Category Archives: Minnesota United FC

Loons Face A Revolutionary Resurgence

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

Saturday, March 30: 2-1 loss

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 You want to know why I stay in this room?

Jake Huard Yeah.

Twins Cause Jake, you’re my Mississippi.

Jake Huard I’m your what?

Twins People who live in Arkansas, you know what their favorite state is?

Jake Huard No.

Twins Mississippi. Cause Mississippi’s the only thing that keeps Arkansas from being the worst state in the whole country.

Jake Huard I’m Mississippi.

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.

Featured image: @MNUFC

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

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Loons drop three points to Galaxy

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

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.

Featured image: @MNUFC

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Loons clean up on the road

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

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:

Found on Amazon.com

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.

Come on you Loons.

Featured image: @MNUFC

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

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New Season, New Narrative for MNUFC

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

Minnesota United opened the 2019 season by doing something thought impossible just six short months ago: Earning three points on the road and closing out the night on top of the Western Conference. It wasn’t easy though. In fact, that evening in Vancouver started off on a horribly familiar note.

The Vancouver Whitecaps got on the board first, thanks to an unfortunate lapse in the Loons’ defense that threatened to knock their fans right back into the depths of despair just six minutes into what was supposed to be a fresh start. But, rather than collapse into chaos as in the past, the Loons rallied with a United front. The new-look back line (Francisco Calvo on the left, Romain Metanire on the right, Michael Boxall and Ike Opara in the center) appeared motivated—despite an obvious lack of chemistry—to assist the midfield in pushing the ball forward—and keeping it there.

Thanks to some incredible stops by Metanire and simple leadership from newcomers Ozzie Alonso and Jan Gregus, the Loons were able to gain some ground. Calvo, reprising his role as captain and making run after run into the Vancouver half, forced a foul that led to a Darwin Quintero penalty kick in the 37th minute. Of course he nailed it. Minnesota breathed a sigh of relief as the Loons entered the locker room level.

If the start of the match was like an unpleasant blast from the past, the second half was like an alternate reality. One scoring chance after another sprang from the Loons’ front line, which featured Romario Ibarra at forward with Rasmus Schuller, Quintero and Miguel Ibarra, creating in the space behind him. Romario would capitalize eventually, but the Loons’ first run-of-play goal came from the newly branded full back:

Calvo may miss his spot at centerback, but he cemented his place on the wing Saturday night. With the freedom to move forward (without abandoning the ‘keeper), the captain at times led the attack with brilliant runs forward that made space for Quintero and Romario to work the box. With his ability to help finish the job in front of goal, I don’t expect Calvo to return to the centerback position anytime soon.

Another Loon may have earned himself a new position after opening night. With Angelo Rodriguez on the bench injured (he did come on for Romario in the 83rd minute), Romario started at forward instead of on the wing. Though he struggled to finish chances in the first half, he finally connected with a ball from Quintero in the 70th minute (just four minutes after Calvo’s go-ahead goal).

Vancouver would take one back, but it didn’t matter. The Loons came out on top, a 3-2 win on the road.

The best part? It was a team victory. Before entering the locker room at halftime, Calvo rallied his squad for a quick huddle. There was no yelling, no angry gesturing; it was a perfectly healthy regrouping, something we’ve rarely seen from previous squads. The team celebrated each goal as a team and came together again after the final whistle.

Now comes the hard part: The Loons need to build chemistry in training and enter Week Two in San Jose with a 0-0 mindset. 2019 has only just begun.

Featured image: @MNUFC

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

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Loons Can Carry Seven Points Into Allianz Field

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

Minnesota begins the fabled Third Year in MLS with a five game road trip. While the idea of the Loons playing away conjures an image of cartoon figures in wing kits trudging along under their own personal rain clouds, one Dark Cloud draws us out of our corners to participate in a game that forces us to rediscover our optimism. Or, at the very least, to rationalize our pessimism.

