Tag Archives: Minnesota United FC

MNUFC Flies Home At Last

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come. On. You. Loons.

Featured image: Tim McLaughlin // @timcmclaughlin

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

The Voices of MNUFC Discuss Growth of MN Soccer and Life Lessons from the Air

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

There is something different about soccer and soccer fans, especially here in the Midwest. It’s a small community which, despite its growing population, continues to feel small. When we have questions, concerns or criticisms, the faces and voices of the club are just one @ away. Whether it’s explaining why a certain play worked – or didn’t – or providing background information on a player, there are three people on MN United FC’s broadcast team who we can turn to for an enhanced soccer viewing experience.

Callum Williams, Kyndra de St Aubin and Jamie Watson were some of the first signings made by MNUFC as the club transitioned up to MLS for the 2017 season. They bring three different, invaluable perspectives to Loons broadcasts, a benefit to new and long-time fans alike.

Just weeks ahead of the official opening of Allianz Field, I had the opportunity to sit down with all three.

I came in with a list of questions, but as we all settled in around the conference table it became clear that it would be an easy conversation. After all, they do talk soccer for a living. Williams, play-by-play announcer, came to MNUFC after three seasons in the booth at Sporting Kansas City and has a myriad of leagues and competitions to his credit. De St Aubin, color commentator, played DI soccer for the Minnesota Gophers before kicking off a broadcast career that has taken her to the BigTen Network, ESPN and the Women’s World Cup. Watson played professionally for 12 years, including four seasons in Minnesota (one on loan to the Stars, three for the NASL-era Loons) before retiring into his sideline reporter role.

Bridget McDowell: You have a front row seat to the growth of soccer here and, with your various backgrounds – You, Kyndra, played here; you, Jamie, played here as well, on multiple teams; and you, Cal, have covered so many leagues and seen so many different environments for this game. In light of the stadium and the way things are progressing forward, I’m interested in your thoughts on how the soccer experience has changed here in Minnesota, recently with MLS and even through the decades.

Kyndra de St. Aubin: Well, I think it’s kind of cool because all three of us have a different perspective of this exact thing you’re asking about. Mine is my childhood growing up; Jamie’s is actually playing in it, for the team; and Cal’s is like a completely outside view, and coming into the culture when [the move to MLS] just was announced. So I’d have to say, the biggest thing for me, and I was trying to explain it the other day at Allianz, is you can’t really put it into words, what it is like standing in front of that stadium, knowing where this team and this club and soccer has come from in the state of MInnesota, and going back to the Met and the Kicks and the Strikers and prior to Blaine and NSC…

And, it was funny, just out of the blue my husband last night, we were getting ready for bed and I showed him the picture of the United sculpture with Allianz lit up behind it and it almost took his breath away. And that’s tough to do. He was like, it’s crazy if you would’ve thought then… Because he was drafted by the Thunder, used to play with Buzz [Lagos, 16-year head coach of the MN Thunder and father of Manny, current MNUFC Sporting Director, former MNUFC manager, Thunder and MLS veteran] and Amos [Magee, current Director of Player Personnel, Thunder player/manager] on Christmas break and stuff and tool around with those guys so….  Just to know where it’s come from, it’s not surprising sometimes to us in the soccer world, but yet it is at the same time.

It’s such a cool transformation and seeing the game grow and being truly a part of the four other major sports in this market, and competing with all the colleges that we have going. This is a hockey state but you can see soccer slowly kinda growing in there.

Jamie Watson: I mean, it’s – I don’t want to speak for Kyndra – but I can imagine this never seemed like something that was achievable –

KSA: No!

JW: To this level and to Kyndra’s point, I was on the team in 2012 that lost the second leg of the NASL final, the Minnesota Stars at the time, and the team was league owned at the time. And I was in the locker room. Not only had we just lost a final, but everyone in the room thinks that they’re going to be out of a job because the team’s dead in the water. We didn’t know of any discussions that were going on ownership wise, we weren’t privy to that.

So the only saving grace to that night in Tampa that we lost at Al Lang Stadium was the commissioner coming in and congratulating us on a good season, but then telling us, by the way, we have a new investor and owner that want to come in and save soccer in Minnesota. And not only save it,  but he’s got big plans for it. That was Dr. Bill McGuire and we didn’t know it at the time but… I was in the room when it was first said to the players at that level, and I thought, “Oh, cool. Soccer’s not just going to go away, but it will probably be, at best, this level [NASL] and to see what it had turned into as a player with Minnesota United, it was professional from day one.

We went to England, Mexico, Brazil for preseason trips, a significant investment when you could really just train indoors at Blaine instead. He was doing things and investing money, I’m sure losing money hand over fist, year after year, with this vision of wanting to get to this point. And it’s easy to say I want to get to that point… to spend your hard-earned money that you worked your entire life to earn? It’s a completely different level of belief. I was on the team and I don’t know if I believed it, you know? And he did so I think it was a testament to the vision he had back in 2012 when he joined on.

And to stand out there and watch Kyndra emcee [the Allianz Field Scarf Raising] – I still don’t – I just, it’s just, It’s never this good! It’s got that too good to be true feeling. This time it is true though.

