Tag Archives: Darwin Quintero

Oh, Darwin Quintero – Will He Ever Throw It Back to You?

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

The US Open Cup Final was a winnable game (as winnable as any big game played by a Minnesota team can be – take that however you wish). Adrian Heath’s favored lineup was well rested, new acquisitions eligible for selection, and the opponent a known quantity. The Loons needed only to keep their shape and begin the match on the front foot. They did neither of those things.

The players can hardly be faulted. They were on the back foot from the moment the Starting XI and formation had been decided. The two most puzzling factors for fans? The omission of Darwin Quintero and the switch to a 4-3-3.

Darwin Quintero

Minnesota could not have made it to the final without Darwin Quintero. He earned the 2019 USOC Golden Boot, scoring at least once in every round played en route to the final. He stood alone atop the table with 6. Four players were tied runners-up with 4 goals, including Quintero’s fellow DP Angelo Rodriguez and Atlanta’s Brandon Vazquez. So why leave him on the bench in the final?

If there were any doubts as to whether he was worth the DP money when he joined the club in March of 2018, Darwin Quintero quickly quieted them, notching 11 goals and 12 assists through 27 appearances. His sophomore season has been less impressive, with 6 goals and 5 assists being overshadowed by countless missed opportunities in his 18 appearances.

Ironically, the same supporters who had yelled for Quintero to be taken off the field in league matches (Overheard in the Wonderwall: “He doesn’t know how to strike the ball,” “His first touch is s–t!,” “What the f— is he doing out there?!”) were the first to decry his omission from the Starting XI in Atlanta. *You could swap Angelo Rodriguez for Quintero as the subject of this paragraph and those points would still ring true, but his omission from the 18 was more understandable given recent injuries.*

Coming to the fore of Minnesota Soccer Twitter once again is #HeathOut. Heath had carefully managed Quintero’s minutes in a tight league schedule leading up to the final. Why bother to do that with a player you plan to sit? Longtime fan-favorite Miguel Ibarra got the same treatment, a painful move given his history with the club and the implications of the match.

Quintero and Ibarra, observing the first half in Atlanta. Image: ESPN+ broadcast

Ibarra has been struggling in 2019 as well, with a single goal in 17 appearances. But his biggest impact has always been off of the score sheet, his work rate up and down the pitch never going unnoticed. Have Quintero and Ibarra played themselves right out of Heath’s favor, ‘dropped themselves’ as Heath is wont to say, by not being the flashy difference makers they once were?

Mason Toye and the 4-3-3

Minnesota’s first- and second-year rookies have been holding their own this season next to the veterans. After a short, but fruitful, loan spell with USL-affiliate Forward Madison SC, Mason Toye is showing promise with the first team. Despite a red card-earning show of poor sportsmanship in early August, the sophomore striker has made an impact, credited with 4 goals and 3 assists in just 10 appearances. Toye also scored the winning goal in the USOC semifinal against Portland Timbers. Was this enough to earn the start in the final? Possibly.

Heath left his favored back four (lined left to right: Gasper, Boxall, Opara and Metanire) intact, but sent Gregus, Alonso and Dotson out as a midfield trio and put Lod and Molino on either side of Toye. Heath had adopted this formation previously in desperate moments (in cases of injury or other absences), but never with these eleven players, who were only just beginning to build chemistry in the favored system.

The midfield shape limited the squad’s wing play, an essential piece of the club’s midfield transitions, and the Loons appeared lost through the first half, struggling to maintain any semblance of order when moving in either direction. Up front, Lod and Molino struggled to create chances on the rare occasions when the midfield successfully won them the ball. Toye was left wandering alone into the final third, flirting with an offside call, but failing to get behind the Atlanta defense.

With a history of odd tactical decisions made to prove a point to his players, it is quite possible that Heath’s late announcement of the Starting XI (Players were not told until Tuesday morning whether they would play that evening.) and the implementation of the 4-3-3 was meant to send a message.

By selecting a 4-3-3, Quintero and Ibarra’s positions were effectively eliminated. Had the Loons managed to win, Heath’s message to Quintero (in a contract year) and Ibarra (his market value likely at its peak) would have been loud and clear: We’ve won with you, but we can win without you. The man from Manchester may be taking Minnesota’s passive-aggressiveness to another level.