Bruce ‘du Nord’ McGuire (no relation to club owner, Dr. Bill McGuire — though he does have a brother named Bill) is a MN Dark Clouds OG and a pro at keeping Minnesota fans focused. At various points through the season, McGuire invites his Twitter followers to guess how many points the Loons will earn over that period, logs the entries and regularly updates the total of still-standing entrants.

I play every time. Unofficially, with no record and, thus, no mental consequences that can’t be shoved aside. But I am a committed, recorded entrant (one of 220, as of Friday evening) in the 2019 du Nord How Many Points for MNUFC In The First Five Games Contest.

I predicted seven points, officially.*

*Unofficially, I predicted that plus or minus six; I’ll tell after Week Five.

In 2017, the Loons took just four points from their first five matches on a draw at Colorado and a win at home against Salt Lake. Last year, a rare two-game win streak earned the Loons six points, away at Orlando and home against Chicago.

So if there were a single home match among these five, I would add two more points, but with Vancouver, San Jose, LA Galaxy, New England and New York Red Bulls all on the pre-Allianz docket, I’m fairly comfortable with an optimistic seven point total. That’s two wins and a draw. Or one win and four draws. (A lot of ties will really win over the Minnesota Vikings fanbase.)

One draw and two wins, based on a few incredibly generalized observations:

  • I see one point coming out of the opener in Vancouver. While the Loons went undefeated in preseason, there is still the question of how a re-built defense and re-shuffled midfield will come together when it counts. My biggest concern is how flexible Loons’ gaffer Adrian Heath will be with his formation when (not if) adjustments are needed. On the other hand, Heath has leg up on Marc dos Santos who is practically rebuilding his new club from the ground up with very few preseason tune-ups. So I’ll just call that a draw.
  • The Week Five match in New England is one the Loons are most likely to win, if preseason was any indication. A United squad heavy on new guys experiencing their first matchplay as a unit, dismantled a more veteran Revolution side for a confidence-boosting win. Winger Miguel Ibarra notched the only goal of the evening (discounting a Revs own-goal), but the attack seemed fresh, the defense solid… Judging from limited club updates and just a few minutes of highlight video.
  • Rewind to Week Three in San Jose. The veteran Loons will go in with a huge chip on their shoulders thanks to previous years’ results and the newcomers (Ike Opara and Ozzie Alonso, especially) will carry in the commitment and leadership to funnel that steam toward a positive result – the win that any club but San Jose should get in San Jose.

Alternate scenario: The Loons win convincingly in Vancouver and go on to draw the remaining four, bringing seven points into the first match at Allianz Field, which nearly 20,000 fans will walk into for the first time with low expectations, but ready to party.

Either way… Come. On. You. Loons.

Featured image: @MNUFC

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

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Loons Reveal Secondary Kit, Primary Keeper

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

In the middle of the messiest snowstorm of the year (so far), MNUFC took over the Mall of America rotunda for what is often the most exciting part of the preseason: the kit reveal.

I had planned to be there to hear the fan reactions to the new design, but had to turn around after just five sketchy miles of freeway driving. While I waited in a checkout line with 100 pounds of tube sand to balance my car on my Monday morning commute, a quick peek at Twitter replaced the sound bytes I had hoped for: Meh.

The 2019 away kit is appropriately called the Drift Kit:

*For those of you who don’t follow winter sports, the Xcel Energy Center is home to the Minnesota Wild hockey team.*

Fans seem to be fed up with the Adidas templates that are sweeping the league and Minnesota United fans, still accustomed to the individualistic lower league designs of yore, are certainly no different. But, I’m going to put a positive spin on these icy whites.

The Loons are poised for an improved away performance this year that will put the design in perspective: The shirt is simply a template in which the Loons will build a road team identity. And if they don’t…

Maybe Clorox Bleach will replace Target as shirt sponsor.

The keeper kits are a tad more interesting, even more so given who walked out in one.

Italian keeper Vito Mannone has joined MNUFC on a one year loan from English Championship side Reading FC. He comes to MLS with Premier League experience, including seven seasons at Arsenal. Mannone is set to take the top spot between the sticks, demoting Bobby Shuttleworth (who, to my knowledge, was not seen at the kit reveal) to the bench.

When the Mannone rumors first started, I was not convinced he was the upgrade that Adrian Heath & Co were so openly shopping for. After some comparison between Mannone and Shuttleworth’s stats though, I’m a little more comfortable with this game plan. Based on numbers reported by Transfermarkt, Mannone averaged 62.5 minutes between goals conceded over the 2017/18 season, while Shuttleworth averaged 47.3 minutes in 2017 and 44.1 in 2018.

These certainly aren’t the definitive stats to go by, but Mannone, combined with the D-line upgrades made in January, indeed appears to be an improvement.

New looks abound in the North. Come. On. You. Loons.

Featured image: @MNUFC

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

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MNUFC’s pivotal year three spending spree

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

With preseason matches kicking off this week, it is time for that deep dive I’ve been teasing. This will, unfortunately, be a low dive, but I’m sure the next few weeks will give us plenty of material to build on. After all, I believe there’s still some TAM, GAM and JAM (or is it jelly?) in the coffers, ripe for spending.

We’ve had enough Twitter. This one is all words. Ready, Loons? Dive.

Minnesota United is making strides in rebuilding one of its weakest links on the pitch ahead of the club’s third MLS season, with nine additions to the backfield: Osvaldo “Ozzie” Alonso, Jan Gregus, Chase Gasper, Hassani Dotson, Dayne St Clair, Romain Metanire, Mitchell Osmond, Kevin Rodriguez and, most recently, Ike Opara.

Of the five expected to immediately compete for starting roles, only two (Metanire and Opara) are true defenders, but doubling down on the defensive midfielders certainly isn’t a bad thing for this club.

In 2017 and 2018, compounding on the issue of the Loons’ leaky defense was a discombobulated midfield that struggled to move the ball into the final third and struggled even more to maintain possession in their own half, meaning the defense was nearly always on their back foot before they came face-to-face with the opposition’s attack. Adrian Heath’s experimentation with the 3-5-2 sparked hope, but like a line of dominoes, no matter the formation, one mistake would lead to total collapse.

So United needs to get back to the basics. Defensive stalwarts like Opara and Alonso will provide a solid backbone to a successful transition. Both would operate well in either the 4-2-3-1 or the 3-5-2. I would pair Opara with Michael Boxall in a four-man backline, with Calvo and Metanire to their left and right, respectively. In a three-man backline, I see Wyatt Omsberg (or Gasper?) on Opara’s left and Kallman on his right.

There are too many variables for me to lay out the midfield, but in either formation I want Alonso and Jan Gregus orchestrating with Rasmus Schuller and Miguel Ibarra anchoring the wings.

The varied experience brought by Alonso and Opara counteract many of the negatives cited (over and over and over) on Minnesota Soccer Twitter. These are two MLS veterans with hefty postseason resumes, not just grainy highlight videos from another league. Their composure and leadership will balance the youthful inexperience of the fresh legs around them and give the other Minnesota mainstays (i.e. Calvo and Kallman) more favorable conditions to rise to their potential consistently. And I have a feeling that consistency will be the buzzword this season.

Yes, we need depth. Yes, we need more starters. Yes, we need to score goals, too. But when the Loons’ receive their credit statement for the past month, the transaction history will, for the first time since the club’s promotion, hint at forward progress in the building of a team with playoff hopes.

Is the third time the charm? Either way…. [Insert photo of shiny, new stadium here.]

COYL

Featured image: @MNUFC

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

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All[ianz] is bright

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

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

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

Well, not exactly dark. Nor silent.