BM: I can say, as a fan, you’re always kind of waiting for that other shoe to drop.

KSA: Yeah

BM: When that announcement was made … It’s like, we’ve heard this before. You know?

JW: Uh huh. And honestly, I think I understand that…

KSA: Unfortunately, or fortunately, Dr McGuire is a man on a mission.

Callum Williams: He really is, yeah.

JW: For better or worse, yeah.

KSA: You know what I mean?

BM: It sounds like it!

KSA: He sets out to accomplish something and watch out. And it will be at this level. He knows no other way. Plus he’s a former college athlete so he hates losing so there’s all these different layers to him. I mean just now we were sitting there, the three of us and him, watching Slovakia and Hungary on my computer. [We met on the first matchday of the Euro Qualifiers] You know, and he’ll sit right down and watch it with us because he wants to know who this player is and who that player is and whatever so he’s a very involved owner. In a good way.

CW: And he was furious [Jan] Gregus wasn’t starting.

KSA: Yeah, exactly! He wants to know who’s taking him up, who’s taking Gregus’ place in Slovakia’s starting lineup, today. [Slovakia went on to win 2-0, but did so without Gregus.]

JW: What are we, twenty-four days away [from home opener]?

KSA: Yeah.

JW: Twenty-three days away and he –

KSA: Yeah, and he sits down and –

JW: And he’s watching Hungary-Slovakia, Thursday at 3 o’clock because he loves soccer that much.

CW: He’s absolutely into it. We’re very, very lucky here and I think, from my perspective, talking about how this thing has grown, as Kyndra quite rightly said, I’m the outsider here. And, I’ll be totally honest, when the club first approached me, I had no idea about the soccer culture here, and I’ve been completely blown away by the level of enthusiasm for the game here. Obviously you had the Kicks and the Stars, Thunder, everybody over the course of the last thirty years or so, so soccer’s always been here.

And I had no idea that it was as big as it actually is and that people always seem to follow the game and it was one of the first things I was told. When the club first asked about coming on board I called a couple people I knew around the league and it was the first thing that everybody said: “Soccer culture’s great there, you got to go, you gotta go, it’s fantastic.” And I think the stadium is one of many aspects that prove that for sure.

BM: Awesome. Yeah, I think a lot of people had almost forgotten that it was still here. Until all of this happened and it sort of took off again. And it’s like, wait, it never actually left.

JW: Well, I think Minnesota gets overlooked in that aspect so many times because it’s not LA, it’s not New York.

KSA: It does as a state in general.

JW: Yeah, of course.

KSA: Like, ‘oh you’re in the middle of the country somewhere, you’re not Chicago.’

JW: Yeah! But if you’re here you know. Kyndra grew up on it.

CW: Yeah, if you’re not Chicago, yeah –

JW: And you have to have that because it’s not easy, not to speak to Kyndra’s childhood, but it’s not as if there’s like this professional team in your backyard that you can grow and idolize to one day be on. Maybe it was here, maybe it wasn’t

KSA: Yep!

JW: There’s these gaps and times when it was here and  then now you get –

KSA: It was the Lagoses back then, and it was Amos Magee.

BM: Exactly, it’s crazy.

KSA: It is kinda funny, I remember my first day, when I came in for my interview and I sat down at this table and they had just hired Adrian Heath. And they bring him in to sit in on this interview, and I’m like, I’m sure this is exactly where he wants to be right now; he’s got to assemble a roster in a matter of days. And it was Amos and Manny and Adrian and maybe one other person. But it was weird because I’m like, Oh! I know you, I know you, you know what I mean? It had been so many years but everyone kinda looks the same.

BM: Yeah, definitely. I mean, I grew up here too and my mom grew up in Minneapolis. She, it turned out, went to Kicks games.

KSA: There you go.

BM: And she hadn’t even mentioned it until I dragged her to a United game.

KSA: Isn’t that funny?

JW: No way.

BM: And one time Buzz walked by, up to the booth and she said, ‘That’s Buzz!’ And I was like, ‘How do you know him?’ And this whole, like family history with soccer came out. But yeah, people had kind of forgotten it was still around; she hadn’t even give it a second thought. I mean, how does it compare – Cal, you came from Kansas City most recently, how does it compare here, whether to Kansas or you, Kyndra, having covered other sports in other states… What makes it unique in that respect?

KSA: Why don’t you start because you have the KC experience?

CW: Well, so it’s very reminiscent in terms of the way that Sporting Kansas City rebranded themselves, new stadium, something the club was always looking towards. I say that because we’ve obviously got Allianz Field to look forward to here and I guess moving into Major League Soccer is almost, sort of a rebrand isn’t it? Because you’re essentially moving the club onto another level.

The fans are very similar: great background with the game, they know the game, challenge people, whether it’s on social media or whether it’s other outlets and that’s great! Because that insinuates that they care and that’s great. I think there are, as I said, a lot of similarities to my experiences in Kansas City and I think the stadium now is only going to elevate it. We all know this but ever since we saw the plans for the stadium, we all knew this was going to be something spectacular.