Playoff implications

The two main goals of Minnesota’s Three Year Plan were to win the Lamar Hunt trophy and make the playoffs. With that first opportunity squandered, all eyes turn to the playoffs. As of Saturday morning, United sits at 5th in the West, just 5 points ahead of Portland who sit just below the playoff line in 8th with a match in hand. With such a tight race, United needs every point it can get from a tough September schedule, beginning on the road at LAFC.

Quintero helps Ibarra celebrate his goal against LAFC on July 22, 2018, which MNUFC won, 5-1.. Image: MNUFC Twitter

The Open Cup Final was a bad time to experiment with formation and lineup, but doing so in the final weeks of the season? That could be catastrophic. With his defense set (lacking in depth, but serviceable) Heath needs to utilize every attacking tool in his arsenal. Quintero and Toye, despite their flaws, have been clutch in key moments. Ibarra, Molino, Finlay, Rodriguez; they’ve all been difference makers, on the scoresheet or off.

Minnesota United has everything it needs to make a run in the playoffs. Heath just needs to acknowledge that and let it happen. The biggest phase of the Three Year Plan begins now and the league is watching. And the only thing guaranteed for the Loons in September is that there will be more surprises from the gaffer.

COYL

Featured image: @MNUFC

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MN United Celebrates Guts, Glory, But Few Goals

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

After a hot-tempered clash in Dallas, Minnesota returned home for a midweek matchup against the Colorado Rapids who have been running cool toward the bottom of the table. Coming away with three points was crucial for the Loons who, sitting in third ahead of kickoff, needed every gain possible on an MLS match night heavy with playoff contenders.

The gap between the 3rd and 11th ranked teams was not so obvious in the first half though. Adrian Heath’s 4-2-3-1 was a little different from Saturday’s, with 8 of the weekend’s starters beginning on the bench, including wingers Miguel Ibarra and Ethan Finlay. Mason Toye was out of the 18 altogether due to his red card infraction. Angelo Rodriguez reclaimed his role up top, but wasn’t nearly as visible in the first half as Darwin Quintero behind him.

Together with attacking wingers Robin Lod and Kevin Molino, Quintero made runs that signaled a refreshing departure from the cross-and-pray tactic that has dominated the Loons’ attack recently. The change paid off in terms of shots and possession, with the Loons tallying 16 (6 on target) to the Rapids’ 5 with 62% of the possession. Unfortunately, nearly every ball the Loons managed to deliver to a threatening area was given away cheaply allowing the Rapids to make a number of counterattacks, short-lived though they were.

“The bottom line is, as I said to the players, what are we trying to do here? We’re trying to score a goal,” reflected head coach Adrian Heath. “To score a goal you have to get up the pitch, you have to run towards the goal. It’s not enough just to keep the ball in the mid-third. People have to run without the ball, people have to run forward. If we do that, we’re pretty good. When we play in our own half, we’re not as good.”

United had one of those “pretty good” moments late in the first half, just minutes after a horrible one. When defender Chase Gasper – who spent more time in the Colorado’s 18 than his attacking teammates – was taken down just inside the penalty area in the 37’, Quintero stepped up for the penalty. It was soft and low, an easy attempt for Clint Irwin to read and block. But “El Scientifico” redeemed himself two minutes later, beating the ‘keeper and his centerback to a beautiful ball from Molino which he tapped to the far post, well out of reach for Irwin who had come far off his line to cut the angle.

Irwin would face five more shots before the half, blocking two from Molino and Rodriguez while three others narrowly missed the frame. The score was 1-0 at the break and would remain there through the final whistle. But it’s not as if no one was trying.

The Loons came out for the second half with a slightly more motivated attack. And so did the visitors. That’s when Minnesota started sending a few quick crosses into the goal area, hoping for a connection that would double their lead. But there was a glaring absence at the front of the attack. A striker. And this has nothing to do with Toye’s absence.