Oh! And this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Featured image: @MNUFC

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

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The Loons, the bad and the ugly

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

It is high time to put the 2018 season to rest, but how about one more chorus of our favorite Simon & Garfunkel song before we go? Sing it with me:

“Hello Darkness, my old friend…”

Minnesota United FC finished 2018 tenth in the west with 36 points, just 5 more than the Colorado Rapids and 15 more than perennial bottom dwellers, San Jose Earthquakes. Seventy-one goals against is hardly an improvement over the Loons’ record-breaking freshman finish. However, Orlando City SC shipped three more than Minnesota this season. Feel better? No? Sorry, it’s all downhill from here.

I could nitpick all the negatives, but you and I have other things to accomplish this offseason than to rehash all of that.

Instead, here are my overall reflections and expectations, uninterrupted by clips and tweets because I know you all remember the blunders vividly.

[Lack of] Defense

MNUFC’s goals against stats will always be a black mark on the club’s first two years in MLS. A key issue in the backline, noted again and again by anyone who followed 2017’s performance, was the lack of a No. 6. So fans rejoiced the signing of Fernando Bob in August and saw glimpses of a decent future in the Loons’ final third. Unfortunately, the phrase ‘Not good, Bob’ took a turn from sarcasm to exasperation. The club declined to exercise options on the Brazilian and his countrymen, Ibson and Maximiano.

Brent Kallman, Michael Boxall and Francisco Calvo became mainstays on the backline, though Calvo’s primary role switched from centerback to left back upon his return from international duty, in place of injured Jerome Thiesson (also released at season’s end). It looks likely that the trio will remain intact going into 2019, but questions remain: Who will complete Heath‘s four-man backline and will they earn the respect El Capitan so often demanded? Between glimpses of brilliance and the great impressions of brick walls performed by both Boxall and Kallman, reinforcements will be desperately needed to staunch the bleeding.

And the young guys (Omsberg, Manley) if still on the roster, will need time to learn their role.

Discombobulated Midfield

While the front office spent much of the season blaming injuries to key midfielders Kevin Molino and Ethan Finlay for all their woes, the midfield at times showed significant improvement over last year with more consistency and drive. A new-and-improved Rasmus Schuller returned from loan to anchor the left and balance Ibson’s roaming efforts on the right, but the squad still frequently failed to connect with the attack and opened more holes for the already struggling defense to clean up.

The arrival of Darwin Quintero sparked more connections and possibilities in the final third, but you can only burn a candle from both ends for so long…  One DP caliber attacking mid is not a fix-all solution and Batman (Miguel Ibarra) can’t run all night, every night.

The club appears to be eliminating all the question marks (Ibson’s inconsistencies, Maximiano’s temper, Alexi Gomez‘s poor passing) by releasing their core midfield line-up to start fresh. This December is now a carbon copy of last winter: A roster heavy on the wings, with no clear identity. But, hey, DPs score goals! … Sometimes.

Strikers Striking Out

Just as Batman can’t run all night, Superman can’t shoot strong and true every time. Fan favorite, Christian Ramirez, had a poor start to the season and was not the clutch goal scorer longtime fans had come to know and love. With the midfield’s poor movement into the final third, the arrival of Quintero’s wicked speed and sticky feet unlocked Ramirez’s potential once again.

However, the attack continued to struggle and the FO announced a new signing. A veteran striker who could supposedly score when expected and take the Loons’ attack to new heights. At the expense of the heart of the club who also happened to be their most valuable trading card.

Ramirez was replaced by Angelo Rodriguez, the club’s second DP. Unfortunately, no matter how much you pay a guy, he can’t be expected to reproduce his highlight reel at every match. Rodriguez said himself, on multiple occasions, that he was ‘ashamed’ of his performance and his guilt over not meeting expectations was painfully obvious.

