Tag Archives: Adrian Heath

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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MN United Earns Its Wings At Red Bull Arena

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

Saturday, April 6: 1-2 win

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:

Full-time stats posted on matchcenter.mlssoccer.com

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.

Come On You Loons!

Featured image: @MNUFC

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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

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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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The Loons are alright

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

It could have been the social anxiety or that initial sense of imposter syndrome or merely my habit of observing rather than participating or any combination of the three. But my observational approach to reporting this season taught me more about this fanbase, this club, and this sport, than being in the stands or asking cerebral questions ever would. And it gave me some confidence in the club’s building process.

Minnesota soccer fandom is an obsession for me. Minnesota’s fans have been through it all. From “the team that nobody wanted” in the lower division to the team that everyone doubted in the Major League, they have been singing, chanting, screaming for their boys. The flags, the tifos, the scarves… through two dismal seasons in the MLS, they have not let up.

And they want more to cheer for.

On many occasions, I wanted to ask Adrian Heath: What steps are you taking to be competitive? How long are you going to use the same tactics that get the same crappy results? When does this ‘Three Year Plan’ kick in?

I did not ask any of these questions, or many others, in fact.

Instead, match after match, presser after presser, trade after trade, I’ve watched Heath respond and react to fan criticism and media skepticism; I’ve observed the players interact in the locker room after wins, losses and draws; heard everyone from the front office to the back plead for patience and confidence. I learned that:

  1. Heath does have a plan which may, in fact, be leading somewhere, but which has sputtered along through the process of making fan favorites and potential standout newcomers mesh together on short notice;
  2. the players want to be a cohesive unit and are willing to put in the work, but have limited opportunities to earn one another’s confidence while playing within the lines of the game plan; and
  3. that the club knows full well where the inadequacies lie, where improvements need to be made to earn the confidence of the diehard supporters but have chosen to pave the way to their end goals one small piece at a time.

Yes, I would have like to have sung ‘same as it ever was, same as it ever was’ on more than one occasion, in response to Heath’s standby answer, “We know what we need to get better.” I wanted to ask, WHAT pieces?, every time he said, “We just need one or two more pieces.” But I did not.

Minnesota United FC is attempting to put together a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle with all sorts of oddly shaped pieces. The border is complete. Next, they have to fill in the picture, but the package was missing a number of pieces so there are a couple completed sections floating around unanchored.

The fans want a hint at what the completed picture will be. At the end of Year One, Heath pointed to the completed border. “We know what we need to get better.” At the end of Year Two, he pointed to his two Designated Players in the front; the oft-noted trio Molino, Finlay and Cronin; Kallman and captain Calvo in the back – all roster groupings that appear to be semi-permanent portions of the picture, bent and faded as they may be today. “We need to bring in one or two more pieces.”

I have the same sources you do; I don’t know any secrets. I am as frustrated as you are.

However.

I have seen them acknowledge the frying pan. Or, rather, the Iron Skillet. They know that they won’t have a pretty presentation of a shiny, nearly-completed stadium with which to distract the Supporters if that ubiquitous Year Three ends with the same bitter taste as the last two.

This Club is building its MLS identity the same way the squad has earned it’s tastiest goals: A series of clean passes, a couple of long shots and, occasionally, pure dumb luck.

So. Heath out? If we see too many long shots this offseason, maybe I’d board that train. Panic? If we start leaning on dumb luck, yes.

But, hey! We live here now.

And I have a notebook full of questions to ask during the offseason, I promise.

Featured image: mnufc.com

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

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A momentous, appropriate end to Minnesota’s sophomore season

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

Sunday, October 28: 3-2 Loss

Minnesota United FC‘s sophomore MLS season ended the way anyone who had followed the club this season could have expected. In fact, the 3-2 loss to Columbus Crew is a perfect sample of the season as a whole.

It was momentous. Not in the Merriam-Webster approved sense of the word. It was full of moments. Glimpses of brilliance, glimmerings of hope, pleasant surprises… all things which the Loons present to us with every match. Two of the brightest moments of the finale came from Darwin Quintero and Francisco Calvo.

Quintero’s early run:

Calvo’s first goal:

But it was also full of the same mistakes, the same subpar performances, that have plagued the team week in and week out. Case in point:

The only thing more surprising than defender Francisco Calvo notching two goals in the season finale was that Zardes was allowed to close a slow, regular season with a hat-trick. Except, Minnesota fans can’t actually be surprised anymore.