Rodriguez has seemingly been getting fitter as the season goes on, showing a few more bursts of speed and prowess between the bouts of lead feet and hobbled movement, the attributes that earned him DP status. All too often though, his presence is forgotten as the ball soars over or past him and the midfield fills space ahead of him. Rodriguez wasn’t signed to be the lurking striker; he’s used more for hold-up play, but that only works when his teammates can get him the ball.

When Abu Danladi – the Loons’ perennial rookie due to recurrent injuries since his SuperDraft selection in 2017 – replaced the DP in the 71st minute, United’s attack saw a few more sparks. A few balls found Danladi camped out in front of the net, jockeying with the last defenders and eyeing the keeper. He had a header in the 78th minute that careened off the crossbar and out. In the 90th minute, he nutmegged Abubakar but the spinning shot was parried away by a diving Irwin. Late in stoppage time, he attempted to flick the ball around two defenders but deflected his own shot out of danger.

This is all well and good. As Heath said, “the kid got in the right spot so if he continues to get in the right spots, eventually one will go for him and hopefully his confidence will come.” Heath has expressed similar sentiments since Danladi’s rookie year. If his confidence depends on a few goals, he needs minutes somewhere that he can get those goals. And this squad needs someone who is already there.

With reinforcements coming for the midfield (Thomás Chacón’s arrival is imminent and Wilfried Moimbé will work into the squad as fitness allows), questions remain about the center forward position. Minutes for rookies and veterans are welcome, but dependable scoring is vital, especially in the heat of a playoff race that will likely come down to goal differential.

Unlike the typical Minnesota team, the Loons have the guts to close out a tight game. But if United really wants to set itself apart – from the locals and from the other playoff contenders – they need to score.

Featured image: Bridget McDowell

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MNUFC Climb Their Way To US Open Cup FInal

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

Minnesota United hosted the Portland Timbers for not one, but two matches this week. The schedule could not have worked out better for the Oregonians who’ve always wanted to be temporary citizens of the Twin Cities. Sunday’s MLS action will be discussed at length in another article. For now the spotlight is on the Loons’ first US Open Cup semifinal appearance as an upper-tier club.

After toppling the Timbers 1-0 on a last minute penalty kick on Sunday, the only thing certain about Wednesday’s bout was that it would be a nail biter. These two clubs are pretty evenly matched in terms of lineup and formation. Sunday’s match was an end-to-end battle start to finish and just minutes into Wednesday’s action, there was a clear repeat ahead, despite a much changed attack.

While Portland held a slight edge on Sunday in terms of possession and forays into the final third, Minnesota took over that role on Wednesday. The Loons had made 4 runs into the Timbers’ 18 inside of 4 minutes and were able to shut down every counterattack before it could get dangerous. Of course, the deadlock was broken by a penalty kick. How else?

Darwin Quintero converted the penalty, called after his own free kick found a hand in Portland’s wall. Captain Ozzie Alonso was seen running 70 yards down the field to say something to Quintero before his attempt. When asked what the instruction was, head coach Adrian Heath quipped, “Probably, ‘score.'”

Fair enough.

Minnesota nearly made it into halftime with the lead, but Portland knocked in a stoppage time goal that left Heath wondering, “Where’s VAR when you need it, eh?” Brian Fernandez was potentially offside when he struck the ball from Jeremy Ebobisse, but it was not reviewed as VAR is not used in USOC play. One viewer captured this still frame which makes it doubtful a review would have been in Minnesota’s favor:

The second half was much the same as the first. The team’s traded shots, blocks, tackles, and fouls; Minnesota’s attacking players continued to struggle with their first touch; and the Wonderwall grew louder. Then, in the 64th minute, Mason Toye finally connected.

Toye and Kevin Molino have displayed great chemistry recently, often combining for great scoring chances. Molino dropped a beautiful ball right in front of Toye who beat Claude Dieina and Steven Clark to knock in the tiebreaker.

“Whenever Kevin gets the ball and has space and time, I’m just going to run and try to get myself into a good spot,” Toye said. He also said they did finishing drills together after practice this week: “That might have helped.”

Toye’s father was in attendance for what the striker called the most important goal of his career, his second match-winner scored in USOC play. Dad was probably biting his nails through the final 30 minutes while the Loons held off the Timbers who worked tirelessly for tying and winning goals. Despite their efforts, which ran well into the 5 minutes of added time, the Loons held on.

