Minnesota United’s freshly minted full-time captain, Osvaldo “Ozzie” Alonso, faced off against his former club on a beautiful Saturday evening in St. Paul. It was a great night for soccer, a great night for friends, a great night for a game which no one would lose.
There were plenty of story lines surrounding Seattle’s first trip to Allianz Field – the Sounders’ shallow bench, Roldan’s rescinded red card, Calvo’s move to Chicago, the Loon’s new-look defense – but none were quite as prevalent as Ozzie’s new role in the Black & Blue. The Honey Badger made his presence known for the full ninety minutes, playing a safe game but not doing any favors for his former teammates.
The former Sounder took a few long shots toward goal which, despite finding the hands of Stefan Frei every time, lit a fire under his new squad to open the scoring and give their captain the win. It was fairly obvious early on that a cross into the box would not be the answer (It never is, guys. It never is.) so what were the chances that a set-piece would solve the Sounders? Unfortunately for poor Ike Opara‘s head, pretty darn good:
Unfortunately, Seattle pulled level before halftime when Cristian Roldan unleashed a rocket that somehow wound its way through five Loons and just out of reach of Vito Mannone.
No arguments from anyone on that ball. Beautiful.
Both teams emerged from the locker room with all pistons firing. Midfielders Miguel Ibarra, Ethan Finlay and Rasmus Schuller, and lone striker Angelo Rodriguez, all made memorable runs and give-and-go plays. Miguel and Ethan, especially, were out to prove their worth on the wings, from box to box. Heath’s substitutions threw more bodies forward (Romario Ibarra for Finlay and Darwin Quintero for Schuller) and the go-ahead goal looked imminent throughout the final twenty minutes.
But the same can be said for the Sounders. The second half was just as level as the first and when the final whistle blew two exhausted squads met at midfield to shake hands.
For the club that has struggled to fill the gap left by el corazon, it was a satisfactory road trip. For a club that has struggled the last couple years to maintain an even keel, let alone a competitive edge, for a full ninety minutes, it was a point well-earned by a club finally building an identity.
“I don’t think it’s a story between two players in this game specifically,” said Roldan. “I think it was two teams higher up in the western conference side competing out there, but anytime you play against Ozzie you need a little bit of grit because you know he’s going to bring it.”
That is what Minnesota United has brought in this season: Grit and determination to tease that extra edge out of the club’s existing core. It’s been exciting, but there’s still work to do: “I think we played really good, a little disappointed for the result because I wanted the three points but it is what it is,” Alonso said. “You have to keep going now.”
On the Loons go, to Calvo’s Chicago on Saturday, May 11.
Few Loons have drawn more fury from Minnesota United fans after a poor performance than defender Francisco Calvo. On Friday morning, just two weeks after the perennial captain took a late red and left nine men to finish an ugly match in Toronto, it was announced that Calvo had been traded to Chicago Fire for some GAM and TAM.
For two weeks, fans reveled in a thankless and useless game — a pastime, really (I blame our long, dark winters) — of ‘What if: Heath dropped Calvo?’ What if coach Adrian Heath — who is particularly well-known for his frequent use of the two phrases, ‘We need two or three more good players’ and ‘Players drop and promote themselves’ — dropped the one player whose errors never seem to count against him and acquired a few more players who better fit his system? Of course, this game rarely goes anywhere. However, there are notable exceptions.
Calvo has company in this camp. Two spring immediately to mind: Vadim Demidov and Johann Venegas. Demidov’s star was victim to United’s atrocious goals-against record in the club’s inaugural MLS season and Venegas, who just couldn’t find a way to score a goal while wearing the Black-and-Blue (he’s scored aplenty for Costa Rica and Saprissa) followed him out of MLS not long after.
And so, we find ourselves in an awkward position. A Weezer song about pulling a thread and walking away comes to mind:
I was fully behind Calvo retaining the armband this season despite his obvious reluctance to fill in for Jerry Thiesson on the left at the end of 2018. Throughout the long road trip that kicked off the club’s third MLS season, Calvo showed signs of being a new man, a new captain, in his new role. He was a calm communicator, quick to rally the squad after conceding a goal, shared smiles and handshakes with teammates to loosen them up on the way to a dressing room dressing-down.
But it’s easy to captain a winning team. Simple mistakes have a way of snowballing for this club and Calvo struggled to slow the roll without making desperate attempts by going it alone and building a snowman in the process. Even after the two draws that opened Allianz, while his teammates chatted and joked with one another, Calvo stood alone. He was a large presence in the locker room, but his impact is up for debate. He was always prepared for the media and answered questions evenly, with one notable exception in 2018 when he demanded that one outlet not be part of the scrum because of an unfavorable tweet. He was also not shy about calling out those who discredited Minnesota’s place in the league.
Perhaps that is why he was not made available for interviews last week. Calvo watched Wednesday night’s clash against LA Galaxy from one of Allianz Field’s tech crew boxes while serving his red card suspension and was nowhere to be seen after Sunday’s win against DC United, a match Heath left him out of to avoid “negativity” on the pitch. While both Heath and Manny Lagos, director of player personnel, deny that the red card and what followed were not a factor in the trade, the underlying theme certainly is. Calvo was not productive enough in his role to merit favor under these circumstances.
While a far cry from the $2 million cash offer United is rumored to have received for Calvo over the winter (a story the club’s PR director has been busy denying all day as we Twitter-happy correspondents rehashed the deal), the $200 thousand in GAM and $150 thousand in TAM to be paid out by Chicago over the 2019 and 2020 seasons, those Garber Bucks could go a long way in acquiring some much needed depth in the summer transfer window, if not sooner.
The Loons are sure to show exactly where their biggest weaknesses lie in the first match of the AC (After Calvo) Era on Saturday. While the veteran leadership and teamwork of Ike Opara and Ozzie Alonso, who captained the last two matches, has triumphed and allowed a new-look XI to shine, more moves are needed.
Before I return you to your regularly scheduled programming, “What will Heath do now?”, one more thing. I’ve taken my fair share of shots at Francisco Calvo in the last two years, but there are many ways in which he shines on and off the pitch and for which I greatly respect him. As one of the early international signings in the transition, he brought a lot of new fans to the club and legitimized the endeavor. In that sense, Calvo will always be El Capitan.
Minnesota v LA Galaxy: 0-0, Minnesota v D.C.: 1-0.
The second match, first under the lights, at Allianz Field was a beautiful evening for soccer. While some visitors could not decide what weight of jacket to wear into the stands, short sleeved jerseys dominated the Wonderwall. On the pitch, a much-changed lineup looked to ice out a red-hot LA Galaxy.
With perennial captain Fran Calvo cooling his heels after a double yellow ejection from Toronto and defensive mid Jan Gregus chilling beside him, a few other guys had the chance to show what they can do. Not a single goal was scored. And it was fantastic.
A shared point and a clean sheet against Zlatan was a win for Minnesota United, especially coach Adrian Heath, who was just thankful to not have to talk to the media for a few days about a leaky defense.
