Tag Archives: Adrian Heath

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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A loomery of Loons lost to the Red Bulls on Saturday night

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

Saturday, March 24: 3-0 Loss

The key word in the title is not ‘lost’; the key word is ‘loomery’ – a breeding place for loons.

With nearly half of this season’s featured starters out on injury or international duty, the back four in Adrian Heath’s 4-2-3-1 looked quite a bit different. Jerome Thiesson (hip), Francisco Calvo (Costa Rica), Michael Boxall (New Zealand) and Tyrone Mears (calf)  were replaced by Marc Burch, Wyatt Omsberg, Brent Kallman and Carter Manley, respectively. In addition, Collen Warner took the place of Schuller (Finland) beside Ibson in the backfield.

Between the rookies, Omsberg and Manley, and the off-the-bench players, Burch and Kallman playing their first full 90 of 2018, no one expected the backline to be as successful as the missing four have shown over the first three matches of the season. And, in the end, they weren’t. However, up against a team like the New York Red Bulls, they could have done a lot worse than the 3-0 loss this weekend.

Consider this: Last season, Minnesota United lost their first meeting with the Red Bulls by three goals to none. (Two of those goals were scored by Bradley Wright-Phillips and Alex Muyl, who both made the scoresheet this weekend.) The Loons were considered fully staffed, with newcomers Boxall and Nicholson joining Kallman, Thiesson, Calvo, Ibarra, and Molino.

Fans were understandably upset that this weekend’s rematch resulted in an identical scoreline. However:

  • Despite repeatedly losing one-on-one matchups in the box, Kallman was a vocal leader on the backline, supporting and uplifting the rookies for the full 90, pushing everyone to regroup after their defensive mistakes.
  • Sure, United keeper Matt Lampson conceded three goals, but he also made a handful of key saves against a patented Wright-Phillips attack which could easily have scored at least two more.
  • While Nicholson and Finlay failed to replicate the magic they made at home last weekend, they never stopped trying. In fact, Finlay sent some beautiful crosses through the box and sent a howler into the crossbar in the final minutes.
  • Yes, Heath pulled Ibarra and Ramirez from the game after they repeatedly failed to find the space behind Connor Lade, Tim Duncan and Kyle Duncan. But it is unfair to expect that Ramirez would notch his first goal of the season against Luis Robles and a backline that has conceded a single goal this season.
  • And then the substitutes: Mason Toye, Abu Danladi (returning from injury) and Frantz Pangop (making his MNUFC debut) came on and were immediately a part of the attack. While their attempts toward goal were ultimately unsuccessful, they joined a team of Loons who were determined to fight together to the final whistle.

These are not the Loons of 2017, disjointed pieces failing to connect and communicate. This is a group determined to grow together, to fight together, to become a team with one shared purpose. From the veterans to the rookies to the new acquisitions, these guys want to work. Sometimes that isn’t good enough. But it isn’t a complete loss either.

Featured image courtesy: @MNUFC

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A cry of loons bests the pride of lions

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

Saturday, March 10: 1-2 Win

Despite an identical lineup, the cry of Loons who appeared in Orlando Saturday was a different animal from last weekend. And this group announced their presence loud and clear.

I choose the collective noun ‘cry’ here over a handful of others for Minnesota’s state bird because the performance of this squad – their grit, heart, and perseverance – against Orlando City SC put a hopeful and enlightened tone on the season, much like the cry of our beloved loon does on a summer day.

Head coach Adrian Heath faced his former club with the same 4-2-3-1 he tried against San Jose Earthquakes last week, but with Christian Ramirez at forward in lieu of Danladi.

Center back Francisco Calvo anchored a backline that communicated well from the first whistle, closing gaps effectively and holding down the box. Ibson, who was not even a shadow of himself in the asylum against San Jose, pressed forward with each possession, pecking away at weaknesses in the Lions’ midfield, but did not take any unnecessary risks.

Mid Sam Nicholson worked the wide open left wing in his best showing to date, creating some hopeful chances of his own. And Kevin Molino was aggressive against his former club, assisting Ethan Finlay on a beautiful 12th-minute goal which spurred an even greater hunger to move forward.

But in the latter part of the first half, despite leading a depleted Lions squad, play went stale. It would pick up a bit after Orlando forward Stefano Pinho (a veteran of the NASL-era Loons) was stretchered off and the countdown to halftime began, only to devolve when an Orlando free kick was rescinded and replaced by a PK, thanks (or no thanks) to VAR, allowing Yoshimar Yotun to level the game for the Lions.