They will face fellow expansion side Atlanta United at Mercedes Benz Stadium on August 27. How does Heath feel about playing his club’s measuring stick?

“It’s nice for us, yeah,” he said, before adding another jab at ‘MLS dot com’: “The flags will be at half-mast in that building tonight, with Minnesota in the final.”

Jokes aside, Heath plows ahead. His squad faces two Western Conference foes over the next week (Dallas on Saturday, Colorado on Wednesday), important matches if Minnesota is to stay on top of the table.

By the time Minnesota lands in Atlanta, Lod will be more fit and the club’s first Young Designated Player, Thomas Chacon, should have his visa paperwork squared away. Whether Chacon will factor into the attack in Atlanta remains to be seen. That may depend on how the rest of the squad handles training and the intervening matches and on the Uraguayan’s fitness level.

The one thing fans can be sure of: This is a big year for Minnesota United. Year Three was billed as ‘THE’ Year and is shaping up as hoped. Playoff contention and the club’s first-ever US Open Cup final.

Over the next month, the Loons will definitively answer the question, “Who runs the North?”

COYL

Featured image: @MNUFC

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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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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.

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New Season, New Narrative for MNUFC

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Featured image: @MNUFC

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Loons win and lose all in one night

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

Saturday, July 14: 3-2 Win

Just days after a 2-1 ‘friendly’ loss to Costa Rican club Saprissa, Minnesota United FC took the field again on yet another hot evening in Minneapolis. Fans who have seen more than their fair share of temperature fluctuations over the years flocked to TCF Bank Stadium in the hopes of being cooled off by a solid Loons performance… But hopefully not a cold one. They wanted to sing Wonderwall again after facing the team that gave them their first chance to sing last season: Real Salt Lake.

The first half was a mixed bag for Minnesota. The back three, especially Brent Kallman, made some big clearances and the attacking trio of Chris Ramirez, Darwin Quintero and Miguel Ibarra provided plenty of sparks. Unfortunately, no one could get into position in the final third to finish the job. The Loons’ best chances came from Ibarra’s speedy runs and Quintero’s newly unlocked long-range shots. Too bad they were up against Nick Rimando this week. Oh, wait…

Too bad Rimando was up against Darwin Quintero this week.

Minute 52: Quintero finds space, turns with the ball on a tight angle near the right post, opts to cross it in front of Rimando where the inside of Ibson’s right boot is waiting. Goal.

Minute 62: Quintero receives a beautiful ball from Calvo and turns to fire it from long range between the heads of two defenders and over Rimando. Yes, over. Another long chip from the Scientist finds the upper left corner. Goal.

Minute 68: Ibarra, on the run, one on one with Rimando. Rimando goes to the ground. Ibarra passes him and slots the ball into the net. Goal.

There is a reason I highlight the timing…

Jeff Rueter, of The Athletic, led the press box into the Twilight Zone.

Then, it nearly all came crashing down when Plata scored for RSL in the 77th minute (a set piece, go figure) and 85th minute. A nearly sterling defensive performance broke down, allowing two goals inside of ten minutes.

And just as three points were nearly tossed away, so were most of the words I had written before heading downstairs to coach Heath’s presser and then on to the locker room.

After Heath stormed away mid-interview with on-field reporter Jamie Watson; after he sent the players’ kids out of the locker room and gave his team a dressing down which could be heard through the concrete walls (“Nothing I can really repeat,” said defender Michael Boxall); after he settled down just enough to sit in front of the media, Heath was asked to describe the takeaway: “Three points. Did our best to throw it away. Tried to throw away 75 minutes of good work by people deciding that they know best. They’ll do what they want rather than doing what we know is right.”

What does he want from his players moving forward? ” For them to understand that they don’t know everything. And do what’s asked of them. And they’ll be okay. There are too many people in and around this football club that have an opinion on it.”

Neither Boxall nor Miguel Ibarra (who was once again one of the strongest Loons this night) could shine any light on that last statement from their coach. But both spoke of the mental lapses and lack of focus in the dying minutes of both this match and the win against Toronto FC last week. Ibarra added, “I think we’re fine. I mean, we as a team talked about it right after [Heath talked]. He’s right, we gotta do better at closing out games, but we got three points which is the most important thing.”

