By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell
Plenty of results that have gone in favor of Minnesota United FC would have asterisks next to them if OptaJack tracked all the caveats. United’s win against LAFC at Banc of California Stadium on September 1 was such a result — Mason Toye scored two early goals while a Vela-less L.A. could not finish a single opportunity. Sunday’s rematch at Allianz Field held no such caveats.
While Adrian Heath chose to rest midfielders Kevin Molino and Ozzie Alonso ahead of the season finale in Seattle and was forced to make do without rookie defender Chase Gasper (red card), the rest of his favored Starting XI returned to the pitch for the home finale. And they did so against Carlos Vela and two other DPs: Diego Rossi and Brian Rodriguez. (You can read Araceli Villanueva’s story about Rodriguez’s club debut in the Supporters Shield match here.) In that light, a draw was just what the doctor ordered.
One Goal Apiece
“[In the] second half, [we] played to the game plan, stuck to the plan that we spoke about all week and it actually looked like we might get something out of the game,” Heath said. “[We] kept playing into their own hands in the first half, trying to play short, play intricate passes out and that’s what they want. Anything that goes square, goes back, they press it and they’re very good at it.”
Heath pulled Toye at the half and replaced him with Angelo Rodriguez, his first appearance in weeks: “In the second half, Angelo was in really good spots. We got it into him and we had what? Three of the best chances of the night? That was the plan in the first half.”
Rodriguez did not score, though he had chances. Instead, an unsurprising Vela goal in minute 70 was followed by a beautiful set piece (!) header from Michael Boxall. “It’s something that we work on in training,” said the defender. “And, just, we know the timing off Jan [Gregus] with his run up, and when he puts his hand up and down. I mean, I’m not sure if they [the LA defenders] even moved. So I think that’s the most open I’ve ever been and might ever be in the box.”
Welcome to our home
Around 100 LAFC supporters made the trip to Minnesota. A weekend of sightseeing, brewery-hopping and meet-ups with Minnesota’s SGs (the Dark Clouds and True North Elite) preceded Sunday night’s match.
Expos capo Valeria Tapia said, “We met up with some True North people and they joined us in the chants and shared some drinks with us. Sunday morning we met up at Surly [Brewing] to eat and drink before our march to the stadium. It was a blast singing on the way to the stadium on the rail.”
The party continued after the final whistle, with a couple dozen LA fans joining the Dark Clouds at Black Hart of St Paul, just two blocks from Allianz. Post-match karaoke is better with new friends and the pastime gets a special post-Loons slot at Black Hart, but went later than usual thanks to the visitors’ energy. They led the bar in singing the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Under the Bridge,” Shaggy’s “It Wasn’t Me,” and the ubiquitous “Sweet Caroline,” to name just a few.
“Everybody that I knew that was there enjoyed their time there,” Tapia said. “Overall the experience was amazing and I can’t wait to go back. Everybody was so nice and welcoming.”
From welcoming to #SayShh
With a playoff berth clinched on Wednesday night, Sunday evening’s home finale acted as a pep rally of sorts. MN United CEO Chris Wright took to the pitch during halftime to thank fans for their support before messages from the players appeared on the video board — standard Fan Appreciate Night fare. But a video that played pregame somewhat overshadowed that message:
If you’re wondering, “Who is this guy telling me to shush?”: That’s Sean “Slug” Daley, half of the Minneapolis-based rap duo called Atmosphere. The rapper, and co-founder of Rhymesayers Entertainment, is a soccer fan and has been spotted at a number of United games this season. His song ‘Say Shh’ is a celebration of Minnesota/Midwest pride so Daley, and this song in particular, are logical choices to front the campaign. Yet Minnesota Soccer Twitter blew up when it launched. Why?
A poll of MNUFC supporters, garnering 125 votes, found a mix of people who were either enjoyed the song and were indifferent to the message or were indifferent to the song and unsure of the message.
The poll ended fairly level — compared to initial votes. ‘Petty, grudge match’ held a 50% share of the first 50 responses. The grudge goes back to Heath’s repeated references to the pundits at what he likes to call “MLS dot com” — That would be the folks at MLS Soccer dot com, whose weekly power rankings and early season predictions often criticize Heath’s tactics and squad selection. The club’s insistence on continuing to call out the critics (for — criticizing?) is what irks some supporters:
It’s fine. Slug is great. But, we are not the team that nobody wanted. We haven’t been that team for 7 years. It seems manufactured. The team, supporters, press and league are all in love with each other. The only ones who feel unwanted are the front office and coach. Thin skin?@bill_mcguire (the fan, not the owner)
It leans to heavily on Slug, and not the absolute accomplishment of the players battling to get into The Playoffs. Love the song, but the campaign falls on its face.@ecdcmnufc
Now, tossing the criticism back to the pundits is nothing new. When Grant Wahl predicted that MNUFC wouldn’t surpass five wins in its first MLS season, he was proven wrong. And the fans let him know it:
While a scarf held up by fans is a level or two below an organized marketing campaign by a franchise, one can’t expect that a seemingly negative statement won’t be used in the same way positive statements are. United made a hype video for the first match at Allianz Field that followed a similar format (albeit without a local celebrity lending voice to the cause):
But the issue cited most by fans is that #SayShh puts too much focus on the pundits and Slug, rather than on the players who did the work and the supporters who were cheering for them all along.
Oddly enough, CEO Chris Wright’s former employer produced such a video, spotlighting the fans, community and players. For a different league, in a different sport — one which is not known for such a close connection to its community.
MN United FC did not take that track. The supporters are taking on that role, to keep that dialogue open with the pundits and commentators, to stand up for their club without standing off. They were there all along while the players proved themselves.***
The Loons close the season in Seattle on Sunday. Decision Day results will determine if Allianz Field gets to host a first round playoff match.
*** Always with the asterisks.
Featured image: Bridget McDowell
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