The second half began similarly, with play wallowing like a raft in waves. Molino had to be replaced by Collen Warner after a non-contact left knee injury. Also, Nicholson’s hamstring, a minor issue through the first half, finally saw him replaced by Miguel Ibarra. Ramirez was also pulled in favor of the fresh legs of rookie draft pick Mason Toye.

Toye and Ibarra were immediate factors, laying on the pressure up front and finding wide open shooting lanes. Their efforts were rewarded in the 79th minute when Ibarra received the ball from Toye and fired a cross toward the near post. It was met by a well-timed boot from Finlay for a stunning brace. From there, the Loons went into overdrive with a dopping of defense, dispossessing Lions in the box and forcing shots wide.

With Molino and others uncertain, Heath will undoubtedly have to go back to the ‘loonery’ to shore up his squad before the home opener. The club has a lot of improvements to make, but after watching this entire squad gut out the final minutes of this match, it is obvious that these players are determined to do whatever it takes to make 2018 a successful season.

Next up: The loon will cry out over Minneapolis on St Patrick’s Day. Can a water dance tame the Chicago Fire?

Featured image courtesy: @MNUFC

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The promise and panic of preseason for MNUFC

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

On February 13, Cameroonian international Frantz Pangop donned full Minnesota United FC kit for the first time and took part in the Loons’ production day. On the same day, the identity of his long-awaited countryman was revealed.

Bertrand Owundi Eko’o, a 24-year-old defender, joins United from Rainbow FC. Unlike with Pangop, I did not learn much about Owundi from the little footage I could find of him online. But Rainbow has been a popular talent pool for MLS scouts so I trust we will soon see what talent made him stand out.

While it is unclear how the newest left winger will fit into a roster heavy with left wingers, the intentions of the scouting team are becoming more clear: Potential over payout. Coach Adrian Heath stated for the press release that, “We felt it wasn’t a gamble, but an opportunity to bring in two young pieces for not a lot of financial output that we think have got huge upside.”

MNUFC’s latest signing is 22 year old Brazilian, Luiz Fernando, on a one-year loan from Fluminese FC with a buyout option in 2019. Fernando is expected to grow alongside Ibson and, in fact, shows similarities to his fellow Brazilian in respect to strong challenges and the ability to finesse the ball through tight spaces and out of the defensive third.

Speaking of thirds…

MNUFC went to the Carolina Challenge Cup to test out some new faces in new places. The Loons came home winless, having scored just one goal (earned on a penalty kick) in the preseason competition.

Their opening match against the USL’s Charleston Battery started off well with good possession and some strong challenges. But despite testing a 4-4-2 formation instead of Heath’s usual 4-2-3-1, the squad still managed to leave Abu Danladi isolated up front through the first half with little opportunity to score. The second half featured a fresh eleven, still in a 4-4-2. Ramirez and Pangop each got one decent look at goal, but the match ended in a stale 1-0 loss.

The second match, against expansion rival Atlanta United, looked a bit better, with newcomer Matt Lampson making some huge saves to put him in contention for the starting spot in goal and Kevin Molino hammered home (from the penalty spot) the first goal of the season. But an Ezequial Barco volley beat Lampson to tie the game and, despite some quick runs, the Loons just could not create chances in the final third to pull ahead.

Against Columbus Crew, a couple of errors by keeper Bobby Shuttleworth proved costly and the rest of the squad gave little effort to regain control of the ball after giving it away. Despite 2017’s leading scorer, Christian Ramirez, making his first start of the season, two goals from Columbus went unanswered.

Heath’s post-tournament assessment cited the squad’s failures in the final third. My first thought on the tactical change to a 4-4-2, from Heath’s favored 4-2-3-1, was that it would remedy the team’s 2017 problems in this area. Despite Rasmus Schuller and Jerome Thiesson each playing midfield conductor at times through the tournament, the guys just could not pull it together on the approach to the net.

Sure, it’s preseason. These games meant nothing. Despite two losses and a draw, the stat line remains 0-0-0. Maybe they were conserving their energy for the weeks ahead, the matches that matter.

The Loons’ season opener in San Jose on March 3 matters. And against the San Jose Earthquakes, a team whose tactics are built around the defense, any mistakes by the Loons in the final third will be magnified.

But, again, preseason performances mean nothing. It’s not the time to panic yet. First days are meant to be full of promise.