A win is a win is a… Well, sure, couldn’t it always be better?

Featured image: @MNUFC

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Loons make some MLS history

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

July 4, 2018

The Loons returned home Wednesday night for an Independence Day cross-conference matchup against the reigning champs Toronto FC. Both sides came in looking to break a three-game losing streak and, for once, Minnesota United FC was not the cure-all drug for another team’s woes.

There were some changes in Minnesota’s lineup with defender Francisco Calvo returning from World Cup duty and midfielder Miguel Ibarra back from a red card suspension. Their roles were shifted somewhat in a 3-5-2 lineup, with Calvo sitting in a three-man backline alongside Brent Kallman and Michael Boxall, while Ibarra was shifted into a wingback position on the right side of a five-man midfield. A pyramid of Canadians awaited them.

But the base of that pyramid crumbled quickly. For the first time in a long while, Minnesota took ownership of an early lead, rather than give it away. Just eight minutes in, Darwin Quintero broke down Toronto’s five-man defense, setting up a shot that would split two frantic defenders and float into the upper-left corner. One-nil in under ten minutes, in favor of Minnesota. A Christmas miracle in July, courtesy of The Scientist.

Just five minutes later, Calvo saw Ibarra ready to make a run and sent him the ball. Batman sped down the center of the pitch, just one man in red on his flank, Irwin coming far off his line in hopes of intercepting him. He did not. Ibarra knocked the ball right past the keeper to put Minnesota up 2-0.

Toronto managed to take one back before halftime, after a mistake in what coach Adrian Heath would later call a “busy box.” Ibson failed to clear a ball from Kallman, instead passing right in front of Justin Morrow, who connected easily on a slide. 2-1 Minnesota.

From the start of the second half, it was obvious that Toronto’s halftime chat centered around containing Quintero. The five defenders certainly had his number, but they misdialed a few times…

52nd minute: Quintero finds a gap, steps into the box and shoots. Goal. 3-1.

58th minute: Quintero is triple-teamed, but the three defenders pay no attention to each other’s movements and lose him again. Quintero makes a run, shoots. Goal. 4-1.

That goal marked Quintero’s first hat trick as a Loon (the fourth in his career) and the first for MNUFC since joining the MLS. Quintero cited an observation of Irwin’s behavior as the key to those three goals: “I noticed from the beginning that he took two steps forward to anticipate plays. In some games it works, in others, it doesn’t. Today all of them went in.”

Study the evolution here:

He celebrated in the corner, with fans who tossed him their caps, and his teammates who piled on top of him. Christian Ramirez put a cap on the DP’s head which earned him a yellow.

“I thought it was the right thing to do at the time; didn’t know it was deserving of a yellow,” Ramirez said with a chuckle in the locker room. “I asked him to give me the yellow instead, but…”

Toronto’s Sebastian Giovinco, quiet all evening, a shadow of his former self, notched a goal in the 70th minute that seemed a message to all present, “Hey, I’m not retired yet.” Bobby Shuttleworth could do nothing other than watch it float by him and into the net.

We have to give Heath credit for maintaining the formation, not simply parking the bus. His first two subs were offensive-minded: Mason Toye for Ramirez, Collin Martin for Schuller. Martin earned a standing ovation and the loudest (non-goal) cheers of the night as he made his first appearance since coming out last Friday.

It wasn’t until the 86th minute that United parked the bus, with Quintero pulled in favor of a defender, Eric Miller. But they left the windows open.

Toronto pulled off one more goal in stoppage time, in the final minute of play. 4-3.

But the whistle blew. A streak was snapped. Minnesota came out on top for the first time since May.

Cue Wonderwall.

Before the goosebumps subside, before the last notes of Wonderwall can fade from the supporters’ consciousness, the Loons will play a match with bigger consequences. On Saturday, United face Houston Dynamo, a club well ahead of them in the playoff race and they will have to do it without Calvo (yellow card accumulation) and with a depleted squad on tired legs.

At least we will always have Wednesday.

