After a tumultuous season, D.C. United have managed to clinch a 2019 playoff spot! Throughout 2019, the Black-and-Red have faced countless challenges. Injury, roster shakeups (Wayne Rooney’s early departure anyone?), and winless streaks have forced many to question how soon the season would end.
After a 1-0 win over the Portland Timbers at Providence Park and a little help from the LA Galaxy in shoving the anemic Montreal Impact further down the Eastern Conference table, D.C. United are currently sitting in a comfortable 5th place. A win tonight against the Seattle Sounders at Audi Field could indeed move D.C. up into 4th place and earn the opportunity to host a playoff match at home.
D.C. United will play two more regular-season matches after tonight, the first on the road against the New York Red Bulls, and the second at home against FC Cincinnati. It stands to reason that the Black-and-Red could win at least one of these matches, especially a home match in front of an energized supporter base.
D.C. United’s roster has experienced quite a few shakeups in the past few months. Captain Wayne Rooney announced his departure at the end of this season to play for Derby County, cutting short his contract with the Black-and-Red. Although the striker will be missed, D.C. has made valuable additions that should mitigate the impact of his exit. Ola Kamara, Emmanuel Boateng, Felipe Martins, and now, Yamil Asad, are a few of the players who will bolster the Black-and-Red in the 2020 season.
D.C.’s new players (except for Asad who will join the roster in 2020) have already more than proven their capability to be difference makers on the pitch, especially Kamara with his innate ability to find the back of the net. As D.C. looks to make a solid playoff run, the Black-and-Red’s newfound roster depth will be a tremendous asset.
Well, friends, it’s been a whole MONTH since I’ve been able to sit down and put any words on a screen for MLSFemale, and I apologize for my absence. Between the start of the school year and youth soccer season, and some waves in the unscripted reality show of real life, I simply haven’t had the headspace to devote to covering the Houston Dynamo’s functional slip from playoff contention over their last four matches.
With the same count left in the season, one match of which will play out before this article goes online, the Dynamo have only their pride and the city to play for, the latter having become an increasingly tough crowd to stand for. The players will have to dig deep – both in the depths of their own hearts and through mountains of negative social media posts – to find the inspiration to compete.
I’ve mentioned repeatedly since signing on to cover the team that I am Forever Orange – a fan through wins, losses, trades, and turnover. I love the sport of soccer, and nothing is more of a privilege to me than to have a home team within driving distance to support. As my friend Sean Ringrose has often said, having a professional soccer team is a privilege and not a right. I make it a habit not to take the organization for granted and to express heartfelt gratitude to all of the staff that keep the wheels greased and turning every chance that I get.
Despite my love for the game, the team, and the staff that support my soccer habit, I remain aware of my own shortcomings. I have never coached a team – not even kids rec team. I’ve definitely never managed a professional sports organization or any portion of its staff. And, most tragically, I have never accumulated any kind of wealth that would earn me even the tiniest level of ownership of a professional team.
With those things in mind, when I take to the keyboard to review or critique the team’s performance in an article or online, I am doing so from a layman’s perspective. I am absolutely opinionated and appreciate every platform that I am provided to express my thoughts. However, I have never once expected that my opinions bear any weight or hold any purchase in the upper echelons of the actual Dynamo training space or front office.
That is not to say that the organization isn’t listening. When John Walker came into the Dynamo/Dash organization as President of Business Operations almost a year ago, he worked to make sure that fans started having more access to communicate with and provide feedback to the front office. I’ve been in several rooms with him myself and have happened upon him out in the world on more than one occasion. But given an inch, a number of fans have taken this newfound access to another level.
In addition to improving communication, John Walker has started making changes to the operations of the club and the stadium, which is absolutely what he was brought to Houston to do. Some fans were unhappy about changes and have taken to social media to lodge complaints. This became less of an opportunity for people to be heard and more of a showcase where fans with differing opinions began going after one another.
I have been right in the middle of it and own my place in the mudslinging. Fans that love the team are pitted against fans that love their seats. Fans that dislike ownership are frustrated at fans that continue to show up and spend money. The Dynamo have stopped being a uniting force for their Houston fans and have become a team that has fans split into factions, each with their own ideas and demands for the office and ownership.