No, having a lightning delay called just minutes into the match certainly didn’t help things and an extremely slick pitch was not in their favor. But the Loons are no strangers to the proverbial wrench thrown into the game plan, a fact which coach Adrian Heath and the front office like to call attention to in every interview (injuries to key players Kevin Molino, Ethan Finlay and Sam Cronin and questionable VAR calls, for example). By week 33, adjusting to these factors should not be an issue.

When asked about his team’s performance on Sunday night, Heath responded as he has every week, his assessment of this particular match a carbon copy of that of every other loss (and even a few wins) this season:

  • “You do not win many games conceding three [goals] on the road.”
  • “We know what we have to do to get better.”
  • “We need one or two more pieces. If we get them, we have a chance at being more competitive.”

Have we grown or improved in any measurable way on the pitch? Not so much, no.

Are we still just happy to be here? That will depend on what happens in the offseason.

And on how you define happy.

Featured image: @MNUFC

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Loons camp out in Dallas, come home empty handed

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

Saturday, August 18: 0-2 Loss

The Loons flew south this past weekend to face first-place FC Dallas. They were probably eager to get the match over with, to take any points they possibly could against the western conference leaders and move on with their road trip. In so many ways, it was a disappointing night.

A handful of players needed to make an impression in this match for a chance to earn more appearances in the lineup once the starters they replaced that night returned. With defenders Francisco Calvo and Collen Warner on suspension, and forward Darwin Quintero on the injury list, MNUFC rolled out a unique 4-3-3 with Franz Pangop getting his first start alongside Angelo Rodriguez and Collin Martin. Romario Ibarra – who scored last week – and Heath Harrison – who has been struggling for minutes – were the bench.

Intriguing. But we had to wait a while to see how that would work out. Set for a 7 PM kickoff, rain and lightning caused a weather delay which stretched on for more than two hours.

Twitter was entertaining in the interim…

After following along with the waiting game on Twitter for two and a half hours, I waited just long enough to see that the game would happen. Once kickoff was confirmed for 9:40, I went to bed. And I am glad I did.

I opened Twitter right away on Sunday morning with the hope that the first dozen tweets in my feed wouldn’t involve lyrics from Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Sound of Silence.’ Here’s just a small sample of what awaited me:

Minnesota lost 2-0, after conceding one goal in each half. So the defense wasn’t great (though Brent Kallman did earn Man of the Match) and neither was the attack.

I pulled up the club’s recap and press release to see what Adrian Heath had to say, always the most intriguing part of the post-match experience. I puzzled over this statement all day:

“The unfortunate thing at this moment in time,” said Heath, “we had no Calvo, we had no Quintero, no Molino, no Ethan Finlay, no Sam Cronin. We aren’t strong enough and deep enough to cope with five of our best players not being on the field and that’s the harsh reality. It’s another reminder that we have to get better. We’re not where we need to be or where we want to be at this moment.”

The absences of Calvo and Quintero are notable. However, citing the absences of the other three players is a bit strange. The Loons have been without Kevin Molino since his ACL tear on March 10, without Ethan Finlay since April 22 (also ACL) and without Sam Cronin for over one year as he deals with neck and concussion issues.

United has had two opportunities to bring in suitable replacements for Molino and Finlay and, considering the club’s passion for signing depth at midfield (winger, winger, winger), it is strange that the absence of those two mids would be cited as an obstacle to overcome now, more than four months later. The Loons have managed to string together some wins since those season-ending injuries, so that is no excuse for whatever happened on Saturday night.

(No, I still have not watched the match.)

How MNUFC utilizes newcomer Fernando Bob in the no. six spot will be a good barometer of how the club plans to move forward. The success (or lack thereof) of attacker Angelo Rodriguez and defender Fernando Bob could set the tone for how the club moves forward in both the remainder of the season and in terms of the ‘three-year plan.’ If that plan involves shifting into another 4-3-3 around these two…

Well, let’s not go there just yet. I have not yet found a cover of ‘Sound of Silence’ with a suitably depressing tone.

Featured image: @MNUFC

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

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

Recapping the week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anything is possible.

Featured image: Minnesota United Facebook

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