Tag Archives: Adrian Heath

MNUFC Continues Consistent Inconsistent Streak

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Improvements to be made

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

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

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

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

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

COYL

Featured image: @MNUFC

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What’s A Point Between Friends: MNUFC Welcomes Seattle

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

Minnesota United’s freshly minted full-time captain, Osvaldo “Ozzie” Alonso, faced off against his former club on a beautiful Saturday evening in St. Paul. It was a great night for soccer, a great night for friends, a great night for a game which no one would lose.

There were plenty of story lines surrounding Seattle’s first trip to Allianz Field – the Sounders’ shallow bench, Roldan’s rescinded red card, Calvo’s move to Chicago, the Loon’s new-look defense – but none were quite as prevalent as Ozzie’s new role in the Black & Blue. The Honey Badger made his presence known for the full ninety minutes, playing a safe game but not doing any favors for his former teammates.

The former Sounder took a few long shots toward goal which, despite finding the hands of Stefan Frei every time, lit a fire under his new squad to open the scoring and give their captain the win. It was fairly obvious early on that a cross into the box would not be the answer (It never is, guys. It never is.) so what were the chances that a set-piece would solve the Sounders? Unfortunately for poor Ike Opara‘s head, pretty darn good:

Unfortunately, Seattle pulled level before halftime when Cristian Roldan unleashed a rocket that somehow wound its way through five Loons and just out of reach of Vito Mannone.

No arguments from anyone on that ball. Beautiful.

Both teams emerged from the locker room with all pistons firing. Midfielders Miguel Ibarra, Ethan Finlay and Rasmus Schuller, and lone striker Angelo Rodriguez, all made memorable runs and give-and-go plays. Miguel and Ethan, especially, were out to prove their worth on the wings, from box to box. Heath’s substitutions threw more bodies forward (Romario Ibarra for Finlay and Darwin Quintero for Schuller) and the go-ahead goal looked imminent throughout the final twenty minutes.

But the same can be said for the Sounders. The second half was just as level as the first and when the final whistle blew two exhausted squads met at midfield to shake hands.

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

For the club that has struggled to fill the gap left by el corazon, it was a satisfactory road trip. For a club that has struggled the last couple years to maintain an even keel, let alone a competitive edge, for a full ninety minutes, it was a point well-earned by a club finally building an identity.

“I don’t think it’s a story between two players in this game specifically,” said Roldan. “I think it was two teams higher up in the western conference side competing out there, but anytime you play against Ozzie you need a little bit of grit because you know he’s going to bring it.”

That is what Minnesota United has brought in this season: Grit and determination to tease that extra edge out of the club’s existing core. It’s been exciting, but there’s still work to do: “I think we played really good, a little disappointed for the result because I wanted the three points but it is what it is,” Alonso said. “You have to keep going now.”

On the Loons go, to Calvo’s Chicago on Saturday, May 11.

Featured image: @MNUFC

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That Escalated Quickly: MNUFC Trades Calvo To Chicago

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

Few Loons have drawn more fury from Minnesota United fans after a poor performance than defender Francisco Calvo. On Friday morning, just two weeks after the perennial captain took a late red and left nine men to finish an ugly match in Toronto, it was announced that Calvo had been traded to Chicago Fire for some GAM and TAM.

For two weeks, fans reveled in a thankless and useless game — a pastime, really (I blame our long, dark winters) — of ‘What if: Heath dropped Calvo?’ What if coach Adrian Heath — who is particularly well-known for his frequent use of the two phrases, ‘We need two or three more good players’ and ‘Players drop and promote themselves’ — dropped the one player whose errors never seem to count against him and acquired a few more players who better fit his system? Of course, this game rarely goes anywhere. However, there are notable exceptions.

Calvo has company in this camp. Two spring immediately to mind: Vadim Demidov and Johann Venegas. Demidov’s star was victim to United’s atrocious goals-against record in the club’s inaugural MLS season and Venegas, who just couldn’t find a way to score a goal while wearing the Black-and-Blue (he’s scored aplenty for Costa Rica and Saprissa) followed him out of MLS not long after.

And so, we find ourselves in an awkward position. A Weezer song about pulling a thread and walking away comes to mind:

I was fully behind Calvo retaining the armband this season despite his obvious reluctance to fill in for Jerry Thiesson on the left at the end of 2018. Throughout the long road trip that kicked off the club’s third MLS season, Calvo showed signs of being a new man, a new captain, in his new role. He was a calm communicator, quick to rally the squad after conceding a goal, shared smiles and handshakes with teammates to loosen them up on the way to a dressing room dressing-down.