And besides all of the real life stuff, that is where my head has been for the last month. I looked around at my social media, my team, and its fan base and decided it was time to step away for a minute and take stock.
My simple reality is that I am here to support. Period. I’ll be standing, singing, and supporting my team for the rest of this season and into the next. I’ll have my 2020 season tickets in the supporters section – regardless of where the front office decides it will land next year. I refuse to be one more opinionated amateur screaming on social media, demanding to be heard, and I’m done engaging with them to increase the visibility and reach of their complaints.
And to quote Bubba Gump, “That’s all I have to say about that.”
And with that, it’s time to get ready and head to Houston – the Dynamo take on Orlando City tonight at BBVA Stadium.
September 15, 2019 was a big day at Dignity Health Sports Park. Fans rolled in early around 2pm (7pm kick off) to enjoy Central American Night celebrations, which included a DJ, cumbia band, pupusas, a photobooth, micheladas, Cachiporras, and more. (See below for highlights of the festivities.)
At the tailgate, Academia de Futbol Juvenil Amatence (AFJA) was set up in both supporters’ groups, LA RiotSquad and Angel City Brigade, accepting both monetary donations, and new and gently used soccer equipment for kids in Central America. AFJA is a U.S. based non-profit that helps underserved communities in El Salvador, particularly by providing a fully funded youth soccer academy.
It was also Laker Night to celebrate another leading championship team in Los Angeles. Fans could bid on exclusive co-branded jerseys. The LA Galaxy Foundation auctioned off jerseys with custom Lakers kit numbers.
LA Galaxy was finally playing at home again. After the International break and a loss in Colorado.
Every game at this point is a must-win, especially with the West being such a tight race. Literally 2 points separate teams from second place and even 11th place isn’t yet mathematically eliminated.
Every Galaxy fan hoped the team would come out to play with passion, but no one could have guessed that LA Galaxy would hammer it the way they did.
But, we fans of the blue, white, and gold are scarred from the previous season(s) and held our breath until we were up 5 goals.
LA Galaxy paced themselves to beat a Sporting Kansas City side that came out hot. SKC had their playoff chances snuffed out by a final score of 7-2. See highlights from the evening below including festivities and all seven goals:
Despite MLS referees’ decisions not being in the Galaxy’s favor, the home team broke through the opposition.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored a hat trick, and with his 26th goal broke Carlos Ruiz’s 2002 club record for leading goal scorer in an MLS regular season.
Joe Corona’s header was the second of the night and was his first goal with the club.
Uriel Antuna scored in the 69’ which made him the second top goal scorer, currently for the club with 4 goals.
Sebastian Lletget got a brace, scoring back to back goals. He’d been having a rough season and seemed to be in a bit of a slump, but this was just what was needed to regain his confidence.
As I type this on Thursday September 19th, the majority of the games in the Western Conference have resulted in the Galaxy’s favor to keep them within playoff standings. It’s up to LA Galaxy to solidify their place on the table. The five-time championship franchise seems to be well on its way now.
There will have to be a starting line up change as Rolf Feltscher will be suspended for the next match due to yellow card accumulation. Corona and Romney found themselves back in the starting XI. It looks like this 2019 team finally has depth, too.
Key LA Galaxy pieces come together again at home, this time against Montreal Impact on Saturday, September 21st at 7:30pm PST. Watch on Spectrum SportsNet.
The Los Angeles Football Club is the best in the West thanks to Minnesota United’s 2-0 road loss in Houston on September 11.
So what does this mean for the Black & Gold?
The MLS Cup playoffs are coming to the Banc!
As the No. 1 seed – LAFC has secured a first-round bye, home field advantage, and will begin their quest for MLS Cup on Oct. 23 or 24 in the Western Conference semifinals, as other teams kick off their journey on Oct. 19-20.
And should they secure the Supporters’ Shield – the Banc could host its first final.
But there’s more!
The world’s stage is calling LAFC. Along with obtaining the top spot, the Black & Gold qualified for the 2020 Concacaf Champions League; giving the club a chance to compete against world football giants like Real Madrid, Liverpool, Boca Juniors, or Barcelona in the FIFA Club World Cup.