Zlatan, of course, didn’t see it that way. Cue the friendly cross-country sniping about the definition of a ‘good’ team. Whatever you have to say about the Lion, he was well contained by Minnesota’s back four on Wednesday.
A clean sheet is one thing. A clean sheet against the Lion? That’s a win even if it ends 0-0. It was celebrated as such. The only thing missing (other than a Loon goal) was the Wonderwall’s first rendition of ‘Wonderwall.’
Flash forward to Sunday. Another match that appeared bound to remain a goalless stalemate was broken wide open in the 82nd minute. By Angelo Rodriguez. With his foot. For the Loons. In front of the Wonderwall. Maybe. The jury’s still out on whether or not Angelo actually got a touch on Romain Metanire’s cross (he, of course, insists he did), but in the end it doesn’t matter: “It doesn’t matter if it was Romain’s or my goal, what matters is the win and the three points,” he told reporters.
I agree. In twenty years, we won’t be talking about the goal, only the final result. There’s no crying in the press box so I stepped outside to have a moment to myself with the Wonderwall:
Judging simply from locker room atmosphere, the team that played this past week (Wednesday against LA, Sunday against DC) was a very different one from weeks and seasons past. As the media loitered in the middle of the locker room on Sunday afternoon, waiting for Miguel Ibarra to emerge from the shower, Brent Kallman, lounging in his locker with a salad, pulled up some rock music on his phone. Ethan Finlay told him to blast it and showed off a few dance moves while adjusting his tie.
In a corner, Rodriguez and Quintero, limping a bit on his injured foot, bantered in Spanish. And on the other side of the room, Mannone and Opara chattered away. Some of the veterans threw friendly jibes at rookie mid Hassani Dotson who came on for Danladi in the 85th minute. It was all positive. Relaxed. Happy.
The first home match out of the way. The first home win out of the way. Nothing left to focus on but the next opponent. The next chance to earn three points, to work their way up the table.
For the fans: Relief. The first rendition of Wonderwall in their new home was just the catharsis the doctor ordered for their frustration with the front office and a few key players.
Calvo was on hand to chat with fans as his teammates warmed up, but he did not appear in the 18 on Sunday. And there was no sign of him in the tunnel or locker room after the match. When asked about the choice to leave him out of the selection, Heath said, “I just felt, obviously, his disappointment in not playing, and didn’t want any negativity about the group today. He’s obviously disappointed and I thought it would be better if we left him out altogether today.”
This rationale took a bit of the edge off the #HeathOut crowd. However, the Calvo situation will obviously be top of mind for every supporter once the Wonderwall hangover wears off.
There will be plenty of other questions to debate: VAR calls (for and against), divots on the south end of the pitch, whether Danladi should be a winger or a forward or move out on loan, should we approve of goalless draws, #HeathOut, was Demidov really the problem, is Kallman a starter, should ‘Wonderwall’ be sung on any occasion other than in the stadium after a win (No.) … I could go on.
But I don’t want to. Not right now. As a new friend told me Sunday night, over a beer at the Black Hart of St Paul, this is where we should live. Here. Now. This moment.
Some moments just happen to be more memorable than others.
Supporting a team like Minnesota United is always a trip. You experience the highest highs and the lowest lows, with plenty of boredom in between to keep your ego in check. It’s a life of balance. Not a healthy balance, to be sure, but a balance nonetheless. The Loons may fall from height, but never too far, never too hard, and they typically bounce back fairly quickly.
Occasionally though, they crash and burn. Then they dig the hole a little deeper, back up a few steps and, with a running start, dive into that hole, belly-flop on the bottom and throw a tantrum. This is the scenario we witnessed on Friday in Toronto.
United played a level-headed first half, perhaps the cleanest first half we have seen from them on the road since joining MLS. The midfield was well-composed, the backline was incredibly in sync given the circumstances and the attack showed growing chemistry. This was a surprise given the changes in lineup due to some huge absences: Brent Kallman filled in for Ike Opara at centerback, Rasmus Schuller was in for Miguel Ibarra on the wing (swapping sides with Ethan Finlay) and Angelo Rodriguez got another start at forward after ending his goal drought in the Allianz opener.
Toronto led 2-1 at the half, thanks to Alejandro Pozuelo answering Darwin Quintero’s 17th minute goal, not once, but twice, inside of two minutes. The Loons were not as organized in the second half, showing some fatigue on the cold, wet pitch. Despite the conditions Rodriguez found a second goal to draw level with the home side in the 57th minute.
Then, in the 70th, his smart hold-up play in the box drew a foul and Quintero, as always, converted on the penalty. With a 3-2 lead, United just had to be smart about the final twenty minutes: Disrupt Toronto’s attack (especially Pozuelo, who spotted the defensive gaps instantly in the first half) and make opportunistic plays in the final third to cushion their lead.
They did not do any of that. How bad was it? The only video that made it to the club’s twitter feed is Quintero’s first goal in open play in 2019.
A tired and frustrated squad gave up two more goals to Jordan Hamilton who, having come off the bench in the 73rd minute, scored beautiful goals in the 77th and 79th minutes. That neither Hamilton nor Pozuelo bagged a hat trick was a miracle. It was also a miracle that United coach Adrian Heath made not one, but two substitutes in the 82nd minute. It had appeared that he would be content to let his starters dig themselves out of this hole they dug for themselves, or flounder to the final whistle. Rather than bolster the defense, Heath swapped Schuller for Abu Danladi and Finlay for Kevin Molino.
It was great to see Molino make his first appearance since tearing his ACL in Orlando early in the 2018 season. Every body pressed forward in a desperate attempt to find, at the very least, an equalizer. Toronto, however, returned pressure just as adamantly and the game got a little…. Intense?
Defensive midfielder Jan Gregus, a little tired of being kicked around in his own third, made a hard challenge on Pozuelo which earned him a red card in the 89th minute. Rather than rally his men going into stoppage time, Loons’ captain, Francisco Calvo, made some questionable jabs of his own, earning a yellow card in the 90th minute.
Was that enough to cool him down or convince Heath to make a third substitution? Of course not. Calvo struck out at Auro seconds later. Another yellow. Another man ejected. El Capitan.
He had no words for his squad as he tore off the armband. He simply stalked off the pitch, leaving his teammates to wallow in the final few minutes of added time.
After the final whistle, Kallman stood on the pitch scratching his head while the remaining eight men rehashed the game with the winning side and the coaching staff. He looked shell shocked by the evening’s events. After a remarkably successful start on the road, the Loons crashed and burned Friday night, blowing a 3-2 lead and cancelling out a decent 45 minutes of football.
“It’s really disappointing. We fought and worked so hard to get back into the game. Not only do they get the equalizer but they take the lead,” said Kallman. “To give it away like that is not fun. We got to be better and we got to do a better job of being professional to close out the game. That’s not acceptable.”
It is not acceptable from any player. But from a captain who vocally demands respect from the league? Who has had very few glowing performances to redeem his errors? It’s downright shameful and embarrassing.
Joining #HeathOut in the Minnesota Soccer Twitter lexicon is #CalvoOut. Some well-known names in the soccer community have not been shy this weekend about their hopes that he is made to earn the armband back over a very long period, that others are given a chance to lead, not just in name but by example.
But in reality, it is quite likely that after sitting out Wednesday’s match, Calvo will return to the lineup next weekend, armband and all.
The exhausted, shorthanded Minnesota backline returns to Allianz Field to fend off Zlatan & Co on Wednesday and then Rooney and another United on Sunday. With any luck, the Bat Signal will shine over the Midway and Quintero and Rodriguez will light up the night.
Or, hear me out here, we all just go down to Valleyfair and ride the Wild Thing. That coaster tends to get stuck in the high spots.
We’re the team that nobody wanted / The team that nobody wanted / The team that nobody wanted / And now we have a home.
It did not feel real. Right up until the first smoke canister popped and the sulfur reached my nose, I expected to wake up any second. Honestly, Minnesota scoring three goals in the first half did nothing to reduce that illusion. It was a fast and furious forty-five minutes of soccer during which Ozzie Alonso redeemed his early yellow card (The first yellow in Allianz Field history!) by scoring (The first goal in Allianz Field history!) on a beautiful volley.
New York goalkeeper Sean Johnson gifted the Loons their third goal of the half with an own goal, which brought on flashbacks of the gaff which became synonymous with MN United amongst the international soccer community. Defender Brent Kallman, a Minnesota native and NASL-era Loon, referenced that moment post-match:
The rest of the match did not go Minnesota’s way. Defensive errors, midfield blunders and a general lack of focus allowed New York to tie it up and the Loons just could not get back on the front foot. After the match, coach Adrian Heath remarked, “I’m sure for the neutral it was an entertaining game […] We gave away three poor goals in my opinion. They didn’t have to work hard enough for the goals.”
“When I came in, in the end, it was wide open and I was a little concerned because we were throwing bodies forward and I was worried about getting caught out in a foot race which I don’t want to be stuck in,” Kallman reflected on the stalemate. “But, uh, I think that’s just natural; we were really wanting to push for the win and give that to the fans, so guys were pushing forward really trying to get that goal, so it’s to be expected a little bit.”
Both men spoke highly of the supporters. Heath said, “Our supporters were magnificent, I thought the noise in the stadium was incredible. It bodes for better times ahead I think.” Kallman commented that “they set a really good bar for going forward.”
Early on, the supporters put on a vivid display of their commitment to the club and the grit that is in large part responsible for the club’s path to this Opening Day. The deployment of the largest tifo display in Minnesota history was not flawless. There were some snags and tears, but the reaction by the tifo crew and Wonderwall occupants underscored the buzzwords that have been bandied about by the media all week: resilience and perseverance.
What a metaphor for this club’s history. Without trying to – they certainly didn’t want such an opportunity – the Wonderwall embodied all the positive attributes their tifo was meant to celebrate. The supporters came together to make it work and honored the club’s NASL legacy in a beautiful way.
There is a lot of room for improvement on the pitch, but this club and its fanbase made a statement on Saturday. Minnesota United FC has a home to call its own and we’re not going away any time soon.
There is something different about soccer and soccer fans, especially here in the Midwest. It’s a small community which, despite its growing population, continues to feel small. When we have questions, concerns or criticisms, the faces and voices of the club are just one @ away. Whether it’s explaining why a certain play worked – or didn’t – or providing background information on a player, there are three people on MN United FC’s broadcast team who we can turn to for an enhanced soccer viewing experience.
Callum Williams, Kyndra de St Aubin and Jamie Watson were some of the first signings made by MNUFC as the club transitioned up to MLS for the 2017 season. They bring three different, invaluable perspectives to Loons broadcasts, a benefit to new and long-time fans alike.
Just weeks ahead of the official opening of Allianz Field, I had the opportunity to sit down with all three.
I came in with a list of questions, but as we all settled in around the conference table it became clear that it would be an easy conversation. After all, they do talk soccer for a living. Williams, play-by-play announcer, came to MNUFC after three seasons in the booth at Sporting Kansas City and has a myriad of leagues and competitions to his credit. De St Aubin, color commentator, played DI soccer for the Minnesota Gophers before kicking off a broadcast career that has taken her to the BigTen Network, ESPN and the Women’s World Cup. Watson played professionally for 12 years, including four seasons in Minnesota (one on loan to the Stars, three for the NASL-era Loons) before retiring into his sideline reporter role.
Bridget McDowell: You have a front row seat to the growth of soccer here and, with your various backgrounds – You, Kyndra, played here; you, Jamie, played here as well, on multiple teams; and you, Cal, have covered so many leagues and seen so many different environments for this game. In light of the stadium and the way things are progressing forward, I’m interested in your thoughts on how the soccer experience has changed here in Minnesota, recently with MLS and even through the decades.
Kyndra de St. Aubin: Well, I think it’s kind of cool because all three of us have a different perspective of this exact thing you’re asking about. Mine is my childhood growing up; Jamie’s is actually playing in it, for the team; and Cal’s is like a completely outside view, and coming into the culture when [the move to MLS] just was announced. So I’d have to say, the biggest thing for me, and I was trying to explain it the other day at Allianz, is you can’t really put it into words, what it is like standing in front of that stadium, knowing where this team and this club and soccer has come from in the state of MInnesota, and going back to the Met and the Kicks and the Strikers and prior to Blaine and NSC…
And, it was funny, just out of the blue my husband last night, we were getting ready for bed and I showed him the picture of the United sculpture with Allianz lit up behind it and it almost took his breath away. And that’s tough to do. He was like, it’s crazy if you would’ve thought then… Because he was drafted by the Thunder, used to play with Buzz [Lagos, 16-year head coach of the MN Thunder and father of Manny, current MNUFC Sporting Director, former MNUFC manager, Thunder and MLS veteran] and Amos [Magee, current Director of Player Personnel, Thunder player/manager] on Christmas break and stuff and tool around with those guys so…. Just to know where it’s come from, it’s not surprising sometimes to us in the soccer world, but yet it is at the same time.
It’s such a cool transformation and seeing the game grow and being truly a part of the four other major sports in this market, and competing with all the colleges that we have going. This is a hockey state but you can see soccer slowly kinda growing in there.
Jamie Watson: I mean, it’s – I don’t want to speak for Kyndra – but I can imagine this never seemed like something that was achievable –
JW: To this level and to Kyndra’s point, I was on the team in 2012 that lost the second leg of the NASL final, the Minnesota Stars at the time, and the team was league owned at the time. And I was in the locker room. Not only had we just lost a final, but everyone in the room thinks that they’re going to be out of a job because the team’s dead in the water. We didn’t know of any discussions that were going on ownership wise, we weren’t privy to that.
So the only saving grace to that night in Tampa that we lost at Al Lang Stadium was the commissioner coming in and congratulating us on a good season, but then telling us, by the way, we have a new investor and owner that want to come in and save soccer in Minnesota. And not only save it, but he’s got big plans for it. That was Dr. Bill McGuire and we didn’t know it at the time but… I was in the room when it was first said to the players at that level, and I thought, “Oh, cool. Soccer’s not just going to go away, but it will probably be, at best, this level [NASL] and to see what it had turned into as a player with Minnesota United, it was professional from day one.