And I think now that if the team continues the way that it started this year and it goes on and it has a playoff run and does well… I’ve said this before, Bridget, in my opinion there’s no reason for – should the team go on and do that- there’s no reason that if you’re in a bar somewhere, and you often hear people talking about the Wild and the ‘Wolves and whatnot, there’s no reason that Minnesota United can’t then come up in the conversation.

I genuinely think that if Minnesota United compete and give Minnesotans a team to be proud of, with the environment they have around them now, I genuinely think that we can become a part of that generic sports conversation. Now, we’re already getting there; I’m starting to see more Minnesota United flags, scarves, t-shirts, whatever, all over the place.

But I do think a successful season will help and I say that because in Kansas City, after a successful season there, Sporting got to the playoffs, they won the Open Cup the year after that, then MLS Cup the year after that and it became mainstream very, very quickly. To the point where the players, and even myself, we couldn’t really walk out on the streets because of people, it became such a big thing in Kansas City. Personally, what I’ve seen already, I think Minnesota United will do just the same, for sure.

KSA: I’d say from my perspective, just from my overall sports perspective, speaking to Cal’s point about becoming part of the general sports conversation, the two markets that I really worked in before were Milwaukee and Phoenix. And Phoenix, specifically, is a hotbed for soccer because, as anybody knows, anybody who can play outside for 12 months of the year, like Texas or Florida or California,

JW: That’s a huge advantage, yep!

KSA: Huge advantage. So soccer’s a big deal there, but at the same time they struggled to make soccer popular there because you can’t create fans, necessarily. It has to be, just like an atmosphere inside of a stadium I think it takes some time and sometimes it’s just very organic. So even though, covering other sports, I just said to a coworker, I lived and breathed brackets before, I filled out tournament brackets and I haven’t filled one out since I moved here and started this job, because your focus changes and what you’re thinking about changes.

And I just think that this town, and this city, and this state loves this game so much and people respect it so, even if you’re not a fan of it, you’re willing to go to a game and learn it and want to be a part of it and support it. And I think our state is big into that because we have so many pro sports and college sports, they just learn to support everything and appreciate it. And sometimes, when I was in Arizona on the air for radio, I was constantly defending soccer. You know, people think it’s boring and this, that. You know, if a goal was seven points would you feel better about it, like-

CW: Pssh.

KSA: You don’t have that because people respect it. Like, if we go on radio shows or we go on local TV shows, they may not have been to a game yet, they may not be a diehard soccer fan, but they want to learn and they want to hear about it. And I think that’s a little bit different in this market than maybe some of the others I’ve been a part of in the past which is really fun to see.

JW: I’ll just say, a different perspective because they kind of hit everything… How lucky are we that we get to be the people that are talking about it on a Saturday, we’re immersed in it. We get to see – we get to peel the curtains back a little bit, to see what goes on behind closed doors and we get to then talk about it. And really we’re a mouthpiece that what people want to know and are talking about and a lot of what we end up talking about in pregame shows, a lot of it is dictated on what are the big storylines, what are the big talking points of the week.

We can sit down on a Monday and say, ‘We think this will be important on Saturday’s game,’ but the reality is, the week happens and it shifts and then we sit down and we go, ‘Right, remember that two hour meeting we had on Monday? Let’s just crumple that piece of paper and throw that away and let’s start over again,’ because everything’s changed, in a matter of a couple days. And we’re in an awesome position that we’re, like – I played for twelve years and I thought that was the greatest job in the world… This is the – that’s 1A, this is 1B.

Because this is the next best thing to playing and being with them is great because I don’t think a day goes by that we don’t have conversations, whether in person or over text about soccer, what’s going on on social media, like Cal said, having conversations with other people. And it’s amazing that we get to do it and that it’s a club that we all believe in, that we get to be a part of and then on the weekend, we’re the fortunate ones that get to talk about it.

CW: Mm-hmm.

JW: And a lot of what we talk about is dictated on what the fans are talking about so it’s pretty cool that we get to do that. And it’s transformed because it was maybe a smaller group of people who were talking about it before and, I’ve said this, I’ve played in games where there were more people in this office than there were in the stands, total! And now you look at it and it’s like, wow!

It’s amazing to see where it’s come from and it’s only getting bigger and bigger. I mean, if this was the stock market I’d be buying all the Minnesota United shares I could get my hands on because it’s only going one direction.

CW: That’s the thing isn’t it? I think, from all of us collectively, the thing we’re all excited about is the obvious and quite blatant sense of this unwavering potential here. And I think that’s the biggest thing for all of us, isn’t it, that it’s such an exciting time to be a part of this. And I think that’s certainly what lives within our core isn’t it, is the drive to want to be a part of this.

And just knowing what it can become, and not only in Minnesota but throughout the entirety of the league, you know, it’s such a wonderful time to be a part of soccer in this country and we happen to be in a situation where we’ve got this glorious stadium which will be the crown jewel of Major League Soccer for some time and then being a part of this project in MLS that just continues to elevate year after year. It’s a very exciting time for sure.

BM: It does seem to be becoming a more legitimate sport and league than it was before for sure. Favorite calls or moments from these last few seasons? Hard question, I know.

KSA: No, it’s just, honestly there’s quite a few. Sometimes, for as rough as the first two seasons may have seemed…

CW: We had a great time!