Featured image: @MNUFC

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

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Lucky Loons defuse disaster

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

Saturday, April 28: 2-1 Win

Anyone following Minnesota United’s trajectory over the last month may have felt skeptical going into Saturday night’s match against Houston Dynamo. On the heels of a four-match losing streak culminating with a season-ending injury to midfielder Ethan Finlay, could the Loons defuse a Dynamo squad hungry for a winning streak after a 5-1 result against Toronto FC?

Keeping tabs on the Supporters and their flag-waving for the full 90 minutes was more entertaining than much of the early action on the field. There was tense excitement, with many fearful of the club setting a new record for losses, but thrilled to be welcoming them home.

Bridget McDowell - MNUFC/mlsfemale
Supporter section as seen from press box. Image: Bridget McDowell

Within ten minutes, their worst fear was confirmed.

 

Another defensive lapse. Another early goal. Please, Loons. Not again.

They fought hard to avoid a deeper deficit. Chris Ramirez nearly solved their final-third conundrum with a long-range shot on goal in the 25th minute. Had Joe Willis recovered just a half-step slower, Superman would have notched a golazo. Unfortunately, that was the high point of his game. Ramirez, just five minutes later, with a hamstring injury which will keep him off the pitch for the foreseeable future.

United’s attack showed some urgency then. Just before halftime, Darwin Quintero earned a penalty kick which he buried effortlessly in the upper right corner. It was the DP’s first goal on home turf. And the supporters gave it a warm, exuberant welcome.

After halftime, the rollercoaster continued. Good chances were followed by turnovers which could have proved costly if it weren’t for some patented MNUFC luck. In the 66th minute, keeper Bobby Shuttleworth miraculously saves Manotas’ header, eliciting from the crowd a sigh of relief, mixed with disbelief, that could likely be heard by passengers on the train platform across the street from the stadium.

More disbelief followed minutes later. No one was shocked when the Loons missed any chance of scoring on a set piece (the club’s record on set pieces is a tradition from well back in their NASL tenure). The surprise came when winger Miguel Ibarra collected the ball and crossed it into the box where it met the heel of… Ibson?

 

When coach Adrian Heath was asked during the post-match presser what he thought Ibson was doing in that position, his first reaction was to grin and shake his head. Ibarra responded similarly when he met with the media in the locker room.

Regardless of how he got to that spot, which VAR thankfully confirmed to be on-side (it was close), Ibson now has two goals this season. Sure, both drew cheers of “Goal!… Ibson?” But this crowd only asks so many questions about home goals. Ibson certainly isn’t asking questions either:

This goal broke the streak. It secured three points. It extended Minnesota’s record to 2-1-0 at home, where the club will play four of its next five games. Was it pretty? No. Was it a little frustrating and perplexing at times? Oh, yes. Yes, it was.

But it was a win and Minnesota’s fans will take a win, however, and whenever they can get it. And they’ll certainly take more moments like this, shared with 21,574 of their closest friends:

Featured image of the team walk out courtesy: Bridget McDowell

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MNUFC Caught Sleeping In Seattle

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

Sunday, April 22: 3-1 Loss

Every team hits a rough patch at some point in the season and then faces a squad that shows them they can be winners again. For the Portland Timbers last weekend, that team was Minnesota United FC. For the Seattle Sounders this Sunday, that team was MN United FC.

The Loons’ losing streak stretched to four with their trip to Seattle on Sunday afternoon. Despite a gritty second half showing that saw striker Christian “Superman” Ramirez come in to snap a six-month-long goal scoring drought, on an assist from Darwin “The Scientist” Quintero

… The Loons fell to the Sounders 3-1.

Because this happened in the first half:

And then this:

Giving up two goals and losing the game were tough pills for fans to swallow. But it was the fact that it was the fourth-straight loss due to such selfsame errors that was most painful.

 And since the Loons face the Houston Dynamo next rather than another MN United FC, something’s got to give. If Minnesota finds itself posting this halftime message for a fifth time on Saturday night, it will be Minnesota, not Houston, that has a problem.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fmnunitedfc%2Fposts%2F1761828230540225%3A0&width=500

A problem that cannot be fixed by scoring goals.

Featured image courtesy: @MNUFC

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