We went to England, Mexico, Brazil for preseason trips, a significant investment when you could really just train indoors at Blaine instead. He was doing things and investing money, I’m sure losing money hand over fist, year after year, with this vision of wanting to get to this point. And it’s easy to say I want to get to that point… to spend your hard-earned money that you worked your entire life to earn? It’s a completely different level of belief. I was on the team and I don’t know if I believed it, you know? And he did so I think it was a testament to the vision he had back in 2012 when he joined on.
And to stand out there and watch Kyndra emcee [the Allianz Field Scarf Raising] – I still don’t – I just, it’s just, It’s never this good! It’s got that too good to be true feeling. This time it is true though.
BM: I can say, as a fan, you’re always kind of waiting for that other shoe to drop.
BM: When that announcement was made … It’s like, we’ve heard this before. You know?
JW: Uh huh. And honestly, I think I understand that…
KSA: Unfortunately, or fortunately, Dr McGuire is a man on a mission.
Callum Williams: He really is, yeah.
JW: For better or worse, yeah.
KSA: You know what I mean?
BM: It sounds like it!
KSA: He sets out to accomplish something and watch out. And it will be at this level. He knows no other way. Plus he’s a former college athlete so he hates losing so there’s all these different layers to him. I mean just now we were sitting there, the three of us and him, watching Slovakia and Hungary on my computer. [We met on the first matchday of the Euro Qualifiers] You know, and he’ll sit right down and watch it with us because he wants to know who this player is and who that player is and whatever so he’s a very involved owner. In a good way.
CW: And he was furious [Jan] Gregus wasn’t starting.
KSA: Yeah, exactly! He wants to know who’s taking him up, who’s taking Gregus’ place in Slovakia’s starting lineup, today. [Slovakia went on to win 2-0, but did so without Gregus.]
JW: What are we, twenty-four days away [from home opener]?
JW: Twenty-three days away and he –
KSA: Yeah, and he sits down and –
JW: And he’s watching Hungary-Slovakia, Thursday at 3 o’clock because he loves soccer that much.
CW: He’s absolutely into it. We’re very, very lucky here and I think, from my perspective, talking about how this thing has grown, as Kyndra quite rightly said, I’m the outsider here. And, I’ll be totally honest, when the club first approached me, I had no idea about the soccer culture here, and I’ve been completely blown away by the level of enthusiasm for the game here. Obviously you had the Kicks and the Stars, Thunder, everybody over the course of the last thirty years or so, so soccer’s always been here.
And I had no idea that it was as big as it actually is and that people always seem to follow the game and it was one of the first things I was told. When the club first asked about coming on board I called a couple people I knew around the league and it was the first thing that everybody said: “Soccer culture’s great there, you got to go, you gotta go, it’s fantastic.” And I think the stadium is one of many aspects that prove that for sure.
BM: Awesome. Yeah, I think a lot of people had almost forgotten that it was still here. Until all of this happened and it sort of took off again. And it’s like, wait, it never actually left.
JW: Well, I think Minnesota gets overlooked in that aspect so many times because it’s not LA, it’s not New York.
KSA: It does as a state in general.
JW: Yeah, of course.
KSA: Like, ‘oh you’re in the middle of the country somewhere, you’re not Chicago.’
JW: Yeah! But if you’re here you know. Kyndra grew up on it.
CW: Yeah, if you’re not Chicago, yeah –
JW: And you have to have that because it’s not easy, not to speak to Kyndra’s childhood, but it’s not as if there’s like this professional team in your backyard that you can grow and idolize to one day be on. Maybe it was here, maybe it wasn’t –
JW: There’s these gaps and times when it was here and then now you get –
KSA: It was the Lagoses back then, and it was Amos Magee.
BM: Exactly, it’s crazy.
KSA: It is kinda funny, I remember my first day, when I came in for my interview and I sat down at this table and they had just hired Adrian Heath. And they bring him in to sit in on this interview, and I’m like, I’m sure this is exactly where he wants to be right now; he’s got to assemble a roster in a matter of days. And it was Amos and Manny and Adrian and maybe one other person. But it was weird because I’m like, Oh! I know you, I know you, you know what I mean? It had been so many years but everyone kinda looks the same.
BM: Yeah, definitely. I mean, I grew up here too and my mom grew up in Minneapolis. She, it turned out, went to Kicks games.
KSA: There you go.
BM: And she hadn’t even mentioned it until I dragged her to a United game.
KSA: Isn’t that funny?
JW: No way.
BM: And one time Buzz walked by, up to the booth and she said, ‘That’s Buzz!’ And I was like, ‘How do you know him?’ And this whole, like family history with soccer came out. But yeah, people had kind of forgotten it was still around; she hadn’t even give it a second thought. I mean, how does it compare – Cal, you came from Kansas City most recently, how does it compare here, whether to Kansas or you, Kyndra, having covered other sports in other states… What makes it unique in that respect?
KSA: Why don’t you start because you have the KC experience?
CW: Well, so it’s very reminiscent in terms of the way that Sporting Kansas City rebranded themselves, new stadium, something the club was always looking towards. I say that because we’ve obviously got Allianz Field to look forward to here and I guess moving into Major League Soccer is almost, sort of a rebrand isn’t it? Because you’re essentially moving the club onto another level.
The fans are very similar: great background with the game, they know the game, challenge people, whether it’s on social media or whether it’s other outlets and that’s great! Because that insinuates that they care and that’s great. I think there are, as I said, a lot of similarities to my experiences in Kansas City and I think the stadium now is only going to elevate it. We all know this but ever since we saw the plans for the stadium, we all knew this was going to be something spectacular.
And I think now that if the team continues the way that it started this year and it goes on and it has a playoff run and does well… I’ve said this before, Bridget, in my opinion there’s no reason for – should the team go on and do that- there’s no reason that if you’re in a bar somewhere, and you often hear people talking about the Wild and the ‘Wolves and whatnot, there’s no reason that Minnesota United can’t then come up in the conversation.
I genuinely think that if Minnesota United compete and give Minnesotans a team to be proud of, with the environment they have around them now, I genuinely think that we can become a part of that generic sports conversation. Now, we’re already getting there; I’m starting to see more Minnesota United flags, scarves, t-shirts, whatever, all over the place.
But I do think a successful season will help and I say that because in Kansas City, after a successful season there, Sporting got to the playoffs, they won the Open Cup the year after that, then MLS Cup the year after that and it became mainstream very, very quickly. To the point where the players, and even myself, we couldn’t really walk out on the streets because of people, it became such a big thing in Kansas City. Personally, what I’ve seen already, I think Minnesota United will do just the same, for sure.
KSA: I’d say from my perspective, just from my overall sports perspective, speaking to Cal’s point about becoming part of the general sports conversation, the two markets that I really worked in before were Milwaukee and Phoenix. And Phoenix, specifically, is a hotbed for soccer because, as anybody knows, anybody who can play outside for 12 months of the year, like Texas or Florida or California,
JW: That’s a huge advantage, yep!
KSA: Huge advantage. So soccer’s a big deal there, but at the same time they struggled to make soccer popular there because you can’t create fans, necessarily. It has to be, just like an atmosphere inside of a stadium I think it takes some time and sometimes it’s just very organic. So even though, covering other sports, I just said to a coworker, I lived and breathed brackets before, I filled out tournament brackets and I haven’t filled one out since I moved here and started this job, because your focus changes and what you’re thinking about changes.
And I just think that this town, and this city, and this state loves this game so much and people respect it so, even if you’re not a fan of it, you’re willing to go to a game and learn it and want to be a part of it and support it. And I think our state is big into that because we have so many pro sports and college sports, they just learn to support everything and appreciate it. And sometimes, when I was in Arizona on the air for radio, I was constantly defending soccer. You know, people think it’s boring and this, that. You know, if a goal was seven points would you feel better about it, like-
KSA: You don’t have that because people respect it. Like, if we go on radio shows or we go on local TV shows, they may not have been to a game yet, they may not be a diehard soccer fan, but they want to learn and they want to hear about it. And I think that’s a little bit different in this market than maybe some of the others I’ve been a part of in the past which is really fun to see.
JW: I’ll just say, a different perspective because they kind of hit everything… How lucky are we that we get to be the people that are talking about it on a Saturday, we’re immersed in it. We get to see – we get to peel the curtains back a little bit, to see what goes on behind closed doors and we get to then talk about it. And really we’re a mouthpiece that what people want to know and are talking about and a lot of what we end up talking about in pregame shows, a lot of it is dictated on what are the big storylines, what are the big talking points of the week.
We can sit down on a Monday and say, ‘We think this will be important on Saturday’s game,’ but the reality is, the week happens and it shifts and then we sit down and we go, ‘Right, remember that two hour meeting we had on Monday? Let’s just crumple that piece of paper and throw that away and let’s start over again,’ because everything’s changed, in a matter of a couple days. And we’re in an awesome position that we’re, like – I played for twelve years and I thought that was the greatest job in the world… This is the – that’s 1A, this is 1B.
Because this is the next best thing to playing and being with them is great because I don’t think a day goes by that we don’t have conversations, whether in person or over text about soccer, what’s going on on social media, like Cal said, having conversations with other people. And it’s amazing that we get to do it and that it’s a club that we all believe in, that we get to be a part of and then on the weekend, we’re the fortunate ones that get to talk about it.
JW: And a lot of what we talk about is dictated on what the fans are talking about so it’s pretty cool that we get to do that. And it’s transformed because it was maybe a smaller group of people who were talking about it before and, I’ve said this, I’ve played in games where there were more people in this office than there were in the stands, total! And now you look at it and it’s like, wow!
It’s amazing to see where it’s come from and it’s only getting bigger and bigger. I mean, if this was the stock market I’d be buying all the Minnesota United shares I could get my hands on because it’s only going one direction.
CW: That’s the thing isn’t it? I think, from all of us collectively, the thing we’re all excited about is the obvious and quite blatant sense of this unwavering potential here. And I think that’s the biggest thing for all of us, isn’t it, that it’s such an exciting time to be a part of this. And I think that’s certainly what lives within our core isn’t it, is the drive to want to be a part of this.
And just knowing what it can become, and not only in Minnesota but throughout the entirety of the league, you know, it’s such a wonderful time to be a part of soccer in this country and we happen to be in a situation where we’ve got this glorious stadium which will be the crown jewel of Major League Soccer for some time and then being a part of this project in MLS that just continues to elevate year after year. It’s a very exciting time for sure.
BM: It does seem to be becoming a more legitimate sport and league than it was before for sure. Favorite calls or moments from these last few seasons? Hard question, I know.
KSA: No, it’s just, honestly there’s quite a few. Sometimes, for as rough as the first two seasons may have seemed…
CW: We had a great time!
JW and KSA: Yeah!
KSA: We had a great time! You know, part of that is the beauty of… We do really try to treat the broadcast as 51-49 Minnesota percentage-wise. So when we call a game or Cal does a goal call, you know, if it’s an insane or ridiculous goal by the opponent he’s going to give it the same love as he does a Minnesota goal. And so sometimes, and Cal can probably vouch for this, I can’t tell you how many times, especially the Darwin chips, you know, I smack his arm really hard in the broadcast when certain things happen.
CW: She beats me.
KSA: So he can vouch for that. So he may know better than I do what my favorite call was by how hard I hit him.
JW: By how big the bruise is.
KSA: Yeah exactly. But there’s a couple, like Abu Danladi’s strike in Montreal and I go back to this a lot you know, late in the match, same with his one in Atlanta. Just because of the significance of the moment and the feeling of it.
KSA: Depending on where we were at as a team at that point and how the season had been going. Of course there was Atlanta, at Atlanta. That always feels good. And then Darwin’s chips. To me, that whole match, it was like, ‘Oh my god! You’ve got to be joking!’ It was one of those moments that if I told you this happened in one game you wouldn’t believe me until you saw it. So those are some of my favorite ones, at least from Minnesota United, for sure.
JW: I’ll say that I think I have the best vantage point of all, because I get Cal, his call, in my ear, Kyndra’s breakdown of it, and I get the energy of the bench right next to me. So it’s incredible. You talked about the one in Montreal. I’m literally standing, it was actually – it was actually too close –
KSA: Is it hard for you not to cheer though because you’re out in the public eye? We’re doing this [swings her arm at Cal] in the booth and no one knows.
JW: It is hard and sometimes I do have to remind myself that I’m not a player anymore but that Montreal one, I mean that’s Adrian Heath [points to Cal, sitting four feet away] and I’m here and we weren’t winning, we were down early in that one. I’m trying to break that down where I know that Adrian can hear what I’m saying so I think I was whispering into the microphone and it’s incredible.
It’s a really unique perspective because Cal’s got this incredible voice that his calls stick and they resonate and that’s not an easy act for Kyndra to follow up because he gives these incredible goal calls and then Kyndra’s got to come in and match that energy, right? So then,
KSA: Yeah, and not sound like an idiot.
JW: Yeah, well, we try to do that for 90 minutes, plus 30 minutes pre and post. No promises on that one and no perfect performances yet for me. So, then you know, that Montreal one certainly stands out. It was a 3-2 winner in the dying moments of the game. And I think the Darwin Quintero chip… The hat trick is the best hat trick I’ve ever seen, live or on TV I think, ever. And having the soundtrack playing from these two in my ear while I’m down on the bench looking at guys that – I mean Adrian’s been in soccer for 43 years and looking at his face and this look of something he’s never seen before – you know it’s a rare, rare, rare occasion so I think those stand out for sure. [To Cal:] You have one? Other than your ‘It’s historic, it’s iconic…”
JW: “It’s a moment to savor for a lifetime.”
KSA: Maybe you didn’t love your call, but a favorite goal you’ve seen.
CW: Yeah, I was going to say, I try – I’m not a big fan of relistening and going back and listening to yourself. I think it’s important to do maybe once, you know if we watch tape during the week and whatnot, it’s important to do that, but I’m not a big fan of remembering goal calls and whatnot. I get them, a couple of people, like these guys, saying one or two things in the week, like, ‘What did you say here?’ or whatever. But for me it should never be about the commentator, it’s about the moment. Someone asked me a while ago, it was about the Ramirez goal in Portland, the first goal –
KSA: The first goal in MLS.
CW: Yeah and they said something along the lines of – They described it as my moment and I said, No, no it’s not. It’s Christian’s moment, it’s the club’s moment, it’s Minnesota’s moment; it’s nothing to do with the commentator, regardless of what you say on the call. I think it’s important as Kyndra insinuated earlier on that we try to do a 51-49 in favor of Minnesota because fans aren’t stupid.
When there’s a clear and obvious yellow or red card, I think we do a good job in suggesting that it’s an obvious yellow or red card because in my opinion then if you try to say ‘Well, it’s obviously not a yellow card, that’s ridiculous, the foul should have gone in favor of Minnesota,’… You’re being disrespectful to the fans because the fans want a true and honest broadcast and I’m the same. I’m a fan. I don’t want to hear the commentator spew stuff.
JW: I would turn it off.
CW: We want the obvious and the truth. But in terms of goals, the one is the Quintero hat trick, isn’t it? That – I’ve never ever seen a hat trick that has glistened so perfectly on any stage ever. You’re right, Bridget, I’ve covered a lot of football around the world, in a lot of different stadiums, a lot of different leagues. I’ve never ever seen an individual grab a game by the scruff of the neck the way he did on that particular afternoon and then to go and score a hat trick the way he did. The manner which he did, as well, was beyond perfection, wasn’t it, for that particular afternoon.
And I remember, obviously Minnesota ended up winning 4-3 and there was a couple of defensive issues that day – that summed up our 2018 campaign – but also that afternoon summed up what we had brought in, in Darwin. And what an absolute master stroke that was from the club. And I still can’t believe – I remember commentating on him in the Concacaf Champions League when he was at Club America and he tore apart opponents with ease and made Tyrone Mears look like a rookie at some stages.
JW: I hated him. I hated him!
CW: Yeah so that afternoon with the Quintero hat trick, that will take some beating for sure.
KSA: Well and usually a hat trick, usually one of the goals is like, off your belly or something. You know what I mean? It’s a deflection or one of the three. To have three the way he did is different.
JW: Good luck ever topping that.
CW: Yeah! Yeah, yeah.
BM: I remember watching that one, vividly, in the press box and it was just insane. Everyone in there is going, ‘What?! One of those has to be offside.’
JW: Right? Something. Something has to go wrong.
BM: Yeah, something’s going to happen here.
KSA: A VAR decision against him somehow.
CW: Nooo, let’s not! Let’s not get into VAR.
BM: Yeah, everyone in there is looking around waiting…. You know I have to say, I started off as a fan, not media. And now covering it as media, I’ll still spend some games down in the supporters section. But I think your commentary helps put everything into perspective, better than some other clubs, some other leagues even, where even when we’re having a horrible game, a horrible season, you can go back and find those moments that string together the positives and get that overall perspective again.
It helps with writing the stories too: I can go back and watch a game with commentary and get other perspectives on the game. So, Cal, you talked a little about social media and criticism and people not understanding why you do a 51-49. Are there things that you want the fans to know, whether it’s the hard core supporters who go back and watch it and disagree with whatever you’re saying or the casual fan who just, maybe their only exposure is through your broadcast.
KSA: The only thing I would say, and I used to feel this way as a player, is that if you’re not getting talked to then they probably don’t care about you. If the coach isn’t talking and yelling at you then they probably don’t care and you’d rather be cared about. Sometimes I feel that way with the fanbase or the supporters or even if someone’s just turned on the game and has never watched the game before.
Whether they’re going to compliment or criticise us or whatever it might be, I’d still rather have them watching because then, like Cal said, you know that they care. And you know, we just try to cipher through some of the feedback, whether it’s to us or to the team or about a specific player or the club, whatever it might be. I’d still rather have anybody respond or have an opinion than no one saying anything, because then you think that no one cares and no one’s watching. That’s just my personal perspective.
CW: You know, it’s funny because we spoke about this a while ago and I actually, if somebody takes it upon themselves to at my twitter handle, and come at me with something they disagree with then so be it, that’s fine, because clearly, as Kyndra said, they care. If someone has a go or a pop at me because I’m ‘too the other team’ or I’m ‘too Minnesota,’ that’s social media, that happens. People hear what they want to hear, they hear different things, and as a commentator there’s only so much you can do about that.
You will never appease every ear in the world. You will always make a pair of ears bleed and clear another pair of ears, there’s nothing you can do about it. What I actually don’t have a problem with is someone saying… Someone actually said this last year, they thought I was too pro-Portland, and they had managed to get together the video of the goal call and sent it to me and I said, I have no problem with people saying that, because it means they care. I have no problem with someone telling me you’re too Portland, you’re too Vancouver, because it means they care and it’s something we don’t spend much time thinking about, it’s par for the course really.
And we value every aspect of feedback. I think it’s important to take praise just as you take criticism, with the tiniest pinch of salt. Because it can get to you either way as a commentator. You get a lot of people saying a lot of things. So you take it with the tiniest pinch of salt. Also, I think it’s important to take as much feedback as we can and we pride ourselves on it. It’s important to us to get as much feedback as possible and we’re in a very fortunate position to have one of our owners, a chap called Ben Grossman, who is sort of a senior consultant for Fox and he’ll be with Kyndra in France for the Women’s World Cup and was a part of the last world cup I believe, and he’s been – His abrasive nature is exactly what we need.
And I don’t think it’s ever a bad thing having internal opinions come our way. As I said we have no problem really with anyone suggesting we do certain things. I had one of the local journalists pull me aside at training the other day to say ‘Have you considered doing this?’ and I said, No we haven’t, but thank you for that suggestion, and sure, we’ll consider it, for sure. So it’s never a bad thing, I don’t think.
JW: One thing I learned as a player early on, especially as social media started becoming a big aspect of it, is you’re never as good as they say and you’re never as bad as they say. And right now, I could create any sort of social media account I want, on a paid or unpaid platform, a chatroom, forum, whatever, and I could go to basketball and I could criticize to all ends about whatever I think: I played one year of sixth grade B-team basketball and I was cut in seventh grade year, in tryouts.
So, just because somebody is offering up an opinion doesn’t mean they are right or doesn’t mean that you should then adopt it and change your approach and what we’ve done to get to this point, to be fortunate enough to be in this position. It’s naive to not take in what people say, filter it out, filter what applies and filter out the rest that doesn’t and say, ‘Okay, that’s interesting, maybe I agree, maybe I don’t.’
And never second guess yourself because the worst thing is, if you don’t know who you are in this… And don’t be stubborn. Certainly don’t put blinders on and say I’m doing everything right, I’m never changing. But you have to have, like any professional, you have to have a level of confidence and belief that what you’re doing is the best representation of how you want to come across, and, as Cal said, we are not the highlights.