JW and KSA: Yeah!

KSA: We had a great time! You know, part of that is the beauty of… We do really try to treat the broadcast as 51-49 Minnesota percentage-wise. So when we call a game or Cal does a goal call, you know, if it’s an insane or ridiculous goal by the opponent he’s going to give it the same love as he does a Minnesota goal. And so sometimes, and Cal can probably vouch for this, I can’t tell you how many times, especially the Darwin chips, you know, I smack his arm really hard in the broadcast when certain things happen.

CW: She beats me.

KSA: So he can vouch for that. So he may know better than I do what my favorite call was by how hard I hit him.

JW: By how big the bruise is.

KSA: Yeah exactly. But there’s a couple, like Abu Danladi’s strike in Montreal and I go back to this a lot you know, late in the match, same with his one in Atlanta. Just because of the significance of the moment and the feeling of it.

CW: Yeah.

KSA: Depending on where we were at as a team at that point and how the season had been going. Of course there was Atlanta, at Atlanta. That always feels good. And then Darwin’s chips. To me, that whole match, it was like, ‘Oh my god! You’ve got to be joking!’ It was one of those moments that if I told you this happened in one game you wouldn’t believe me until you saw it. So those are some of my favorite ones, at least from Minnesota United, for sure.

JW: I’ll say that I think I have the best vantage point of all, because I get Cal, his call, in my ear, Kyndra’s breakdown of it, and I get the energy of the bench right next to me. So it’s incredible. You talked about the one in Montreal. I’m literally standing, it was actually – it was actually too close –

KSA: Is it hard for you not to cheer though because you’re out in the public eye? We’re doing this [swings her arm at Cal] in the booth and no one knows.

JW: It is hard and sometimes I do have to remind myself that I’m not a player anymore but that Montreal one, I mean that’s Adrian Heath [points to Cal, sitting four feet away] and I’m here and we weren’t winning, we were down early in that one. I’m trying to break that down where I know that Adrian can hear what I’m saying so I think I was whispering into the microphone and it’s incredible.

It’s a really unique perspective because Cal’s got this incredible voice that his calls stick and they resonate and that’s not an easy act for Kyndra to follow up because he gives these incredible goal calls and then Kyndra’s got to come in and match that energy, right? So then,

KSA: Yeah, and not sound like an idiot.

JW: Yeah, well, we try to do that for 90 minutes, plus 30 minutes pre and post. No promises on that one and no perfect performances yet for me. So, then you know, that Montreal one certainly stands out. It was a 3-2 winner in the dying moments of the game. And I think the Darwin Quintero chip… The hat trick is the best hat trick I’ve ever seen, live or on TV I think, ever. And having the soundtrack playing from these two in my ear while I’m down on the bench looking at guys that – I mean Adrian’s been in soccer for 43 years and looking at his face and this look of something he’s never seen before – you know it’s a rare, rare, rare occasion so I think those stand out for sure. [To Cal:] You have one? Other than your ‘It’s historic, it’s iconic…”

CW: Yeah…

JW: “It’s a moment to savor for a lifetime.”

KSA: Maybe you didn’t love your call, but a favorite goal you’ve seen.

CW: Yeah, I was going to say, I try – I’m not a big fan of relistening and going back and listening to yourself. I think it’s important to do maybe once, you know if we watch tape during the week and whatnot, it’s important to do that, but I’m not a big fan of remembering goal calls and whatnot. I get them, a couple of people, like these guys, saying one or two things in the week, like, ‘What did you say here?’ or whatever. But for me it should never be about the commentator, it’s about the moment. Someone asked me a while ago, it was about the Ramirez goal in Portland, the first goal –

KSA: The first goal in MLS.

CW: Yeah and they said something along the lines of – They described it as my moment and I said, No, no it’s not. It’s Christian’s moment, it’s the club’s moment, it’s Minnesota’s moment; it’s nothing to do with the commentator, regardless of what you say on the call. I think it’s important as Kyndra insinuated earlier on that we try to do a 51-49 in favor of Minnesota because fans aren’t stupid.

When there’s a clear and obvious yellow or red card, I think we do a good job in suggesting that it’s an obvious yellow or red card because in my opinion then if you try to say ‘Well, it’s obviously not a yellow card, that’s ridiculous, the foul should have gone in favor of Minnesota,’… You’re being disrespectful to the fans because the fans want a true and honest broadcast and I’m the same. I’m a fan. I don’t want to hear the commentator spew stuff.

JW: I would turn it off.

CW: We want the obvious and the truth. But in terms of goals, the one is the Quintero hat trick, isn’t it? That – I’ve never ever seen a hat trick that has glistened so perfectly on any stage ever. You’re right, Bridget, I’ve covered a lot of football around the world, in a lot of different stadiums, a lot of different leagues. I’ve never ever seen an individual grab a game by the scruff of the neck the way he did on that particular afternoon and then to go and score a hat trick the way he did. The manner which he did, as well, was beyond perfection, wasn’t it, for that particular afternoon.