East Coast Rivals
The Black & Gold returns home after earning two points in back-to-back draws on the East Coast.
The club kicked off their East Coast road series in Orlando on September 7th and played Orlando City to a 2-2 draw.
Missing seven players due to international duty – Adrien Perez earned his first start and Alejandro Guido made his first appearance on the bench.
In the 12th minute, Lee Nguyen sent the ball inside the box, a deflection off Orlando’s backline gave it to Perez, who then tapped it in to score his first goal; giving LAFC the lead.
Nani got in behind LAFC’s defense to chip in the equalizer just moments later. Benji Michael doubled the score in the 20th minute after Ruan cut back a pass to him inside the box.
Down by one, the Black & Gold rallied in the latter part of the half to level the match. Dio played in a ball to Diego Rossi, who, like Perez, beat the keeper in the 78th minute to earn the club their first road point on the East Coast.
LAFC remained on the East Coast to train ahead of their match against the Philadelphia Union.
MLS Cup final preview? Maybe.
The two playoff bound teams matched each other in a 1-1 draw at Talen Energy Stadium. Despite conceding a goal each, Tyler Miller and Andre Blake kept their teams in the game.
The Union’s Kacper Przybylko opened the scoring early with a header over Miller in the 3rd minute. Carlos Vela returned to action – scoring his 28th goal in the 43rd minute to level the match.
Both sides exchanged scoring opportunities in a chippy second half with the final play falling to the home side. Fortunately, Fabrice-Jean Pinault’s shot went wide – seeing LAFC leave Philadelphia with four cautions and a point.
Carlos Vela Update
The captain is back!
Carlos has missed a total of three matches this season and with Ibrahimovic closing in on the golden boot race – things are beginning to look more challenging for the winger.
Vela rejoined the group in Philadelphia last week to participate in full training. And even though it was great to see the captain back in action, he did not seem to be at full strength – only seeing 66 minutes of playing time in Philadelphia.
I can only assume Bob Bradley saw this too; leading to his decision to switch Vela out with Brian Rodriguez.
Staying atop of the standings for 24 weeks straight and holding 64 points, LAFC will look to close out the regular season on a high note with four games left and the Supporters’ Shield in sight.
The Black & Gold still own the best home record this MLS season (11-1-2) and on Sept. 21, the club will look to restart it’s winning streak at home when they host fourth-place, Toronto FC.
Sitting above the playoffs line in seventh place with 43 points, the Portland Timbers continue the battle of the west. Despite falling to D.C. United this past weekend; Steve Clark is turning Providence Park into the House of Horrors.
Timbers’ veteran goalkeeper Jeff Attinella was sidelined due to a season-ending injury this July. And Clark has stepped up in a big by posting 1710 minutes, five shutouts, 66 saves, and currently holds a 79.5% save percentage, thus far.
Prior to assuming starting goalkeeper duties, Clark was included in the starting lineup for five of fifteen league matches and appeared in the 2019 campaign of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
The Mason, Michigan native is no stranger to the shuffle. On August 17, 2018, the five-year MLS veteran was waived by D.C. United while in the midst of his second season with the club. Following the Timbers’ announcement that they had picked up the veteran keeper on waivers – he went on to start eight games for the 2018 campaign.
His quick reflexes have kept the Timbers out of dangerous situations. And Clark is having a little fun with it – occasionally wearing a Michael Myers mask from the classic slasher franchise Halloween; during the Timbers’ traditional slab celebration ceremony to celebrate shutout.
“Providence Park is going to be a house of horrors this summer,” Clark said during the July 28 postgame conference. “It’s going to be a tough place to come. That’s kind of what I’m saying. This is a bunch of monsters out here.”
Fellow teammate Sebastian Blanco is joining in the fun donning a Chucky mask from cult classic Child’s Play. The Argentinian midfielder began the tradition in May of 2018 to celebrate his game-winning goal against the Seattle Sounders.
Outside of the MLS, Clark has played for Hønefoss BK and AC Horsens, respectively – crediting these experiences for his development as a player, even encouraging players to “move abroad and challenge themselves.”
