day, just a word or two each denoting the gaffer’s status: ‘Nope.’ ‘Naw.’ ‘Nein.’ ‘Nuh uh.’ ‘Nopers.’ Of course, there’s always this positive outlook: They didn’t give up a goal in the opening ten minutes.

Ahead of Minnesota’s home game against FC Dallas on Friday, the account posted, “Not today. Maybe Tomorrow.”  Present and accounted for, Heath rolled out a different formation of depleted Loons that offered hope for goals against a strong Dallas side. The 3-5-2 pulled one defender, Tyrone Mears,  forward into the midfield, which has leaked like a sieve all year.

Mears played right wing opposite Alexi Gomez, freeing up Ibson and Rasmus Schuller (usually the two in Heath’s 4-2–3-1) to track forward and back without leaving too much room for a Dallas counter. With these box-to-box roamers behind an attacking duo of Quintero and Ramirez, what could go wrong?

Against the Rapids, the Loons were efficient with their shots. Out of twelve total, eight were on target, two of which found the net. Taking note of the Law of Averages, the Loons peppered shots into the Toros’ box. But only five of their fifteen shots were on target.

Schuller nearly had a highlight reel screamer, but it curled wide. Ibson sent two brilliant shots wide. Ramirez sent a few wide, failed to connect on the end of others. Quintero went wide. It was as if the humid haze above the artificial turf created a force field between the sticks. As if a rifle shooter neglected to zero in his scope, shot after shot.

But they had plenty of set pieces to fall back on. Even a team notoriously poor with set pieces should find the Law on their side given enough opportunities. Right?

Let’s do a word problem

FC Dallas takes three corner kicks. One goes in (Goal: Roland Lamah, 59’). MN United FC takes thirteen corner kicks. How many of United’s corners result in goal?

This English major comes up with 4.33 goals for United on paper. On the pitch, the Loons came up with zero.

And so, despite again not allowing a goal in the first ten minutes, the Loons lost another.

But the supporters sweated it out with them. It wasn’t just any hot and humid game night. It was Pride Night and the club was celebrating one of its own.

Midfielder Collin Martin came out publicly on Friday morning, the only active pro athlete to play openly as a gay man.

In an impromptu discussion with media before the match, team owner Dr. Bill McGuire was asked if there was anything political to be inferred by the announcement.  “This is a human statement,” he replied. “Not a political one.” In subsequent interviews, Martin noted an overwhelmingly positive response.

The Loons may have lost the match, but Collin Martin (a player who didn’t even see minutes on Friday), with the club and supporters behind him, won the night.

#PrideNightEveryNight

Featured image: @MNUFC

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

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Loons enter chase for Lamar Hunt trophy

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

FCC (1) – (3) MIN (PKs)

Before the World Cup break, Minnesota United FC began their hunt for the US Open Cup trophy on June 6 in Cincinnati. The Loons played a refreshingly boring, albeit endless, game against USL side FC Cincinnati, with two extra 15 minute periods and, finally, four rounds of penalty kicks to decide who would go to the round of 16. The eternal defensive back-and-forth proved that Cinci will be a staunch opponent when the club enters MLS play next season. It also proved that Minnesota has work to do.

Minnesota maintained possession, with 66 percent overall, but struggled to do much with it. While Christian Ramirez (aka “Martinez” this night, thanks to FCC’s commentary team) had chances, the Loons managed just 15 shots to FCC’s 10. We also saw more of Maximiniano than we’ve seen all season and the mid, who was also given an alias – “Maximino” – somehow managed to stay in the ref’s good graces for much of the match.

Ramirez set the tone for the Loons, shooting and scoring first. He was followed by Collin Martin and Brent Kallman, who both scored, and finally Collen Warner, whose shot was blocked. But it was keeper Bobby Shuttleworth (again) who secured the result, standing tall during the shootout, blocking all but one FCC shot, including Nazmi Albadawi’s which cancelled out Warner’s miss.

MN United’s appearance in Houston on Monday night will mark the first time the club has made it to the fifth round in their USOC history, including the NASL eras when the club joined the Hunt as the Thunder (1999 – 2009) the Stars (2010 – ‘12) and United (2013 – ‘16). Both this progress and the opponent will be a refreshing change.

Many supporters expected the United to draw Sporting Kansas City in the first regional group match, the club which sent the Loons home in 2014, ‘16 and ‘17 (and 2009 if you count the Thunder v. Wiz match, which most of us do). The Minnesota soccer community breathed a sigh of relief at the Houston Dynamo matchup, but, unfortunately for United, the Dynamo – who have a USOC history of their own with SKC – view the fifth round match as a stepping stone to their next league appearance, against none other than Kansas City.

Houston coach Wilmer Cabrera was quoted in a recent news release saying, “It’s going to help us prepare for what is coming against Sporting Kansas City… We want to win at home and we have to win at home, so it’s a very important game for us.”

It is no less important for United, whose three-year transition plan cited Open Cup success in addition to a playoff berth. It is also important for the fans, whose morale and confidence in the team, coaching staff and back office, have wavered with recent poor results.

The Loons need to present a solid defense on Monday night against a hungry squad of bench players looking to prove their worth in the Dynamo lineup. They also need to find a way to connect their midfield movement to both the attacking and defending thirds, making the most of every possession and counter-attack, and – hopefully – finding the back of the net.

Turnovers and poor communication have been United’s downfall all season. If the midfield can get it together, they have a chance in Houston. Instead of being victimized by the Law of Averages, they need to leverage it: Keep the ball, move the ball, shoot the ball.