And I remember, obviously Minnesota ended up winning 4-3 and there was a couple of defensive issues that day – that summed up our 2018 campaign – but also that afternoon summed up what we had brought in, in Darwin. And what an absolute master stroke that was from the club. And I still can’t believe – I remember commentating on him in the Concacaf Champions League when he was at Club America and he tore apart opponents with ease and made Tyrone Mears look like a rookie at some stages.

JW: I hated him. I hated him!

CW: Yeah so that afternoon with the Quintero hat trick, that will take some beating for sure.

JW: ‘Quinteroooooooo.’

KSA: Well and usually a hat trick, usually one of the goals is like, off your belly or something. You know what I mean? It’s a deflection or one of the three. To have three the way he did is different.

JW: Good luck ever topping that.

CW: Yeah! Yeah, yeah.

BM: I remember watching that one, vividly, in the press box and it was just insane. Everyone in there is going, ‘What?! One of those has to be offside.’

JW: Right? Something. Something has to go wrong.

BM: Yeah, something’s going to happen here.

KSA: A VAR decision against him somehow.

CW: Nooo, let’s not! Let’s not get into VAR.

BM: Yeah, everyone in there is looking around waiting…. You know I have to say, I started off as a fan, not media. And now covering it as media, I’ll still spend some games down in the supporters section. But I think your commentary helps put everything into perspective, better than some other clubs, some other leagues even, where even when we’re having a horrible game, a horrible season, you can go back and find those moments that string together the positives and get that overall perspective again.

It helps with writing the stories too: I can go back and watch a game with commentary and get other perspectives on the game. So, Cal, you talked a little about social media and criticism and people not understanding why you do a 51-49. Are there things that you want the fans to know, whether it’s the hard core supporters who go back and watch it and disagree with whatever you’re saying or the casual fan who just, maybe their only exposure is through your broadcast.

KSA: The only thing I would say, and I used to feel this way as a player, is that if you’re not getting talked to then they probably don’t care about you. If the coach isn’t talking and yelling at you then they probably don’t care and you’d rather be cared about. Sometimes I feel that way with the fanbase or the supporters or even if someone’s just turned on the game and has never watched the game before.

Whether they’re going to compliment or criticise us or whatever it might be, I’d still rather have them watching because then, like Cal said, you know that they care. And you know, we just try to cipher through some of the feedback, whether it’s to us or to the team or about a specific player or the club, whatever it might be. I’d still rather have anybody respond or have an opinion than no one saying anything, because then you think that no one cares and no one’s watching. That’s just my personal perspective.

CW: You know, it’s funny because we spoke about this a while ago and I actually, if somebody takes it upon themselves to at my twitter handle, and come at me with something they disagree with then so be it, that’s fine, because clearly, as Kyndra said, they care. If someone has a go or a pop at me because I’m ‘too the other team’ or I’m ‘too Minnesota,’ that’s social media, that happens. People hear what they want to hear, they hear different things, and as a commentator there’s only so much you can do about that.

You will never appease every ear in the world. You will always make a pair of ears bleed and clear another pair of ears, there’s nothing you can do about it. What I actually don’t have a problem with is someone saying… Someone actually said this last year, they thought I was too pro-Portland, and they had managed to get together the video of the goal call and sent it to me and I said, I have no problem with people saying that, because it means they care. I have no problem with someone telling me you’re too Portland, you’re too Vancouver, because it means they care and it’s something we don’t spend much time thinking about, it’s par for the course really.

And we value every aspect of feedback. I think it’s important to take praise just as you take criticism, with the tiniest pinch of salt. Because it can get to you either way as a commentator. You get a lot of people saying a lot of things. So you take it with the tiniest pinch of salt. Also, I think it’s important to take as much feedback as we can and we pride ourselves on it. It’s important to us to get as much feedback as possible and we’re in a very fortunate position to have one of our owners, a chap called Ben Grossman, who is sort of a senior consultant for Fox and he’ll be with Kyndra in France for the Women’s World Cup and was a part of the last world cup I believe, and he’s been – His abrasive nature is exactly what we need.

And I don’t think it’s ever a bad thing having internal opinions come our way. As I said we have no problem really with anyone suggesting we do certain things. I had one of the local journalists pull me aside at training the other day to say ‘Have you considered doing this?’ and I said, No we haven’t, but thank you for that suggestion, and sure, we’ll consider it, for sure. So it’s never a bad thing, I don’t think.

JW: One thing I learned as a player early on, especially as social media started becoming a big aspect of it, is you’re never as good as they say and you’re never as bad as they say. And right now, I could create any sort of social media account I want, on a paid or unpaid platform, a chatroom, forum, whatever, and I could go to basketball and I could criticize to all ends about whatever I think: I played one year of sixth grade B-team basketball and I was cut in seventh grade year, in tryouts.

So, just because somebody is offering up an opinion doesn’t mean they are right or doesn’t mean that you should then adopt it and change your approach and what we’ve done to get to this point, to be fortunate enough to be in this position. It’s naive to not take in what people say, filter it out, filter what applies and filter out the rest that doesn’t and say, ‘Okay, that’s interesting, maybe I agree, maybe I don’t.’

And never second guess yourself because the worst thing is, if you don’t know who you are in this… And don’t be stubborn. Certainly don’t put blinders on and say I’m doing everything right, I’m never changing. But you have to have, like any professional, you have to have a level of confidence and belief that what you’re doing is the best representation of how you want to come across, and, as Cal said, we are not the highlights.

Cal has said this and I’ve taken it to heart, nobody tunes in to watch a soccer game to hear the broadcasters. They’re there to watch the game right?

BM: Right.

JW: So, if you keep that in perspective, and you try to be as fair and balanced as you can, you set yourself up to give the best broadcast you can. And look, it’s great when people say stuff to you, you know what I mean? Everyone likes it. I mean, you know, when you write a  great article and someone says, ‘We thought that was fantastic or spot on, that’s great,’ of course you love hearing that. Now all of a sudden does it mean that you’re a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist from 24 hours ago to where you are now?

BM: Yeah, no, exactly.

JW: You just hopefully try to string together as many consistent performances as you can and try to get better and never think that you’re too good or above anybody to listen to them or entertain a conversation because also, you don’t know who’s watching. It could be somebody’s first time watching a broadcast and maybe they want to learn. Maybe they’re so eager to learn about it and you have a conversation with them on social media. Then they become engaged, and they become drawn into it and also maybe you’re dealing with someone who really knows their stuff and you have to be able to defend what you said. To say ‘Right, I stand by this because of this, we can agree to disagree.’

CW: Mm-hmm.

JW: But everything I say in the broadcast, it’s that 51-49 percent. When we’re being critical of Minnesota United, I want to be sure that when I go in Monday morning to training I can look at so and so and say ‘I said this.’ I don’t think there’s any benefit in going ‘This guy’s terrible, what an awful game he’s having’ because what does that do? How do you learn from that if you’re watching.

How about, ‘What he tried to do was see this, the intention was this, however, it clearly hasn’t come off; that mistake led to a goal.’ That’s the end result, not what was intended but what came from it. There’s a way to go about it, and it’s lazy to just say, ‘He’s bad and had a bad game.’ Okay, you’ve seen that, he’s seen that, she’s seen that, I’ve seen that, we all know that. But explain what happened, why it happened. That’s what goes through my mind and hopefully comes out without stumbling or cursing, you know?

BM: Are you getting tired of ‘You dive like Jamie Watson’ yet?

JW: Never! I hated it for a while. Then I thought, ‘Well I kind of miss it’ when I didn’t hear it. And then when I would have people text me, years after it first happened and I was playing in a different league and they’re like, ‘You’ve played for two different teams and an entirely different league, why are they talking about you??” I don’t know but I love it. I love those guys. I miss every single one of ‘em.

Fun story: A few days after this conversation, Watson emceed a season ticket holder event at Allianz Field. As he prompted about a thousand fans, myself included, to bunch closer together in the Wonderwall for our attempt at a world record loon call, one of my friends shouted down to Watson on the pitch, ‘You dive like Jamie Watson!’ I had kept this interview quiet and wanted it to stay that way, so I offered him no explanation as to why the cheer made me laugh so hard. Sorry, Joe!

BM: Before I had even come to a United game I had heard that a few times and then you signed and someone said, ‘You know who that is right?’ Yeah, Jamie Watson. ‘He’s that Jamie Watson.’ Ohhh…

JW: I think that’s why they signed me, just to mess with all the Dark Clouds. So thank you, Dark Clouds, you probably got me a job, a new career.

BM: Well, those were my big questions for you. Thank you for your time, thanks for doing this.

CW: Yeah –

JW: Absolutely. We appreciate it.

KSA: No problem. Yeah, we were just sitting around watching soccer so…

CW: Yeah!

JW: Not a bad job, is it?

KSA: No.

BM: That’s for sure.

JW: No, not a bad job.

The Loons open Allianz Field on Saturday, April 13, when they face New York City FC. Opening Day festivities begin at noon with kickoff set for 4 PM CST. The match will be broadcast nationally on ESPN.

Featured image: MNUFC.com

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MN United Earns Its Wings At Red Bull Arena

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

Saturday, April 6: 1-2 win

The final installment of the Loons’ five-match road trip defied all expectations. Not only did an injury-hampered squad hold off a desperate New York Red Bulls side, but it also brilliantly showcased its ability to play the full ninety as a unit. A team. And they did so without the assistance of two of its biggest midfield gears.

Going into final preparations for Saturday’s match, there was much confusion over who had traveled and who was available for selection. Rasmus Schuller and Romario Ibarra had finally returned to training after taking knocks in international play, but were still rehabbing; Darwin Quintero left the club’s first training session at Allianz Field on Tuesday after tweaking a prior groin injury; and Chase Gasper was listed as out and Miguel Ibarra questionable, with hamstring injuries. Even the beat reporters we all turn to for clarity were lost.

‘Welp,’ supporters thought. ‘At least we have Home Opener to look forward to.’ The tactical formation chosen by Adrian Heath only deepened concerns about the available players. The 3-4-3 was a good way to utilize what remained of the midfield and maximize chances. With a team that had yet to display an identity (aside from leaning on Quintero’s play-making abilities), and against a team desperate for a home win, it seemed incredibly risky. But the greater the risk, the greater the reward.