But it’s easy to captain a winning team. Simple mistakes have a way of snowballing for this club and Calvo struggled to slow the roll without making desperate attempts by going it alone and building a snowman in the process. Even after the two draws that opened Allianz, while his teammates chatted and joked with one another, Calvo stood alone. He was a large presence in the locker room, but his impact is up for debate. He was always prepared for the media and answered questions evenly, with one notable exception in 2018 when he demanded that one outlet not be part of the scrum because of an unfavorable tweet. He was also not shy about calling out those who discredited Minnesota’s place in the league.

Perhaps that is why he was not made available for interviews last week. Calvo watched Wednesday night’s clash against LA Galaxy from one of Allianz Field’s tech crew boxes while serving his red card suspension and was nowhere to be seen after Sunday’s win against DC United, a match Heath left him out of to avoid “negativity” on the pitch. While both Heath and Manny Lagos, director of player personnel, deny that the red card and what followed were not a factor in the trade, the underlying theme certainly is. Calvo was not productive enough in his role to merit favor under these circumstances.

While a far cry from the $2 million cash offer United is rumored to have received for Calvo over the winter (a story the club’s PR director has been busy denying all day as we Twitter-happy correspondents rehashed the deal), the $200 thousand in GAM and $150 thousand in TAM to be paid out by Chicago over the 2019 and 2020 seasons, those Garber Bucks could go a long way in acquiring some much needed depth in the summer transfer window, if not sooner.

The Loons are sure to show exactly where their biggest weaknesses lie in the first match of the AC (After Calvo) Era on Saturday. While the veteran leadership and teamwork of Ike Opara and Ozzie Alonso, who captained the last two matches, has triumphed and allowed a new-look XI to shine, more moves are needed.

Before I return you to your regularly scheduled programming, “What will Heath do now?”, one more thing. I’ve taken my fair share of shots at Francisco Calvo in the last two years, but there are many ways in which he shines on and off the pitch and for which I greatly respect him. As one of the early international signings in the transition, he brought a lot of new fans to the club and legitimized the endeavor. In that sense, Calvo will always be El Capitan.

Gracias por todo, Capí.

Featured image: @MNUFC

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Two Matches, One Epic Wonderwall In Minnesota

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

Minnesota v LA Galaxy: 0-0, Minnesota v D.C.: 1-0.

The second match, first under the lights, at Allianz Field was a beautiful evening for soccer. While some visitors could not decide what weight of jacket to wear into the stands, short sleeved jerseys dominated the Wonderwall. On the pitch, a much-changed lineup looked to ice out a red-hot LA Galaxy.

With perennial captain Fran Calvo cooling his heels after a double yellow ejection from Toronto and defensive mid Jan Gregus chilling beside him, a few other guys had the chance to show what they can do. Not a single goal was scored. And it was fantastic.

A shared point and a clean sheet against Zlatan was a win for Minnesota United, especially coach Adrian Heath, who was just thankful to not have to talk to the media for a few days about a leaky defense.

Zlatan, of course, didn’t see it that way. Cue the friendly cross-country sniping about the definition of a ‘good’ team. Whatever you have to say about the Lion, he was well contained by Minnesota’s back four on Wednesday.

A clean sheet is one thing. A clean sheet against the Lion? That’s a win even if it ends 0-0. It was celebrated as such. The only thing missing (other than a Loon goal) was the Wonderwall’s first rendition of ‘Wonderwall.’

Flash forward to Sunday. Another match that appeared bound to remain a goalless stalemate was broken wide open in the 82nd minute. By Angelo Rodriguez. With his foot. For the Loons. In front of the Wonderwall. Maybe. The jury’s still out on whether or not Angelo actually got a touch on Romain Metanire’s cross (he, of course, insists he did), but in the end it doesn’t matter: “It doesn’t matter if it was Romain’s or my goal, what matters is the win and the three points,” he told reporters.

I agree. In twenty years, we won’t be talking about the goal, only the final result. There’s no crying in the press box so I stepped outside to have a moment to myself with the Wonderwall:

Judging simply from locker room atmosphere, the team that played this past week (Wednesday against LA, Sunday against DC) was a very different one from weeks and seasons past. As the media loitered in the middle of the locker room on Sunday afternoon, waiting for Miguel Ibarra to emerge from the shower, Brent Kallman, lounging in his locker with a salad, pulled up some rock music on his phone. Ethan Finlay told him to blast it and showed off a few dance moves while adjusting his tie.