But he seems determined to get back to full fitness and a youthful production rate. And MNUFC is going all in, designing their attack around the veteran and the rookies, 2018 draft pick Mason Toye and 2017 draft pick Abu Danladi, both struggling to find their footing and maintain fitness in the big league.

In conclusion:

Remember when we all sang, “Hey – ho – the North is rising, rising up the table,” after the first 2018 home win? That was neat. Let’s carry that feeling through the offseason, just to balance out the #Panic. Someday we will sing it again. It could be a fluke, but it will echo through the Midway, if only for one night. Until then…

I recommend whiskey.

Featured image of Rodriguez and Quintero: @MNUFC

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

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Standing Alone and Representing Many: Collin Martin

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

It may have been a less than stellar sophomore season for Minnesota United FC, but our Loons gave us plenty to be proud of off the pitch in 2018. Inspiring stories of players giving back and taking a stand only go so far in balancing out a non-competitive product, but they can reassure us of one thing: the Club places community on the same playing field as business.

Two Loons who did not receive much attention for actions on the pitch (and not because of poor performance, but because they did not have many opportunities to perform) made national headlines this season for two very different, but equally important, reasons. Matt Lampson is the other Loon who shines out of the water. Read his story here. 

Among the banners in Minnesota’s Supporters Section is a rainbow flag reading “All Fans Welcome.” It has been on display since the club’s tenure at NSC, before the promotion. It is not an empty statement: If you are a human who wants to stand and support the club, you will be treated as a human. But at one match each year, it means more. This year, on June 29, an announcement by a quiet, young midfielder, added even more depth to that statement.

In response to a slew of homophobic comments and allegations that Collin Martin’s announcement was orchestrated by the club as a political statement, owner Dr. Bill McQuire responded by calling the announcement a “human statement.” The club affirmed their message of inclusion to the entire LGBTQ+ community, awarding the L’etoile du Nord (Star of the North) to Dot Belster, Executive Director of Twin Cities Pride. And Belster isn’t the only LGBTQ+ Star recipient. The first L’etoile du Nord, awarded on March 17, went to former Minnesota Viking, Esera Tuaolo, who came out in 2002 after his retirement from the NFL.

It is no small thing that the country’s only openly gay male athlete active in professional sports is one of ours. And it is no small thing that our club supports him so strongly.

For Maggi Heyer, a Dark Clouds member and self-proclaimed Token Queer Capo, the club’s handling of Martin’s announcement reinforced the positive aspects of MNUFC.

“For me, this year was a lot of ups and downs. I think overall the lack of progress from last year was frustrating. Some of the moves that the FO made, while I understand the need for them, were especially frustrating because the FO failed to handle them well,” she explained. “I’m not sure that Collin’s announcement changed my feelings, per se, as affirmed what we knew about the club. I have found our supporter culture here to be so open and welcoming and it was great to see that this extends to the team.”

The message goes well beyond this MLS season. Martin will make an impact on a new generation of athletes, fans and human beings.

“I am the mom of two kids and I think the visible support that the club has shown for Collin goes a long way to showing kids that they are welcome in sport, regardless of how they identify,” Heyer said. “Visibility is so important. I would love for an athlete coming out to not be headline news a few years from now, but for now, I truly appreciate Collin’s bravery and the clubs welcoming culture.”

During his time in Minnesota, Martin has taken an active role in advocating for human rights issues, even campaigning for, now governor-elect, Tim Walz. And the state and its greater sporting community have thrown their support behind Martin as well. At the 2018 Minnesota Sports Awards, Martin received the Courage Award.

Sure, the numbers don’t look good, but while we are all waiting for that famous Three Year Plan to come to fruition, we have plenty to appreciate and lots to look forward to.

“This years’ Pride Night did seem a little different [from previous years], especially from the supporters perspective,” Heyer told me. “I think the tifo really helped to set the tone and with Collin’s announcement earlier in the day there was just this amazing energy. I’m excited to see how we can top it next year in Allianz though.”

Featured image: fox5ny.com

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