With playoffs starting in a few weeks, its hard to ignore that Clark was once a three-year starter for Columbus Crew SC from 2014-16, where the 33-year-old keeper ironically played against his current club during the 2015 MLS Cup; losing 2-1. Fast forward to now, Steve said of his time in Columbus:
“My time in Columbus was a long time ago now. But it was a good time for me as player. Now being with the Timbers – life has really come full circle and I’m really enjoying myself now. Portland is a beautiful place to live and a great club to play for.”
The Timbers will continue their search for the final playoff push in a midweek fixture when they host the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday, September 18.
Walking into our seats tonight, our friend, a row over said “This is going to be Jesús Medina’s night.” We laughed, winked and then commiserated about missing players due to international duty.
If you have been following New York City Football Club over the past two years, you are aware that one of the Designated Player spots is occupied by Medina, a now-22 year-old Paraguayan forward who frankly, doesn’t play very much. There are many theories as to why he has produced paltry goals or assists since his signing in 2018.
Going into this match versus New England Revolution, NYC was down a few key pieces of its regular attacking regiment due to international duty (Ronald Matarrita) and injury (Héber). The team also went into the game without its regular starting goalkeeper Sean Johnson, who was called up to the US Men’s National Team for international friendly matches.
The match was a strange brew of yellow cards, a red card, an early goal, late use of VAR and very uneven possession. City was down a goal from 2 minutes in and then was up a player from the 7th minute due to a red card ejection for New England’s Antonio Mlinar Delamea. But City just could not finish.
NYCFC did not look like a team that was up a player for much of the game as the Revolution defended extremely well and goalkeeper Matt Turner had quite a game of beautiful saves. Nobody would have predicted that the most important substitution of the match would be in the 60th minute, when Jesús Medina came in for Sebastien Ibeagha.
This substitution reinvigorated the attacking efforts of NYCFC in the middle and attacking thirds of the field. Ten minutes later, Medina was able to bury a ball into the back of the net, his goal leveling the game. In stoppage time, Medina successfully executed a penalty kick to seal the deal for a NYCFC victory.
I was not only happy for the win for the obvious reasons but also because another City player who was called up for international duty, defender Maxime Chanot, found a way to push back his date of reporting to the Luxembourg National Team until after he played in this game. Chanot made his life a bit more complicated for the good of the team and his strong play in this match was necessary and much appreciated.
No matter how much chaos, luck, and uneven calls by the officials contributed to this victory, the player who stepped up big is Medina. He delivered when the team desperately needed it and can consider himself back in City fans’ good graces. More importantly, our friend Luis can call himself a psychic.
Minnesota United FC is no stranger to playing spoiler in the waning weeks of the MLS season. However, the Loons have never gained much for themselves by doing so. On Sunday, that all changed with the upset of the season, giving the Loons – and the entire western conference – a leg up in the race for second place.
Los Angeles Football Club was undefeated at home going into Sunday evening’s meeting and had only lost one league match there since joining the league in 2018. Minnesota fans were not expecting much from the matchup, hoping for a draw at best or, barring that, as few goals conceded as possible.
When yet another roster and formation shakeup was revealed, everyone would have settled for anything above humiliation. So when Mason Toye, left to roam the final third alone in a strangely fluid 3-5-2, knocked in not one, but two (!) goals before the 30 minute mark, all hell broke loose on Twitter.
In theory, Heath’s formation seemed an odd way to handle the threat of an attacking team, but in practice it proved to be an effective weapon.
While Ike Opara, Michael Boxall, and Brent Kallman (returning to the XI after a long bench spell) set up as a center-back trio, two additional defenders tracked back each time LA approached the area, parking the bus from the first minute and effectively neutralizing a Vela-free offense.
The Black-and-Gold played a similar game, sending most of the 4-3-3 role players forward in an effort to thwart Minnesota’s traditionally leaky defense by crowding the box. More men pressing means more gaps can be exploited, but the Black-and-Blue bus did its job and, in their rare missteps, Vito Mannone came up clutch to deny many LA opportunities.