In a corner, Rodriguez and Quintero, limping a bit on his injured foot, bantered in Spanish. And on the other side of the room, Mannone and Opara chattered away. Some of the veterans threw friendly jibes at rookie mid Hassani Dotson who came on for Danladi in the 85th minute. It was all positive. Relaxed. Happy.

The first home match out of the way. The first home win out of the way. Nothing left to focus on but the next opponent. The next chance to earn three points, to work their way up the table.

For the fans: Relief. The first rendition of Wonderwall in their new home was just the catharsis the doctor ordered for their frustration with the front office and a few key players.

Calvo was on hand to chat with fans as his teammates warmed up, but he did not appear in the 18 on Sunday. And there was no sign of him in the tunnel or locker room after the match. When asked about the choice to leave him out of the selection, Heath said, “I just felt, obviously, his disappointment in not playing, and didn’t want any negativity about the group today. He’s obviously disappointed and I thought it would be better if we left him out altogether today.”

This rationale took a bit of the edge off the #HeathOut crowd. However, the Calvo situation will obviously be top of mind for every supporter once the Wonderwall hangover wears off.

There will be plenty of other questions to debate: VAR calls (for and against), divots on the south end of the pitch, whether Danladi should be a winger or a forward or move out on loan, should we approve of goalless draws, #HeathOut, was Demidov really the problem, is Kallman a starter, should ‘Wonderwall’ be sung on any occasion other than in the stadium after a win (No.) … I could go on.

But I don’t want to. Not right now. As a new friend told me Sunday night, over a beer at the Black Hart of St Paul, this is where we should live. Here. Now. This moment.

Some moments just happen to be more memorable than others.


Featured image: @BCMcDowell

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MNUFC Throws A Tantrum In Toronto

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

Supporting a team like Minnesota United is always a trip. You experience the highest highs and the lowest lows, with plenty of boredom in between to keep your ego in check. It’s a life of balance. Not a healthy balance, to be sure, but a balance nonetheless. The Loons may fall from height, but never too far, never too hard, and they typically bounce back fairly quickly.

Occasionally though, they crash and burn. Then they dig the hole a little deeper, back up a few steps and, with a running start, dive into that hole, belly-flop on the bottom and throw a tantrum. This is the scenario we witnessed on Friday in Toronto.

United played a level-headed first half, perhaps the cleanest first half we have seen from them on the road since joining MLS. The midfield was well-composed, the backline was incredibly in sync given the circumstances and the attack showed growing chemistry. This was a surprise given the changes in lineup due to some huge absences: Brent Kallman filled in for Ike Opara at centerback, Rasmus Schuller was in for Miguel Ibarra on the wing (swapping sides with Ethan Finlay) and Angelo Rodriguez got another start at forward after ending his goal drought in the Allianz opener.

Toronto led 2-1 at the half, thanks to Alejandro Pozuelo answering Darwin Quintero’s 17th minute goal, not once, but twice, inside of two minutes. The Loons were not as organized in the second half, showing some fatigue on the cold, wet pitch. Despite the conditions Rodriguez found a second goal to draw level with the home side in the 57th minute.

Then, in the 70th, his smart hold-up play in the box drew a foul and Quintero, as always, converted on the penalty. With a 3-2 lead, United just had to be smart about the final twenty minutes: Disrupt Toronto’s attack (especially Pozuelo, who spotted the defensive gaps instantly in the first half) and make opportunistic plays in the final third to cushion their lead.

They did not do any of that. How bad was it? The only video that made it to the club’s twitter feed is Quintero’s first goal in open play in 2019.

A tired and frustrated squad gave up two more goals to Jordan Hamilton who, having come off the bench in the 73rd minute, scored beautiful goals in the 77th and 79th minutes. That neither Hamilton nor Pozuelo bagged a hat trick was a miracle. It was also a miracle that United coach Adrian Heath made not one, but two substitutes in the 82nd minute. It had appeared that he would be content to let his starters dig themselves out of this hole they dug for themselves, or flounder to the final whistle. Rather than bolster the defense, Heath swapped Schuller for Abu Danladi and Finlay for Kevin Molino.

It was great to see Molino make his first appearance since tearing his ACL in Orlando early in the 2018 season. Every body pressed forward in a desperate attempt to find, at the very least, an equalizer. Toronto, however, returned pressure just as adamantly and the game got a little…. Intense?

Defensive midfielder Jan Gregus, a little tired of being kicked around in his own third, made a hard challenge on Pozuelo which earned him a red card in the 89th minute. Rather than rally his men going into stoppage time, Loons’ captain, Francisco Calvo, made some questionable jabs of his own, earning a yellow card in the 90th minute.