Featured image: @MNUFC

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A tale of three Uniteds

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

No, this is not another story about the naming shenanigans that sparked a [forced] rivalry between D.C. United, Atlanta United and Minnesota United. This is a story about one club with a history of three very clear identities before its promotion to MLS. And its ongoing struggle to define itself in its second year at this level.

Over a period of three weeks, MN United supporters have seen three very different teams. First, they watched a club hungry for revenge hold off [another forced] rival Sporting Kansas City to split the points at home. Then, in the final game of a month-long homestand, they saw their superhero Loons demolish Montreal Impact (I know what you’re thinking about Montreal but this story is not about them) and send their captain off to the World Cup with Wonderwall in his ears. And, finally, they travelled to Kansas City… to eat barbeque in anger.

I have already written about facing SKC at home so let’s focus on Montreal and SKC away. Against Montreal, center back and captain Francisco Calvo was determined to end media criticism with his best game of the season before joining the Costa Rica WC squad. And he, along with his linemates, performed quite well (against a lackluster Montreal attack, yeah, I know). So did a trio of Loons from the clear-identity days.

Ibson connected with forward Christian “Superman” Ramirez who found the net in his most beautiful chance yet, after just missing out on a number of assists from DP Darwin Quintero. Then midfielder Miguel “Batman” Ibarra notched one of his own to put United up 2-0 and secure a round of Wonderwall. It was like the good ol’ days in the NASL. Surely, such energetic group play could be repeated against a top team like Sporting?

But even with vocal Michael Boxall taking the captain’s armband and Brent Kallman slotting into Calvo’s place in the lineup; even with the two dancing Brazilians, Ibson and Gomez, paired up again in midfield; even with Batman running full steam for 90 minutes… It was not to be.

Loon defender Tyrone Mears (filling the space usually occupied by injured Jerome Thiesson) scored Minnesota’s only goal on the night. He evened the score just minutes after the club gave up yet another early goal. That goal and the previous paragraph just about sum up the highlights of the match.

The Loons would fall 4-1 in a performance that saw numerous turnovers in midfield (many by Gomez), defensive miscues following each midfield disaster, very few shots taken (because it’s hard to shoot if you can’t carry the ball into the final third) and a strange lack of connection between Quintero and Ramirez after weeks of moderately successful interplay at home.

It is understandable that this club has not formed an identity for itself in MLS. With so little consistency week to week, what is there to define? The only consistency seems to be in the supporters’ reactions on Twitter, often summed up as: “Well, I guess it could have been worse.”

Featured image: Chris Ramirez striking the ball that put MN up 1-0 against Montreal

Photo by Daniel Mick / DanielMickPhotography.com

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Something isn’t quite right in Minnesota

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

Sunday, May 20: 1-1 Draw

On a warm and cloudless Sunday afternoon, Minnesota United FC managed to eke out one unlikely point against Sporting Kansas City. Anyone casually glancing at the stats without first looking at the final score would be quite surprised to see the draw.

Kansas City held a demanding lead in possession, with 61.3 percent overall. And they certainly didn’t waste it, leading in both shots and shots on target (more on that later). Somehow, only one went in.

Sporting’s lone goal came from a corner in the eighth minute, one of nine Kansas City corners on the day. Khiry Shelton leaped well above center back Francisco Calvo to head Johnny Russell‘s ball past the keeper.

 

Calvo, who has been taking a lot of flack this month for losing his marks and other defensive errors leading to opposing goals, really did not have much of a chance at deflecting that shot. Shelton had the advantage of a perfectly placed ball and fantastic vertical skill. Minnesota zero; Kansas City one.

A Darwin Quintero goal in the twentieth minute leveled the game. Minnesota one, Kansas City one. This one goal is a respectable number considering that Minnesota had just six shots, with four on target. Forward Christian Ramirez nearly added a go-ahead goal, but was declared offside, prompting widespread chanting of “V-A-R! V-A-R!” from supporters.

Shockingly, the match ended even. Why is this so shocking? Kansas City took four times as many shots as Minnesota, a total of 24. Of those, ten were on target. The defensive Loons performed admirably, making 31 clearances (to Sporting’s 12). But the star of the day was Bobby Shuttleworth.

Shuttleworth earned a starting position in MLS Team of the Week for his nine saves on Sunday. Nine! Four of his saves are featured in MLS Match Center’s game highlights. Yes, half of the highlight videos feature a Shuttleworth performance.

Bridget McDowell - Minnesota United/mlsfemale
Image: mlssoccer.com

While the sellout crowd was disappointed to not sing Wonderwall after the match, the general consensus was that this game could have gone a whole lot worse, especially with key midfielder Rasmus Schuller leaving the game on concussion protocol, adding to an already heavy injured list. Despite misreading Shelton’s header and conceding the goal, Shuttleworth saved the day. Again.

But I have said it before and will say it again (Please, Loons. Please don’t make me.), if your keeper earns Man of the Match and Team of the Week, match after match after match, something isn’t quite right.

Make goals. Not saves.

Featured image: @MNUFC

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MNUFC faces ever-growing faultline

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

Saturday, May 12: 1-3 Loss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so it goes in the North.

Featured image: Bridget McDowell

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Loons and the Law of Averages

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

Wednesday, May 9: 2-0 Loss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Featured image: @MNUFC

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

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MNUFC’s Ten-Man Wonderwall

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

Saturday, May 5: 1-0 Win

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Featured image of the team walk out courtesy: Bridget McDowell

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

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