Cal has said this and I’ve taken it to heart, nobody tunes in to watch a soccer game to hear the broadcasters. They’re there to watch the game right?
JW: So, if you keep that in perspective, and you try to be as fair and balanced as you can, you set yourself up to give the best broadcast you can. And look, it’s great when people say stuff to you, you know what I mean? Everyone likes it. I mean, you know, when you write a great article and someone says, ‘We thought that was fantastic or spot on, that’s great,’ of course you love hearing that. Now all of a sudden does it mean that you’re a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist from 24 hours ago to where you are now?
BM: Yeah, no, exactly.
JW: You just hopefully try to string together as many consistent performances as you can and try to get better and never think that you’re too good or above anybody to listen to them or entertain a conversation because also, you don’t know who’s watching. It could be somebody’s first time watching a broadcast and maybe they want to learn. Maybe they’re so eager to learn about it and you have a conversation with them on social media. Then they become engaged, and they become drawn into it and also maybe you’re dealing with someone who really knows their stuff and you have to be able to defend what you said. To say ‘Right, I stand by this because of this, we can agree to disagree.’
JW: But everything I say in the broadcast, it’s that 51-49 percent. When we’re being critical of Minnesota United, I want to be sure that when I go in Monday morning to training I can look at so and so and say ‘I said this.’ I don’t think there’s any benefit in going ‘This guy’s terrible, what an awful game he’s having’ because what does that do? How do you learn from that if you’re watching.
How about, ‘What he tried to do was see this, the intention was this, however, it clearly hasn’t come off; that mistake led to a goal.’ That’s the end result, not what was intended but what came from it. There’s a way to go about it, and it’s lazy to just say, ‘He’s bad and had a bad game.’ Okay, you’ve seen that, he’s seen that, she’s seen that, I’ve seen that, we all know that. But explain what happened, why it happened. That’s what goes through my mind and hopefully comes out without stumbling or cursing, you know?
BM: Are you getting tired of ‘You dive like Jamie Watson’ yet?
JW: Never! I hated it for a while. Then I thought, ‘Well I kind of miss it’ when I didn’t hear it. And then when I would have people text me, years after it first happened and I was playing in a different league and they’re like, ‘You’ve played for two different teams and an entirely different league, why are they talking about you??” I don’t know but I love it. I love those guys. I miss every single one of ‘em.
Fun story: A few days after this conversation, Watson emceed a season ticket holder event at Allianz Field. As he prompted about a thousand fans, myself included, to bunch closer together in the Wonderwall for our attempt at a world record loon call, one of my friends shouted down to Watson on the pitch, ‘You dive like Jamie Watson!’ I had kept this interview quiet and wanted it to stay that way, so I offered him no explanation as to why the cheer made me laugh so hard. Sorry, Joe!
BM: Before I had even come to a United game I had heard that a few times and then you signed and someone said, ‘You know who that is right?’ Yeah, Jamie Watson. ‘He’s that Jamie Watson.’ Ohhh…
JW: I think that’s why they signed me, just to mess with all the Dark Clouds. So thank you, Dark Clouds, you probably got me a job, a new career.
BM: Well, those were my big questions for you. Thank you for your time, thanks for doing this.
CW: Yeah –
JW: Absolutely. We appreciate it.
KSA: No problem. Yeah, we were just sitting around watching soccer so…
JW: Not a bad job, is it?
BM: That’s for sure.
JW: No, not a bad job.
The Loons open Allianz Field on Saturday, April 13, when they face New York City FC. Opening Day festivities begin at noon with kickoff set for 4 PM CST. The match will be broadcast nationally on ESPN.
The final installment of the Loons’ five-match road trip defied all expectations. Not only did an injury-hampered squad hold off a desperate New York Red Bulls side, but it also brilliantly showcased its ability to play the full ninety as a unit. A team. And they did so without the assistance of two of its biggest midfield gears.
Going into final preparations for Saturday’s match, there was much confusion over who had traveled and who was available for selection. Rasmus Schuller and Romario Ibarra had finally returned to training after taking knocks in international play, but were still rehabbing; Darwin Quintero left the club’s first training session at Allianz Field on Tuesday after tweaking a prior groin injury; and Chase Gasper was listed as out and Miguel Ibarra questionable, with hamstring injuries. Even the beat reporters we all turn to for clarity were lost.
‘Welp,’ supporters thought. ‘At least we have Home Opener to look forward to.’ The tactical formation chosen by Adrian Heath only deepened concerns about the available players. The 3-4-3 was a good way to utilize what remained of the midfield and maximize chances. With a team that had yet to display an identity (aside from leaning on Quintero’s play-making abilities), and against a team desperate for a home win, it seemed incredibly risky. But the greater the risk, the greater the reward.
The Loons were first on the board despite ceding possession for most of the first half (and most of the second). Abu Danladi was 34 minutes into his first start of the season when he scored on an unsuspecting Luis Robles. Romain Metanire’s crisp pass into the box was settled deftly by Angelo Rodriguez and Danladi’s first touch was gold.
United added another in the second half, a half volley from Romario Ibarra, who had replaced Danladi at the break, assisted by Rodriguez.
The Red Bulls managed to pull one back in the 70th minute which gave their home crowd new life. In the past, conceding such a goal sucked the life out of the Loons. In seasons past, these stat lines would hint at a team that fell apart:
But this time, it didn’t. This time, the squad remained united, an accountable unit for the full ninety minutes, even through the eternal five minutes of stoppage time. Brent Kallman, after his first start of the season, described the difference:
It’s just an overall toughness and I think adding the experienced guys that know how to win and have won in the league helps a lot. For example, Ozi and Ike, obviously huge, the positivity coming from Ike that last ten minutes about ‘we’re almost there fellas, we can see the finish line, it’s right there.’ It honestly kept me going. It helped push me through and I was exhausted. These guys have been there. They’re battle tested, they know how to win and I think that just gives the other guys a lot of confidence.
Confidence is exactly what the Loons will need headed into Allianz Field. They will open their new stadium against NYCFC, another eastern conference team desperate for a win.
Throughout its first two years in MLS, Minnesota United FC was a terrific matchup for a struggling team. The Loons’ perennial road woes were a gift to any team looking to turn around a losing streak or get a boost of confidence at home. After going 2-1-0 on the road, the Loons returned from the international break expecting their own rebound of sorts in New England, the scene of a catastrophic start for the Revolution.
Rather than get their own boost of confidence over a ramshackle squad, however, the Loons served up yet another comeback for an opponent. I cannot help but think of a scene from a movie full of people facing adversity of all kinds. From Annapolis (pulled from IMDB):
Twins : Well you sure as hell ain’t California.[…] That’s why I stay in this room Jake. Cause if Mississippi quits, then all of a sudden Arkansas is the worst state in the whole country.
Minnesota United is certainly less of a Mississippi so far this season, having earned more points in four road games than the team earned on the road all last season. But the fact that this trend continues still stings.
Some huge defensive glitches in the box cost Minnesota the game, most notably when the backline and even ‘keeper Vito Mannone disregarded the man on the back post (Jalil Anibaba) before ten minutes was up and when captain Francisco Calvo got lost outside the box. Those mistakes led to some pretty New England goals.
But there were also some great moments, like midfielder Ethan Finlay getting his first start since his ACL tear last April and making an impact from start to substitution. DP/Striker Angelo Rodriguez also made his first start and succeeded in a few hold-up plays that gave Darwin Quintero chances to find space and take shots. Despite Quintero’s penalty being United’s only goal, the stats show improvement.
The Loons drew five offside calls on Saturday afternoon, more than they drew from the previous three matches combined. They put plenty of pressure on the struggling home side and by all accounts should have taken at least a point. Did you know that one offside is equal to a glimmer of hope? In fact, Calvo would have given his side a shot of life early on if not for the crossbar (and the offside rule) when put his head on a Jan Gregus corner.
So the Loons come home empty handed, but another Minnesota club is incredibly happy this weekend:
Minnesota could have drafted the Minneapolis City SC alum, but instead he became a hero in New England with a little help from the Loons. And with an assist from Teal Bunbury. A Minnesota native.
How awesome is that?
The Loons play one more on the road against the New York Red Bulls before coming home to Allianz Field. One more match to prove they’re not Mississippi to every Arkansas in the league.
Thankfully, supporting a MLS team in the Central Time Zone only rarely requires the addition of naps and coffee to the pregame regimen, but that was the case on Saturday, March 16, for Minnesota United’s faithful who hoped to see the Loons take their third straight win on the road against LA Galaxy. The 9:30 P.M. kickoff also meant there were more United fans on hand at the Black Hart of St. Paul (the MN Dark Clouds new home base in the shadow of Allianz Field) for the bar’s other entertainment:
That quip from Dina Delicious leaves no doubt that drag queens and soccer fans can coexist in what is simultaneously the city’s oldest gay bar and newest soccer bar. (Click here to learn more about the Black Hart of St. Paul and the people who make it great, Dina included.) And I think Dina was right about the Loons.
Though Minnesota fielded the same Starting XI for the third straight week against a Galaxy squad in a state of constant flux (with Joe Corona only recently added and offensive stalwarts being plucked one by one from the pitch by injury since opening night), there was one notable absence from the Loons’ bench that may have upset the balance. Head coach Adrian Heath missed training all week and did not travel with his squad due to needing dental surgery, leaving assistant Mark Watson at the helm of a system he knows well.
But something was off from the opening whistle. Even without Zlatan and Alessandrini, LA ran the game. Uriel Antuna, Sebastien Lletget and Rolf Feltscher picked apart a puzzled Minnesota backline, finding gaping spaces in the box that never should have been open and preventing Minnesota’s midfield from creating any danger off the counterattacks. If not for the sticky fingers of keeper Vito Mannone, Galaxy could have led 4-0 at the break. As it was, the 2-0 deficit was one goal too deep.
While the first half spurred plenty of flashbacks to the gloom and doom of road games past, the second half showed that the Loons know where they need to improve and that they’re willing to put up a united front. There was no in-fighting from the Loons.
Instead, Ike Opara and Romain Metanire kept up their composed leadership, Romario Ibarra and Darwin Quintero did what they could with what they were given and both Angelo Rodriguez and Ethan Finlay showed up big when subbed on for Romario and Rasmus Schuller, respectively. Oh, and Jan Gregus, seeing Lletget step off briefly to see to a bleed from his broken nose, did this:
It is doubtful that the 3-2 loss spells the end of Heath’s midfield experiment (heavy on wingers and light on true forwards), especially considering that, a) Abu Danladi made little impact after subbing on for Miguel Ibarra in the 74th minute and b) Rodriguez pulled up lame from his no-quit goal.
However, it does illustrate the importance of the midfield lane and how it can be used. Gregus found it and his effort earned him Man of the Match honors.
In my opinion, dropping three points takes the target off of United’s back. Ending the night fourth in the West gives the Loons plenty to play for while the two-win streak (regardless of the opponent) gives the squad confidence that it can in fact be done. And a perfectly timed international break gives them time to reflect on that.
Minnesota United goes back on the road Saturday, March 30, to face New England Revolution, coffee not required.
Saturday’s match in San Jose was a night of milestones for Minnesota United FC. Not only did the Loons beat the Earthquakes for the first time in five matches, but Darwin Quintero notched the club’s 100th goal since joining MLS and a whole new defensive line earned Minnesota’s first clean sheet on the road since 2016.
For those of you who weren’t aware of MN United FC before their 2017 MLS debut, let me catch you up. In that final NASL season, striker Christian Ramirez led the league with 18 goals, fullback Justin Davis was the club’s all-time minutes leader and Jeb Brovsky gained the full confidence of Loons’ fans with his grit in the midfield before an ACL tear ended his season.
Back to 2019: A club plagued by defeats on the road for two seasons has executed a complete about-face in its defensive line and midfield and the attack is showing promise. Ike Opara and Romain Metanire were solid in their box and even led some counter attacks. Ozzie Alonso and Jan Gregus were powerhouses at the back of the midfield while Miguel Ibarra and Darwin Quintero fought to gain space up front to create scoring opportunities. Unfortunately, forward Romario Ibarra stood out for a different reason: his ability to hit the ball square to San Jose’s Daniel Vega.
Speaking of which, if San Jose ever wants to conserve Vega’s energy for the second half in future matches against this Loons squad, Amazon sells a perfect stand-in:
Unlike Vega the Weeble, a Loon did manage to go down inside the box, drawing a penalty kick for MNUFC. It was no surprise that Quintero buried it (his second in as many games), finally earning the club its 100th league goal.
Minutes later, Quintero charged into the box and gained just enough space from his entourage of Quakes defenders to send the ball out to Miguel Ibarra who beat one defender when a neat cut-back before burying a left-footed shot inside the far post, just out of Vega’s reach.
With 40 minutes left to play… the Loons kept playing. The two-goal cushion didn’t make them sloppy, they continued to communicate especially when substitutions caused shifts in the formation, and they didn’t allow the heated Quakes to knock them off their game (Rasmus Schuller earned the lone yellow card for the Loons).
For the second consecutive match, United played the full 90. And for the second consecutive match, they were rewarded, even benefiting from an own-goal in the 75th minute to cushion the lead.
I don’t believe many Minnesota fans could have predicted a clean sheet in San Jose, but they probably all predicted what three-word phrase would come out of the mouth of manager Adrian Heath when he was interviewed on the sideline after the match: “Goals change games.” They probably also predicted who he would blame for the club’s previous shortcomings:
There is nothing wrong with the gaffer taking credit for his squad’s improvements in Year Three. However, his straight refusal to take any credit for the failures in Years One and Two does not sit right with the supporters. Yes, he is one of many who make the roster decisions, but the manager does hold certain responsibilities as the face of the front office, namely owning the club’s shortcomings.
All that aside, Minnesota closed out Week Two second in the West (with, as of this writing, two clubs yet to play) with three road matches yet to play before landing at home in Allianz Field.