Tag Archives: Miguel Ibarra

Minnesota, the team to beat

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

How did we get here? To the lowest of the low? The team that makes the worst look good?

From a club that won more than it lost, that entertained its fans no matter the scoreline; that was able to draw moral victories from nearly every loss; that brought the heart and soul of its lineup along to the big leagues. To a club that could only win at home; that saw its fans turn off their TVs and walk out of the stadium; that lost its temper in the ugliest way possible; that jettisoned its heart for some coupons and didn’t give its soul nearly as many opportunities as he deserved.

On September 29, I spent a chilly evening losing my voice in the Supporters Section of TCF Bank Stadium for the last time. Minnesota United FC still had two home games left to play after that night, but that match against NYCFC would be my last of the year to enjoy from the stands and was probably my last time seeing soccer at TCF. After a horrid road trip, United could have flopped that night. But the home turf magic took hold once again and the Loons soared to a 2-0 victory on goals from Angelo Rodriguez. And with stout defense from  Brent Kallman:

Singing Wonderwall with my friends was a great end to my year, but the season was far from over. United still had playoff hopes: a win on the road in Philadelphia could help them eek closer to that bold cutoff line.

They did not win. The Loons I watched on the 29th did not make an appearance in Philly on October 6. And I did something that I never imagined I would do during a MNUFC broadcast.

Twenty minutes into the match, I was still troubleshooting how to connect my tablet to the smart screen in our hotel room so my friend and I could enjoy it on the big screen. We were about to give up when Minnesota conceded a third(!) goal in the 23rd(!) minute. Rather than turn off the TV and watch on the tablet, we muted my livestream and watched an episode of Kitchen Nightmares from 2007 and turned off the tablet altogether with ten minutes to play after Minnesota conceded a fifth goal.

Bridget McDowell - MNUFC/mlsfemale

We chose a 10-year-old reality show over a Loons game and any regrets about that decision evaporated upon opening the post-match press release:

Bridget McDowell - MNUFC/mlsfemale

The Loons’ playoff hopes evaporated along with my regrets. Surely, their return home would be better, especially given the opponent, a Colorado squad on a seven-game losing streak. Neither club with a chance at the postseason, both looking for a moral victory on which to coast through the final weeks of 2018.

Narrator: Nope. No moral victories were had on October 13. But the Loons continued their streak of making bad teams look good.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to interview MN Kicks defender Alan Merrick about the growth of soccer culture in Minnesota. We talked about the winning tradition of his NASL Kicks and all the signs of growth around Minnesota’s soccer communities:

“We have a great soccer culture. We perhaps need to make it so it’s a little bit more, uh, into a winning mode [laughs], but that takes some time to develop…”

There were plenty of lows in his playing days (the Kicks folded along with many other NASL clubs and attempts at revival were short-lived), but the highs are legendary. Many of the positives we’ve seen from MNUFC are reminiscent of those from the Kicks.

I would like to think that in forty years I will stand outside the offices of a growing Twin Cities-based soccer club with a recorder in hand as I question Miguel Ibarra about his legendary days of playing for MN United FC in the MLS. With any luck, this past Saturday’s bench-clearing melee in the waning minutes against the Rapids will be a distant memory, a fleck of embarrassment overshadowed by the success of the club’s much-touted ‘Three Year Plan,’ a well-developed winning tradition and a backbone of players who came up with the club and shared in its successes before moving on.

Until then, all we have is a bitter loss in which two goals were given up much too easily, so easily that the Dark Clouds became lethargic in their support, a handful even leaving the stadium long before the whistle. Those were the lucky few who didn’t have to witness their favorite player shove an opponent who made the poor decision to taunt the home fans with his goal celebration and the coach’s son to spring up from the bench to grab the throat of another celebrant.

Until this match, our club had had its share of embarrassing moments, but we could make light of most of them, such as this lovely moment that garnered international laughs.

Until we made the joke our own:

But even the NASL Loons’ production department would not be able to salvage the club’s dignity from this moment:

There was no honor in that fight. No moral victories can possibly come from that night.

This weekend, MNUFC will honor the legends with #50ktoMidway, livening up the final match in their adoptive home with an attempt to break an attendance record set forty years ago by the MN Kicks.

I can only hope that forty years from now, when I interview Ibarra, we will not be talking about a club that folded decades ago after failing to maintain a foothold in a league that talked bigger than it acted; a club that was being celebrated for one or two moral victories, but also held as an example of how not to run an expansion club.

Instead, I hope that we will talk about how the Loons honored those legends and 50,000 fans with an epic rendition of Wonderwall; the fight all but forgotten; the club’s clear strides to get better with each match, with each passing season; and the community honoring the key players who saw that struggle through to a title.

I would like to leave you with a response to that fight in the tradition of #BlameItOntheJelly, but I’ve already said that such a thing will never exist.

All I have to offer you is this cover of ‘Wonderwall.’

I’m not crying. You’re crying.

Featured image: @MNUFC

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

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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

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

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

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Water dance of Loons snuff out Chicago Fire in opener

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

Saturday, March 17: 2-1 Win

On Saturday night, Minnesota United FC put on a show for the sold-out black and blue and green clad crowd at TCF Bank Stadium, their temporary home on the campus of the U of M. Many feared a repeat of the 2017 home opener, when the Loons made their MLS debut in white-out conditions and gave up six goals, much too easily, to expansion rival Atlanta United. This home opener could not have been more different.

With speedy left winger Miguel Ibarra playing the central-mid role in place of Molino, flanked by Nicholson on his left and Finlay on his right, and communicating telepathically with withdrawn striker Christian Ramirez, the Loons were constantly pressing forward. Behind them, Schuller and Ibson were picking pockets left and right, choosing carefully their opportunities to send the ball forward. It was frustrating to watch that effort come to nothing the first half, especially with Chicago Fire’s attack, led by Nemanja Nikolic, outshooting Minnesota with five shots to two.

A last-second miscue or dispossession would dissolve the Loons’ momentum time after time. But still. They dominated. The shuffled lineup was cause for celebration by fans who were confused up to this point by Heath’s use of the bench. The midfield, in particular, a problem spot all last season and in the season opener in San Jose, earned the glory.

Without Ibson’s ridiculous footwork and dribbling, without Nicholson’s driving shoulder on the wing, without Ibarra’s speed and distribution, without Ramirez’s selfless hold-up plays, without Finlay’s crossing ability…

Ibson notched the first goal when he (for some bizarre reason) found himself on the receiving end of a Finlay cross in the 55th minute. Chicago keeper Sanchez got a glove on Ibson’s first shot but tipped it back his direction. Ibson made good on the second chance.

Chicago drew level at the 59th minute when the Loons’ defense seemed to lose their marks allowing Elliot Collier to rebound on a Nikolic shot and score in his league debut. The draw lit a fire under Minnesota, who all poured forward. Just seven minutes later, Finlay took off down the right wing and crossed the ball into the box meeting Nicholson, who snuck past a Fire line focused on the right wing. The midfielder pounced and launched a header past Sanchez who barely turned his head as the ball whistled past him.

Both sides had chances over the final minutes, but Minnesota’s defense held true and the squad continued pressing forward, refusing to ‘park the bus’, as they say. Instead, they said maybe.

The entire stadium seemed to hold a collective breath through stoppage time. Finally, the whistle sounded and 23,138 people (less the 200 Section 8 fans who traveled from Chicago) belted out Oasis’ ‘Wonderwall’ with their scarves held high.

Featured image courtesy: Bridget McDowell

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

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