With so many players thrown forward, Mason Toye and Darwin Quintero were free to instantly turn every counterattack into a one-on-one or one-on-two. While Quintero opened up a lot of space and drew attention away from Toye, extra touches and a few weak passes resulted in more turnovers than shots. Thankfully, they didn’t need many:
With just five shots and possession of the ball for only 23 percent of the match, Minnesota managed to seal the deal. LAFC can tout Vela’s absence as an issue, but without the star striker they still managed 23 shots, 8 on target. Adama Diomande tallied 4 shots, 1 on target, and Adrien Perez tallied 2, both through traffic and on target. Toye’s 2 shots for 2 goals made the difference, thanks to this man:
Whether the win is a result of the performance of Toye and/or Mannone, Heath’s roster/formation change, the absence of Vela, a healthy dose of luck, or any combination of such factors, when it comes down to season stats and the conference table, just two things matter: the W and the scoreline. But surprises are nice:
“I thought our discipline was absolutely magnificent and we knew they were going man for man at the back when they were attacking and Mason’s quick, people don’t realize how quick he is, and we realized we would get opportunities on the break and, I have to say, I didn’t expect the two goals and certainly not the second one. I thought the first one was a magnificent finish but I think the second took everybody by surprise, even the keeper.”
– Head coach Adrian Heath
Actually, not everybody was surprised.
“It didn’t surprise me at all,” said Toye. “I work really hard every day in training and I’ve been doing it for as long as I’ve been here. So, I think that I’ve put in the work and I think that it’s just showing the fruits of my labor here. […] I’ve been working really hard to get myself into these opportunites.”
The Loons still have a lot of work to do to keep themselves above the red line, not least of which is their turn to host LAFC at Allianz Field at the end of the month. That match, however, is not on Minnesota’s radar yet. “We’re looking at each game and not going too [far] ahead,” Toye explained. “Houston is next. It’s one game at a time and we’ll get to LAFC and adjust.”
With international call-ups spelling absences for the 9/11 meeting with Dynamo in Houston, and possibly for the following weekend’s meeting with Real Salt Lake, the squad will be using a weekend friendly against CF Pachuca (the Liga MX side where Romario Ibarra is on loan) as a tune-up.
Toye and rookie midfielder Hassani Dotson will be with the USMNT U-23s for a September 9 friendly. Jan Gregus (Slovakia), Kevin Molino (Trinidad and Tobago), Robin Lod and Rasmus Schuller (Finland) have all been called up as well, as FIFA gears up for World Cup qualifiers.
Never a boring day in the West. Or in the North, for that matter.
“I want you to be happier.” These are the lyrics that played through the loud speakers as I left Mapfre Stadium after the Columbus Crew faced the Chicago Fire on Saturday. It was like the team was telling us they knew that they wanted fans to be happier. That they knew they weren’t executing the game as they should and could. And they weren’t.
On the Crew’s first official Alumni Night, complete with jerseys that listed all the players that had worn that number before, the Crew couldn’t pull out the win and ended up with a 1-1 result.
The Crew had several opportunities for goals in the first half from Santos, Argudo, Maloney, Afful, Diaz, and Zardes, and limited Chicago to only one dangerous attempt by Przemyslaw Frankowski. In the 27′, the Crew’s attempts paid off when Pedro Santos carried the ball down the sideline, into the center of the field, and took a shot from outside the 18 that hit the back of the net to give the Crew the lead.
Then at halftime, which was the highlight of the evening for me, all of the alumni who had returned to Mapfre were introduced. As they were introduced, the alumni were given a scarf from one of the original Crew season ticket holders that are still season ticket holders today. These alumni included Edson Buddle, Jeff Cunningham, Dante Washington, Gino Padula, Alejandro Moreno, and Frankie Hejduk just to name a few.
In the second half, the game seemed unremarkable for the Crew but the Fire seemed to bring some danger. Eloy Room made a great save in the 82′ to keep the Crew in the lead. However, in the fourth minute of stoppage time, the Crew gave away the lead when Aleksandar Gaitan passed a ball through the Columbus box to Frankowski who was streaming in unmarked on the backside of the net. He buried it to tie the game. After Chicago found the equalizer, the Crew made many attempts to get another goal but didn’t.