Featured image courtesy: @MNUFC

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MNUFC SuperDraft Report

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

This team is full of surprises. I was expecting to get maybe a paragraph or two out of the draft day, but Minnesota United FC was making up for lost time. Here is my update:

The north is slightly less restless. In fact, following the early-and-often negotiation tactics of coach Adrian Heath, Sporting Director Manny Lagos and Director of Player Personnel Amos Magee, was like taking a crash course in Advanced Player Acquisition. My head is still spinning, but here’s where we stand.

United first traded their 5th pick to Chicago Fire for $75,000 GAM, $100,000 TAM, the 15th pick and a player to be named later in the day. That lucky Fire player (I hope he feels that way) was goalkeeper Matt Lampson. With 24 starts in 2017, Lampson adds depth and experience to the position behind current starter Bobby Shuttleworth.

The club then acquired the 7th pick from Montreal Impact, in exchange for $150,000 in TAM, and selected forward Mason Toye. The Generation Adidas player out of Indiana University was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2017. United already has two solid strikers in Christian Ramirez and Abu Danladi (the club’s first ever draft pick), but Toye can play backup to Danladi when Ramirez is on international duty and affords the flexibility to play a two-striker formation.

With the 15th pick, United selected defender Wyatt Omsberg out of Dartmouth. His 6’4″ frame will be helpful in set pieces, an aspect of the game in which United has long been lacking. Joe Greenspan was expected to play that role in 2017, but missed much of the season due to injury and was released.

Three players in one round were not enough for MNUFC. Heath and company took the final pick of the first round from Toronto FC in exchange for a second round pick and $50,000 in TAM. With that pick, they selected another defender, Carter Manley from Duke, who trained with the Loons this offseason. Manley adds more depth and options to what we expect to be a new-look back line.

But wait, there’s more! In the second round, with the 41st overall pick, United selected Xavier Gomez of the University of Nebraska – Omaha. Gomez adds depth to a midfield that is currently a little wing-heavy.

In all the post-draft interviews with United staff, one word, spoken repeatedly, stands out: Potential. So, with five new Loons reporting to training on Monday, let’s just say the north is rising.

Featured image courtesy: @MNUFC

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Latest happenings with MNUFC

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

Is the north rising? Or is it restless? Throughout Minnesota United FC‘s inaugural MLS season, the short buildup between the end of the 2016 NASL season and the start of the 2017 MLS season was a logical scapegoat for the squad’s slow development.

This offseason was expected to be more fluid, but instead United seems to be going through the same growing pains. With players set to report to preseason training on January 22, just three signings have been announced to replenish a roster reduced by a number of postseason cuts.

The first newcomer, acquired from Atlanta United during the half-day trade window in December, was midfielder Harrison Heath. While Heath featured very little during his time with Atlanta, he is well known to Minnesota’s gaffer – He is coach Adrian Heath‘s son. Days later, during the re-entry draft, MNUFC picked up another Five Striper, right-back Tyrone Mears. It is hoped that Mears’ MLS and EPL experience will shore up a backline that struggled in 2017.

Then, after another month of inactivity, new CEO Chris Wright dangled a carrot in front of news-starved fans at the Dark Clouds Supporters Summit on January 8. He said that the signing of a player who had featured on an international squad would be announced by the end of the week, followed the next week by another of that player’s countrymen. Enter Frantz Pangop.

The 24-year-old has two international caps and one goal for Cameroon and featured for hometown side Union Douala. While a collective groan rose from fans when they learned the first international signing of the offseason was an attacking mid (“Another winger!?”), Pangop’s highlight film shows he is equally comfortable on either side of the pitch and doesn’t shy away from dribbling through traffic.

Speculation about which of Pangop’s Cameroonian teammates will be joining him runs rampant, but the expected announcement appears to have been delayed until after the SuperDraft.

In light of this painfully long and uneventful offseason, one piece of news greatly boosted the morale of longtime United fans. Forward Christian Ramirez was finally called up to the US Mens’ National Team to train for the January 28 friendly against Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Ramirez, an NASL Golden Boot winner, was one of a handful of players to stay with United during the move up to MLS. After his teammate and close friend, Miguel Ibarra made appearances with USMNT in 2015 and 2016, Ramirez’s turn has been expected by fans for some time and the 26-year-old striker is committed to making the most of this opportunity.

A player from MNUFC’s Academy program also looks to make his mark on the national stage. Goalkeeper Fred Emmings was called up to the U-15 Youth National Team’s training camp in Florida.

Whether we are rising or restless, you know what? We’re still just happy to be here and March cannot come soon enough. Neither can a full roster.

Featured image courtesy: @MNUFC

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