The Loons were first on the board despite ceding possession for most of the first half (and most of the second). Abu Danladi was 34 minutes into his first start of the season when he scored on an unsuspecting Luis Robles. Romain Metanire’s crisp pass into the box was settled deftly by Angelo Rodriguez and Danladi’s first touch was gold.

United added another in the second half, a half volley from Romario Ibarra, who had replaced Danladi at the break, assisted by Rodriguez.

The Red Bulls managed to pull one back in the 70th minute which gave their home crowd new life. In the past, conceding such a goal sucked the life out of the Loons. In seasons past, these stat lines would hint at a team that fell apart:

Full-time stats posted on matchcenter.mlssoccer.com

But this time, it didn’t. This time, the squad remained united, an accountable unit for the full ninety minutes, even through the eternal five minutes of stoppage time. Brent Kallman, after his first start of the season, described the difference:

It’s just an overall toughness and I think adding the experienced guys that know how to win and have won in the league helps a lot. For example, Ozi and Ike, obviously huge, the positivity coming from Ike that last ten minutes about ‘we’re almost there fellas, we can see the finish line, it’s right there.’ It honestly kept me going. It helped push me through and I was exhausted. These guys have been there. They’re battle tested, they know how to win and I think that just gives the other guys a lot of confidence.

Confidence is exactly what the Loons will need headed into Allianz Field. They will open their new stadium against NYCFC, another eastern conference team desperate for a win.

Come On You Loons!

Featured image: @MNUFC

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Loons Face A Revolutionary Resurgence

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

Saturday, March 30: 2-1 loss

Throughout its first two years in MLS, Minnesota United FC was a terrific matchup for a struggling team. The Loons’ perennial road woes were a gift to any team looking to turn around a losing streak or get a boost of confidence at home. After going 2-1-0 on the road, the Loons returned from the international break expecting their own rebound of sorts in New England, the scene of a catastrophic start for the Revolution.

Rather than get their own boost of confidence over a ramshackle squad, however, the Loons served up yet another comeback for an opponent. I cannot help but think of a scene from a movie full of people facing adversity of all kinds. From Annapolis (pulled from IMDB):

Twins You want to know why I stay in this room?

Jake Huard Yeah.

Twins Cause Jake, you’re my Mississippi.

Jake Huard I’m your what?

Twins People who live in Arkansas, you know what their favorite state is?

Jake Huard No.

Twins Mississippi. Cause Mississippi’s the only thing that keeps Arkansas from being the worst state in the whole country.

Jake Huard I’m Mississippi.

Twins Well you sure as hell ain’t California.[…] That’s why I stay in this room Jake. Cause if Mississippi quits, then all of a sudden Arkansas is the worst state in the whole country.

Minnesota United is certainly less of a Mississippi so far this season, having earned more points in four road games than the team earned on the road all last season. But the fact that this trend continues still stings.

Some huge defensive glitches in the box cost Minnesota the game, most notably when the backline and even ‘keeper Vito Mannone disregarded the man on the back post (Jalil Anibaba) before ten minutes was up and when captain Francisco Calvo got lost outside the box. Those mistakes led to some pretty New England goals.

But there were also some great moments, like midfielder Ethan Finlay getting his first start since his ACL tear last April and making an impact from start to substitution. DP/Striker Angelo Rodriguez also made his first start and succeeded in a few hold-up plays that gave Darwin Quintero chances to find space and take shots. Despite Quintero’s penalty being United’s only goal, the stats show improvement.

The Loons drew five offside calls on Saturday afternoon, more than they drew from the previous three matches combined. They put plenty of pressure on the struggling home side and by all accounts should have taken at least a point. Did you know that one offside is equal to a glimmer of hope? In fact, Calvo would have given his side a shot of life early on if not for the crossbar (and the offside rule) when put his head on a Jan Gregus corner.

So the Loons come home empty handed, but another Minnesota club is incredibly happy this weekend:

Minnesota could have drafted the Minneapolis City SC alum, but instead he became a hero in New England with a little help from the Loons. And with an assist from Teal Bunbury. A Minnesota native.

How awesome is that?

The Loons play one more on the road against the New York Red Bulls before coming home to Allianz Field. One more match to prove they’re not Mississippi to every Arkansas in the league.

Featured image: @MNUFC

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Loons drop three points to Galaxy

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

Thankfully, supporting a MLS team in the Central Time Zone only rarely requires the addition of naps and coffee to the pregame regimen, but that was the case on Saturday, March 16, for Minnesota United’s faithful who hoped to see the Loons take their third straight win on the road against LA Galaxy. The 9:30 P.M. kickoff also meant there were more United fans on hand at the Black Hart of St. Paul (the MN Dark Clouds new home base in the shadow of Allianz Field) for the bar’s other entertainment:

That quip from Dina Delicious leaves no doubt that drag queens and soccer fans can coexist in what is simultaneously the city’s oldest gay bar and newest soccer bar. (Click here to learn more about the Black Hart of St. Paul and the people who make it great, Dina included.) And I think Dina was right about the Loons.