Thoughts about the Match
This team can’t play on their heels. They have given away so many goals in the same fashion as they did in this game because they are passing the ball around or giving it away in their third of the field. They need to continue to attack. They have not had a game where they have been dangerous the entire time, and every time they have a half where they are not attacking, they give up silly goals.
Eloy Room deserves a shut out. He’s been a phenomenal replacement for Zach Steffen, but the team has not rallied to help give him a clean sheet yet.
Connor Maloney is essentially a fourth string left back and didn’t even play defense in college. Despite his first shaky start against Cincinnati a few weeks back, Maloney has played admirably. Hopping above people twice his size to get headers, running at full speed to make recovery runs, and letting off a wicked shot this week, it’s nice to see a player making strides when given an opportunity.
I continue to appreciate the new ownership. Seeing them embrace the alumni–the foundation of the club–and celebrate our heritage makes me excited to see what they continue to do in the future. Now, if they could just get Eddie Gaven back for an alumni night…
Let’s hope that after a week off, the Crew can make me happier when they face Atlanta United on September 14th.
How do you even begin to sum up the past ten days if you’re an Impact fan? After a slew of dismal results and worse team performances since the beginning of the summer, the axe fell on Rémi Garde on Wednesday, August 21st. In the same press release that announced Garde’s dismissal, the Impact presented his replacement: Wilmer Cabrera, who himself had been let go by the Houston Dynamo the previous week. Beloved team captain Patrice Bernier was brought back into the first team, this time as an assistant coach.
There was little time to adjust, as arguably the worst circumstances possible loomed for a new coach to jump in — the Impact’s annual visit to BMO Field, home of Enemy Number One, Toronto FC. Having all but lain down to hand TFC a win at Stade Saputo, would a new coach provide the desired electroshock to wake up a sleepwalking team?
In short, the answer was no. For all of Cabrera’s talk of wanting the team to take risks, some combination of Garde’s old defensive mindset and the lack of belief that come with so many poor results meant that a hesitant Impact allowed their rivals to control the match and overtake them in the playoff race.
As the time wound down before the Impact’s next match against the equally slumping Vancouver Whitecaps, the shakeups in the organization weren’t over. A twenty-six-year fixture, in nearly every role one can hold in a professional sports organization, Nick De Santis left his position as VP of international relations. De Santis had been one of the few constants amid the Impact’s revolving door of coaches and players, so this is a sign that more big changes are coming.
Vancouver came to town, beloved local product Maxime Crépeau was welcomed back to his old stadium, and it looked as though the Impact were finally coming together. Having nearly gone 2-0 down within 25 minutes, the team was saved by Evan Bush’s penalty-save heroics. The team came back to win 2-1 and it felt like there was some life in this side.
But Vancouver is not DC. And although the three points taken that Wednesday were such a relief, it is impossible to deny that Saturday’s match against DC United was a true six-pointer — whoever won this match would likely send the other below the playoff line and could turn a poor summer back into something promising.
Lo and behold, it was not the Impact who saw out Vancouver who took to the field, it was the same team fans had come to dread watching over the course of July and August. Lack of initiative and hopeless defending saw the Bleu-Blanc-Noir concede 3 goals in under 25 minutes, allowing DC to cruise to an effortless win. TV analyst and former player Hassoun Camara was nearly lost for words, and decried a lack of love for the jersey following the match. For all of the team’s shortcomings in the past, we were never left in doubt of their pride in playing for Montréal … Until now.
The level of toxicity in the air is off the charts. Fans have become accustomed to booing at the end of matches — even mid-match as was the case on Saturday — and crowds are dwindling. No member of the organization is safe from scrutiny. From an outside perspective, it seems that in their eighth MLS season, the Impact are still winging it in so many departments, and it feels like the administration is growing more and more out of touch with the supporter community.
Of course in such a period of turbulence. it is hard to feel encouraged or hopeful, particularly when the changes haven’t produced the desired results. We’ve lived through a lot of reactive decision-making and instability up til now with the Impact, but it finally feels like fans’ patience is running out.
Time to see if the team and administration is ready to respond appropriately.
Montreal’s next visitor will be FC Cincinnati, on Saturday, September 14.
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 switchto a 4-3-3.
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.
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.
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.
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.