Was that enough to cool him down or convince Heath to make a third substitution? Of course not. Calvo struck out at Auro seconds later. Another yellow. Another man ejected. El Capitan.

He had no words for his squad as he tore off the armband. He simply stalked off the pitch, leaving his teammates to wallow in the final few minutes of added time.

After the final whistle, Kallman stood on the pitch scratching his head while the remaining eight men rehashed the game with the winning side and the coaching staff. He looked shell shocked by the evening’s events. After a remarkably successful start on the road, the Loons crashed and burned Friday night, blowing a 3-2 lead and cancelling out a decent 45 minutes of football.

“It’s really disappointing. We fought and worked so hard to get back into the game. Not only do they get the equalizer but they take the lead,” said Kallman. “To give it away like that is not fun. We got to be better and we got to do a better job of being professional to close out the game. That’s not acceptable.”

It is not acceptable from any player. But from a captain who vocally demands respect from the league? Who has had very few glowing performances to redeem his errors? It’s downright shameful and embarrassing.

Joining #HeathOut in the Minnesota Soccer Twitter lexicon is #CalvoOut. Some well-known names in the soccer community have not been shy this weekend about their hopes that he is made to earn the armband back over a very long period, that others are given a chance to lead, not just in name but by example.

But in reality, it is quite likely that after sitting out Wednesday’s match, Calvo will return to the lineup next weekend, armband and all.

The exhausted, shorthanded Minnesota backline returns to Allianz Field to fend off Zlatan & Co on Wednesday and then Rooney and another United on Sunday. With any luck, the Bat Signal will shine over the Midway and Quintero and Rodriguez will light up the night.

Or, hear me out here, we all just go down to Valleyfair and ride the Wild Thing. That coaster tends to get stuck in the high spots.

Featured image: @MNUFC

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MNUFC Flies Home At Last

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

We’re the team that nobody wanted / The team that nobody wanted / The team that nobody wanted / And now we have a home.

It did not feel real. Right up until the first smoke canister popped and the sulfur reached my nose, I expected to wake up any second. Honestly, Minnesota scoring three goals in the first half did nothing to reduce that illusion. It was a fast and furious forty-five minutes of soccer during which Ozzie Alonso redeemed his early yellow card (The first yellow in Allianz Field history!) by scoring (The first goal in Allianz Field history!) on a beautiful volley.

New York goalkeeper Sean Johnson gifted the Loons their third goal of the half with an own goal, which brought on flashbacks of the gaff which became synonymous with MN United amongst the international soccer community. Defender Brent Kallman, a Minnesota native and NASL-era Loon, referenced that moment post-match:

The rest of the match did not go Minnesota’s way. Defensive errors, midfield blunders and a general lack of focus allowed New York to tie it up and the Loons just could not get back on the front foot. After the match, coach Adrian Heath remarked, “I’m sure for the neutral it was an entertaining game […] We gave away three poor goals in my opinion. They didn’t have to work hard enough for the goals.”

“When I came in, in the end, it was wide open and I was a little concerned because we were throwing bodies forward and I was worried about getting caught out in a foot race which I don’t want to be stuck in,” Kallman reflected on the stalemate. “But, uh, I think that’s just natural; we were really wanting to push for the win and give that to the fans, so guys were pushing forward really trying to get that goal, so it’s to be expected a little bit.”

Both men spoke highly of the supporters. Heath said, “Our supporters were magnificent, I thought the noise in the stadium was incredible. It bodes for better times ahead I think.” Kallman commented that “they set a really good bar for going forward.”

Early on, the supporters put on a vivid display of their commitment to the club and the grit that is in large part responsible for the club’s path to this Opening Day. The deployment of the largest tifo display in Minnesota history was not flawless. There were some snags and tears, but the reaction by the tifo crew and Wonderwall occupants underscored the buzzwords that have been bandied about by the media all week: resilience and perseverance.

What a metaphor for this club’s history. Without trying to – they certainly didn’t want such an opportunity – the Wonderwall embodied all the positive attributes their tifo was meant to celebrate. The supporters came together to make it work and honored the club’s NASL legacy in a beautiful way.

There is a lot of room for improvement on the pitch, but this club and its fanbase made a statement on Saturday. Minnesota United FC has a home to call its own and we’re not going away any time soon.

Come. On. You. Loons.

Featured image: Tim McLaughlin // @timcmclaughlin

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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

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

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

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale