Category Archives: Minnesota United FC

Minnesota Rises Above After 95 Minute Battle For the Ages

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

Minnesota United FC v FC Dallas: 1-0 win

After a come-from-behind victory in Montreal and a thorough trouncing of USL’s New Mexico United in a US Open Cup quarterfinal, Minnesota United returned to conference play on Saturday on home grass against FC Dallas. Their third match in seven days was a big one: Minnesota sat 4th in the West, Dallas 5th entering the weekend. It was everything you’d expect from two evenly matched teams.

Chippy. Cheeky. Scoreless for 90 minutes.

Through the first half, Minnesota struggled to get into the final third with the ball, continuing the trend of easy turnovers and poor passing. For their part, Dallas struggled there, as well, losing many an opportunity to a well-timed tackle or screen play inside of United’s 18. With 43% possession through the first half, Minnesota was level with Dallas on shots taken, 7, but Dallas was more efficient in that area and it felt as if they held the upper hand. That may simply have been due to the visitors’ decision making. By contrast, poor choices and touches abounded for the Loons.

After the 6-1 win over New Mexico, Adrian Heath praised his players for their selfless decisions. “My favorite saying, give it to people when they want it, not when you finish with it and that’s what we did,” he told the press. For the first half against Dallas, and much of the second, the Loons were not living that motto.

But each player held the other accountable in a very much one-v-one match. Most notably, captain Ozzie Alonso was furious with Chase Gasper when the rookie, in a scramble to avoid having to use his less-favored right foot, sent the ball over the touchline rather than allowing it to go out for a goal kick. Gasper wasted no time in making up for the gaff; he went right back to his mark at over 100% effort.

Gasper was one player singled out by Heath after Saturday’s win: “I’ve got to single out the two kids, the fullbacks. I’ve never seen anyone play [Michael Barrios] as well as Chase Gasper’s done today.”

That other fullback, Hassani Dotson, has made himself known in Romain Metanaire’s absence. He may be supplanted on Metanaire’s return, but he will, at the very least, be a known quantity off the bench.

It was a contentious 90 minutes, but the 5 minutes of added time were downright stressful. And euphoric. And then very stressful. And euphoric.

Sophomore forward Mason Toye has been on a tear recently, scoring 3 goals in his last 4 appearances (after going scoreless across 17 appearances in 2018). He added to that tally on Saturday, scoring on the rebound just as the 4th official raised his board announcing 5 minutes of added time.

As 19,906 fans celebrated the goal heard around the Midway, Dallas mounted a comeback. Fresh off the bench, Dallas’ Bryan Reynolds charged toward a loose ball in the Minnesota box and there was little Mannone could do:

“I’m calling for this ball to kill the game and Chase [Gasper] didn’t hear me. I was coming, I was screaming and obviously the crowd was loud. He had the touch, and once I’m there, I’m trying to stand still. And he’s going away from the goal, he’s going wide, he’s not even going through the ball and I thought, with his run he came into me, but. Anyway, he gave it.”

Video review rewarded a penalty to Dallas after Mannone’s collision with Reynolds. Defender Reto Ziegler lined up for the shot as Minnesota fans held their breath. Fortunately, for Mannone, two days of study paid off: “His run up was telling me something different from what I saw in the video[…] It was quite long and on an angle. When he approached the ball, I thought he couldn’t put it on this side anymore, and I thought, let me try and guess over there.”

He guessed correctly. If Toye’s shot was the goal heard around the Midway, Mannone’s stop was the save heard around St Paul.

The locker room celebration was a subdued affair. Joyous, certainly, but quiet. Most of the guys cleaned up, dressed and headed home. They’d moved up to third in the west, the job was done for the night. While the reserves take a swing at Aston Villa in a friendly on Wednesday, most of the starters will have a long rest ahead of next Saturday’s trip to Salt Lake.

Other notes:

  • Ozzie Alonso exited in the second half after taking a heavy shot to the shoulder and another to the gut. He’ll have an MRI on Sunday, but the medical staff is confident his clavicle is only bruised.
  • Romain Metanire landed in Minnesota on Friday after Madagascar’s exit from the African Cup of Nations. Heath said he will get an emotional and physical rest this week before being re-activated for league play.

Featured image: Bridget McDowell

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Team Goals And Cup Goals A Reality For The Loons

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

Minnesota United v New Mexico United: 6-1

The biggest US Open Cup match in Minnesota’s MLS history did not disappoint. Allianz Field hosting a quarterfinal against the last remaining USL side in the tournament, a club whose fanbase quickly bought out at least one charter plane and coach bus – a club that reminds Minnesota’s fans of the way things used to be.  But Minnnesota has a new story now and it might include the Cup.

After conceding yet another early goal, a 7’ corner that made the Loons’ set-piece defense look like pieces in a Football Manager match animation, it appeared it would be an ugly match of slip ups. Adrian Heath was critical of his squad in the post-match presser, saying it was exactly that kind of play he’d prepped his squad for, a known favorite of the USL side:

“We’ve watched probably their last four or five games and they’ve come up with sort of trick plays and that was another one of them, but we’ve been through that. It’s not like we hadn’t seen that corner. That’s the disappointing thing and that’s what happens when you turn off for a split second and that’s what happens at this level of football.”

But the post-goal rally by the home United did not disappoint. Just three minutes later, Angelo Rodriguez notched the first goal of what would be his first MLS hat trick. Rookie sensation Hassani Dotson, making another start at right back, picked out Rodriguez and Kevin Molino right in front of goal and sent in a high cross. Both players went up for it and celebrated immediately, with the PA announcer and the press announcing that Molino had notched the tying goal.

It was in fact Rodriguez who got the most vertical (thus, our confusion) putting his head on the ball to send it off the right hand of New Mexico keeper Cody Mizell and into the net.

That aged well. The Loons scored 4 more goals before the whistle sounded for halftime. You should probably just watch them all.

The second half was a more subdued affair, Minnesota allowing the visitors to complete passes and occasional venture outside of their own half of the field – a stark contrast to the first 45 minutes.

Chances abounded for the Loons and New Mexico made some clean counter attacks after poor turnovers. By the 60th minute, it was still 5-1. Fifteen minutes had gone by without a goal and even the cheers had begun to dry up as fans settled in to enjoy the beautiful summer evening. But then the home crowd witnessed the end to what may have been the most difficult drought to watch at Allianz Field.

Miguel Ibarra – the fan favorite winger who returned to Minnesota after a spell in LigaMX to be one of the handful of NASL Loons to make the jump to MLS – had scored but a single goal all season. Despite numerous possibilities, the final ball just hadn’t materialized for Batman at Allianz Field. In the 62’, he fixed that, right in front of the Wonderwall, the fans who’d dubbed him Batman half a decade ago.

As the Wonderwall celebrated the milestone – sadly without smoke, just the latest example of Minnesota fans under-budgeting goal-related expenses – Heath made his fitness management subs, beginning the preparations for Saturday’s pivotal conference matchup against FC Dallas. Rodriguez made way for Mason Toye, Chase Gasper for Eric Miller, like-for-like changes. Ethan Finlay replaced Quintero 10 minutes later.

The remainder of the match saw plenty of runs from both sides, but the Loons sealed the deal and paid their visitors the respect of playing out the remaining minutes with a competitive edge and clean play despite the lopsided scoreline.

New Mexico played to the whistle, looking for a final goal to reward a couple hundred travelling supporters who sang for the full 90 minutes. With just 1 goal to Minnesota’s 6, New Mexico United – players and fans alike – left the tournament with their heads held high.

While Heath and his staff prep the players to face Dallas, the Front Office and stadium staff have some work to do, as well. As delightful as the last few weeks of goals have been, Allianz Field has experienced a few hiccups that left fans with a bitter taste in their mouths. With only lower-bowl tickets available for Wednesday’s semifinal, fewer security gates were opened for fan entry and screening began just 60 minutes prior to kickoff, rather than 90.

Hundreds of fans, some of them still frustrated over staffing and streaming issues during the USWNT Brew Hall watch party on Sunday, were still lined up around the stadium after kickoff. Tweets abound showing fans spending extra time up close and personal with the ‘UNITED’ statue at the southwest corner and the granite bench-barriers on the north lawn.

CEO Chris Wright – who could be heard in the press box, not long before the opening goal, triaging the logistical issues on his cell phone before meeting up with stadium staff downstairs – issued a statement on Thursday addressing both incidents and urging patience and cooperation as the club, and fans alike, adjust to their new home.

After a few more pivotal weeks of league play, MN United and Allianz Field will face their next big test on Wednesday, August 7, when they host Portland Timbers for the US Open Cup semifinal. But first, league play.

The Loons face Western Conference foes FC Dallas on Saturday, July 13, at 7 PM CST.

Featured image: @MNUFC

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Dylan Wolpers: MNUFC Legend… From Houston

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

On Tuesday, June 18, Minnesota United FC will travel to Texas for a U.S. Open Cup Round of 16 matchup against Houston Dynamo for the second year in a row.

Last year, the lucky few fans who could find watchable livestreams of the same fifth round pairing witnessed a glitch in the second half. Their feeds froze on a shot of Houston’s video board where a special announcement was displayed. As Minnesota fans listened to the broadcasters drone on about a poor match – which presumably continued unchanged whilst the cameras were focused elsewhere – they took to social media to comment on a moment – and a man – which would become part of the fabric of MNUFC’s supporter culture.

As you prepare for Tuesday’s edition of the Dylan Wolpers Derby, just weeks after its debut at Allianz Field, you may be wondering, Who exactly is this Dylan Wolpers guy? And why do we celebrate his birthday every time these two clubs face off? Why was Bridget wearing a party hat all night that one time she watched a match from the Wonderwall this season?

Questions asked, questions answered. Introducing the man himself, Dylan Wolpers (and girlfriend/Twitter intermediary for this Q&A, Veronica Stark):

How long have you been a fan of Dynamo? Are you a casual fan or a hard core supporter?

I have been a Dynamo fan since Day 1! My Dad has purchased season tickets for us since the inaugural year (2006). So you can definitely say I’m a diehard fan and supporter.

What was your reaction to the social media response after your in-stadium birthday announcement? How do you feel about the ongoing attention?

I didn’t know exactly what had happened. We did our usual post-game ritual of getting tacos. When I arrived at the restaurant, my brother and his friend asked me if I had seen Reddit and told me to check it out. When I saw it I just laughed and didn’t think anything would come of it. We just thought it was funny, at that point everyone was basically posting “Who (tf) is Dylan Wolpers and why do I care if it’s his B-day?” I find it hysterical that the fans have really just taken and keep having fun with it. The attention I’m getting has basically become a new form of entertainment. It definitely keeps me laughing.

Is it exciting to have a derby named after you or are you over it?

Are you kidding? I LOVE having a derby named after me! I don’t think I will ever be “over it”, it’s now become something I look forward to. I know that every time we play MNUFC it will be a blast!

Before the last match, when Houston visited Allianz for the first time, Dynamo tweeted a pic of a jersey with your name on it hanging alongside the kits of the Starting XI. Have you had more interactions with the club? Have you discussed naming rights for what is now known as the ‘Dylan Wolpers Derby’?

We have a friend that works with the Dynamo media team. He had shown the director/crew the social media frenzy behind the joke. They thought it was amazing and came up with ideas. I really didn’t know much outside of that. My friend just said look at Twitter and Instagram on gameday. Naming rights have not been discussed, however, my girlfriend’s mom keeps telling me that I should get my name trademarked. Haha! I don’t think it’s really THAT big for me to be concerned. It’s all good fun!

You have a lot of friends in MN who’ve offered their couches and guest rooms if you travelled for a match: Are there any plans in the works, for Dynamo games or otherwise?

Traveling has been something that we have definitely looked into. I just don’t know when. I do appreciate all of the offers, but I do have relatives that live in St Cloud [an 80 minute drive up I-94 from Allianz Field] if I needed to stay. So it is gonna happen, I just don’t know when.

For those fans who may not have seen USOC livestream and are wondering, “Who is this Dylan Wolpers guy?”, what do you want them to know about you?

Um, wow, I don’t even know how to answer that. I am just a huge fan of the game. I eat, sleep, breathe soccer. I just got lucky to get a couple minutes of fame.

[To Stark]: Did he feel bullied into joining Twitter or was his Derby Day debut in the plans?

He said, “I wanted to have more of a direct form of communication instead of my gf’s Twitter being blown up, not that she minds.” I say, he was bullied in the best way possible.


Wolpers joined Twitter shortly before Houston visited Allianz on May 25, just in time to enjoy renewed fame ignited by a banner held by new Wonderwall SG, Glitteratti. The sign was photographer Tim McLaughlin’s idea:

“I asked a few friends if they thought the idea was funny and they said yes, so I went with it,” McLaughlin said. “The day before the game I sent a friend a message making sure they were still willing to display it and they said, ‘Wait, that’s too big. That’s considered a tifo and we need to get it approved through the Wonderwall and someone working for the team.’ At this point I was telling them that it’s a hassle and not to worry about it, but they got party hats and hyped it up and made it way more fun.”

Photo (and banner] by Tim McLaughlin

It was way more fun for the Wonderwall anyway. For Dylan – Well…

Whether Dylan and his Dynamo can get redemption against the Loons early remains to be seen. But one thing is for sure: The U.S. Open Cup is helping MLS supporters keep soccer weird.

Happy Birthday, Dylan Wolpers! Again.

Featured image: @HoustonDynamo

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MNUFC Continues Consistent Inconsistent Streak

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

Wednesday, May 29: 0-3 loss | Sunday, June 2: 3-2 loss

After the exhilarating home win last weekend, the Loons traveled to Atlanta to face their expansion rivals in a midweek match, then turned tail to host Philadelphia Union at home. Through the two matches, Minnesota’s defensive streak came to a screeching halt. Would their attack rise to counterbalance?

It nearly happened in Atlanta, but the best chance came from a much contested play, when Brad Guzan’s goal line save appeared to be a goal from one angle.

There was just enough reasonable doubt that many Loons fans expected a VAR call and were frustrated when it didn’t come. Had it happened, the call would not have changed, but not using VAR on a possible equalizing play is a bit confusing, but that’s another story. Josef Martinez got his mojo back and Atlanta went on to win 3-0. The Loons turned around to prepare for a Doop duel.

As opposed to a number of previous matches when, even after a win, Heath would criticize a handful of players for poor performances, he sang their praises on Sunday afternoon, refusing to address any mistakes or poor quality.

Even in the face of a league-high shots tally (29!), Heath refused to discuss the elephant in the room – his strikers’ failure to finish when putting up all those shots: “A little higher percentage of [goals to shots] we would’ve been, probably, clear. But I’m not going to let that mask what was an outstanding performance on top of the shift that the guys did on Wednesday in Atlanta.”

Instead, he put Sunday’s loss down to fantastic “last-ditch defending” by Philadelphia and their “very, very good – shall we say, professional” ability to go to ground cheaply and stay there. The latter was certainly a factor, earning deafening boos from the Wonderwall, but the former was made easy by some poor finishing from Minnesota’s attackers.

Rookie defender Hassani Dotson, who scored the first equalizer on his first ever MLS career shot, was asked by media if he would do anything to commemorate his first goal: “It was a nice moment, but it doesn’t feel good because we lost.” He did add, however, “Everyone put in a good shift and we were unlucky to not get three points.”

The players, especially defenders, were disappointed. Brent Kallman, involved in Philadelphia’s third goals, said: “I was looking around, I was kind of – we didn’t have many numbers at the back post, we had no guys there. So I stayed on the spot. The ball came in and I kind of got frozen[…] If I keep my feet moving, then I can attack and and it’s not a problem […] It’s obviously one I’d like to have back.”

That self-criticism and drive is one reason Minnesota fans like that hometown boy. Another is his honesty about his teammates. Kallman had words for Dotson on a few occasions, when he didn’t feel enough support from the left back, but he also had some feelings about the Loons’ attack when questioned on their shot total:

“We got to be better going to goal. I mean, when you have enough quality, you know where the defenders are, you know where they’re going to put their legs. You miss that on purpose, so we [defenders] push for it. Those point guys were flying around, but we just have to finish our chances.”

Hassani’s goal was a byproduct of the attackers quitting on the play. The body language before Dotson strikes is telling:

While their coach looked at the big picture, for once, the players are stuck thinking of moments. Wishing they had reacted a little differently here or could have done more to make a play matter there. So many numbers that should have added up to something – a gutsy draw, a gritty win – fluttered away and left Minnesota with zero points earned on a two-match week.

Improvements to be made

Defense: Clean and tough. Minnesota has become a defensive team rather than a ‘let’s score one more than we concede’ team. Communication among the back three/four has dramatically improved thanks to veteran additions and their 90 minute stamina is bolstered by the youthful legs and workhorses, but conceding free kicks in dangerous areas and giving up unnecessary penalty kicks have proven costly.

Midfield: Passing and possession. These are the Loons’ Achilles heel. Philadelphia turned into a turnover battle more than once and there was no strength there in Atlanta on Wednesday. Minnesota needs to find a way to connect their improving defense with the floundering attack to see any overall improvement.

Attack: Finishing. Even when the Loons do finally get the ball into the final third where the strikers can take a shot, those same strikers who saved many a match over the last couple seasons are having trouble finishing the job now. Rodriguez is often slow on the final touch; Abu Danladi isn’t strong enough to muscle past defenders and maintain the ball; and Quintero seems to have lost his confidence, missing simple shots and quitting on the play.

Playing roles in both losses were: Officials, solid opposing defense and Minnesota defensive mishaps. What’s the best way to counter those factors?

An attack capable of scoring goals with – shall we say – consistency? Perhaps with the same consistency with which MNUFC recognizes and celebrates Pride – but that’s, again, another story.

COYL

Featured image: @MNUFC

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MN United follow Road Loss with Six Points and New Identity at Home

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

May 11 at Chicago Fire: 2-0 loss, May 18 v Columbus Crew: 1-0 win, May 22 v Hertha Berlin (friendly): 0-1 loss, May 25 v Houston Dynamo: 1-0 win

Minnesota United FC put up a pathetic showing in Bridgeview on Saturday, May 11, just days after offloading their left back and perennial captain on the Fire. If they had hoped to prove that night that they could live without Francisco Calvo, they failed to do so.

One moment encapsulates those dismal 95 minutes – and the two seasons of road woes the Loons thought were in the past – and it involves two big names in the United story: Darwin Quintero, the Loons’ best hope for goal opportunities, and the ousted captain, Calvo.

Quintero, making a lonely run toward goal, dribbled the ball right into Calvo who hardly had to move his feet to dispossess his former teammate and direct the ball out of Fire’s third. That was about as close as the Loons got to a goal. Even Callum Williams, whose optimism lightens most matches, had nothing to say about this one:

Thankfully, the next three matches, including a poorly timed friendly against Hertha Berlin, would be played in front of the Wonderwall. Admittedly, I haven’t watched the Crew match in its entirety: I caught the condensed version after following the live scores from Minnesota’s North Shore.

The fact that the Loons’ scored first after trading shots with the Crew for 70 minutes was not a surprise – with 19 shots to Crew’s 4, it was bound to happen for the home side. However, the play which created it was.

Jan Gregus‘ short corner found Quintero who passed it to Romain Metanire at the top of the third. The right back appeared to be looking for a lurking striker. Instead, his ball to the far post was met by centerback Brent Kallman whose diving header found Ethan Finlay. The former Crew midfielder buried the ball and remained subdued while Loons jumped on top of him in celebration. His strike and a clean sheet from the Loons’ defense secured three points at home.

Hosting a Wednesday night friendly between two Saturday matches was not an ideal situation, but it was an opportunity for Minnesota to let some rookies shine in a match with no conference table consequences. Hertha Berlin of the Bundesliga opened their first US tour with a win at the newest member of their Allianz stadium family.

Though it was his error which led to Hertha’s lone goal, when he knocked an attempted ball right into the path of Peter Pekarik for the rebound, keeper Dayne St Claire, MNUFC’s 2019 Super Draft pick, made some huge saves and proved that he is worthy of some MLS minutes.

St Clair’s fellow loanee, forward Mason Toye, showed growth and composure Wednesday night despite failing to find the back of the net. (If the Dark Clouds had a Charity Over-the-Crossbar Club in addition to the Charity Card Club, I would have gone broke this week.) The 2018 draftee showed he’s capable of finding open space and taking up positions that are most likely to move the ball forward.

The best rookie performance came from midfielder Hassani Dotson. He so impressed the coaching staff that they selected him to make his MLS debut in the Starting XI on Saturday’s match against Houston Dynamo, out of position no less.

With winger Kevin Molino forced to rest ahead of international duty after taking a knock in the friendly, Miguel Ibarra was moved up from the left back role he’d taken after Calvo’s departure. Dotson filled that spot with a confidence that reassured even the most cynical Loons fans.

After some opening-minutes jitters, Dotson made some ice-cold stops against a stout Houston side, partnering well with Brent Kallman, who himself displayed an almost indifferent composure for the full 90 minutes. With those two on the left and Metanire and Michael Boxall on the right, the United defense controlled this game. Previously the Achilles’ heel of a club struggling to find an identity, the defense was stalwart in its own third while also leading the attack.

Metanire, whose 5 assists include 2 game winners, got the lone goal of the night on what was intended to be another assist. Cal Williams may be the only person more surprised than Metanire himself. Listen here:

For a team whose midfield and defensive troubles have dominated headlines since entering MLS, this shift to midfield and defensive dominance is refreshing. Constant communication, accountability, and teamwork has created much-needed chemistry both on and off the pitch. When the veterans are dialed in and happy, the rookies thrive. If Minnesota’s forwards can just start sending the ball into the net instead of over the crossbar, United could be a fearsome foe both home and away.

The Loons face a huge challenge on Wednesday in Atlanta without assist-leader/defender Metanire (yellow card accumulation). Who gets the next chance to shine?

COYL

Featured image: @MNUFC

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What’s A Point Between Friends: MNUFC Welcomes Seattle

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

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.

Sealing the shared point with handshakes and hugs. Image: Bridget McDowell

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.

Featured image: @MNUFC

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That Escalated Quickly: MNUFC Trades Calvo To Chicago

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

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.

Gracias por todo, Capí.

Featured image: @MNUFC

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

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Two Matches, One Epic Wonderwall In Minnesota

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

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.


Featured image: @BCMcDowell

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MNUFC Throws A Tantrum In Toronto

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

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.

Featured image: @MNUFC

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

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MNUFC Flies Home At Last

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

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.

Come. On. You. Loons.

Featured image: Tim McLaughlin // @timcmclaughlin

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

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