Though Minnesota fielded the same Starting XI for the third straight week against a Galaxy squad in a state of constant flux (with Joe Corona only recently added and offensive stalwarts being plucked one by one from the pitch by injury since opening night), there was one notable absence from the Loons’ bench that may have upset the balance. Head coach Adrian Heath missed training all week and did not travel with his squad due to needing dental surgery, leaving assistant Mark Watson at the helm of a system he knows well.

But something was off from the opening whistle. Even without Zlatan and Alessandrini, LA ran the game. Uriel Antuna, Sebastien Lletget and Rolf Feltscher picked apart a puzzled Minnesota backline, finding gaping spaces in the box that never should have been open and preventing Minnesota’s midfield from creating any danger off the counterattacks. If not for the sticky fingers of keeper Vito Mannone, Galaxy could have led 4-0 at the break. As it was, the 2-0 deficit was one goal too deep.

While the first half spurred plenty of flashbacks to the gloom and doom of road games past, the second half showed that the Loons know where they need to improve and that they’re willing to put up a united front. There was no in-fighting from the Loons.

Instead, Ike Opara and Romain Metanire kept up their composed leadership, Romario Ibarra and Darwin Quintero did what they could with what they were given and both Angelo Rodriguez and Ethan Finlay showed up big when subbed on for Romario and Rasmus Schuller, respectively. Oh, and Jan Gregus, seeing Lletget step off briefly to see to a bleed from his broken nose, did this:

It is doubtful that the 3-2 loss spells the end of Heath’s midfield experiment (heavy on wingers and light on true forwards), especially considering that, a) Abu Danladi made little impact after subbing on for Miguel Ibarra in the 74th minute and b) Rodriguez pulled up lame from his no-quit goal.

However, it does illustrate the importance of the midfield lane and how it can be used. Gregus found it and his effort earned him Man of the Match honors.

In my opinion, dropping three points takes the target off of United’s back. Ending the night fourth in the West gives the Loons plenty to play for while the two-win streak (regardless of the opponent) gives the squad confidence that it can in fact be done. And a perfectly timed international break gives them time to reflect on that.

Minnesota United goes back on the road Saturday, March 30, to face New England Revolution, coffee not required.

Featured image: @MNUFC

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Loons clean up on the road

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

Saturday’s match in San Jose was a night of milestones for Minnesota United FC. Not only did the Loons beat the Earthquakes for the first time in five matches, but Darwin Quintero notched the club’s 100th goal since joining MLS and a whole new defensive line earned Minnesota’s first clean sheet on the road since 2016.

For those of you who weren’t aware of MN United FC before their 2017 MLS debut, let me catch you up. In that final NASL season, striker Christian Ramirez led the league with 18 goals, fullback Justin Davis was the club’s all-time minutes leader and Jeb Brovsky gained the full confidence of Loons’ fans with his grit in the midfield before an ACL tear ended his season.

Back to 2019: A club plagued by defeats on the road for two seasons has executed a complete about-face in its defensive line and midfield and the attack is showing promise. Ike Opara and Romain Metanire were solid in their box and even led some counter attacks. Ozzie Alonso and Jan Gregus were powerhouses at the back of the midfield while Miguel Ibarra and Darwin Quintero fought to gain space up front to create scoring opportunities. Unfortunately, forward Romario Ibarra stood out for a different reason: his ability to hit the ball square to San Jose’s Daniel Vega.

Speaking of which, if San Jose ever wants to conserve Vega’s energy for the second half in future matches against this Loons squad, Amazon sells a perfect stand-in:

Found on Amazon.com

Unlike Vega the Weeble, a Loon did manage to go down inside the box, drawing a penalty kick for MNUFC. It was no surprise that Quintero buried it (his second in as many games), finally earning the club its 100th league goal.

Minutes later, Quintero charged into the box and gained just enough space from his entourage of Quakes defenders to send the ball out to Miguel Ibarra who beat one defender when a neat cut-back before burying a left-footed shot inside the far post, just out of Vega’s reach.

With 40 minutes left to play… the Loons kept playing. The two-goal cushion didn’t make them sloppy, they continued to communicate especially when substitutions caused shifts in the formation, and they didn’t allow the heated Quakes to knock them off their game (Rasmus Schuller earned the lone yellow card for the Loons).

For the second consecutive match, United played the full 90. And for the second consecutive match, they were rewarded, even benefiting from an own-goal in the 75th minute to cushion the lead.

I don’t believe many Minnesota fans could have predicted a clean sheet in San Jose, but they probably all predicted what three-word phrase would come out of the mouth of manager Adrian Heath when he was interviewed on the sideline after the match: “Goals change games.” They probably also predicted who he would blame for the club’s previous shortcomings:

There is nothing wrong with the gaffer taking credit for his squad’s improvements in Year Three. However, his straight refusal to take any credit for the failures in Years One and Two does not sit right with the supporters. Yes, he is one of many who make the roster decisions, but the manager does hold certain responsibilities as the face of the front office, namely owning the club’s shortcomings.

All that aside, Minnesota closed out Week Two second in the West (with, as of this writing, two clubs yet to play) with three road matches yet to play before landing at home in Allianz Field.

Come on you Loons.

Featured image: @MNUFC

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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 Can Carry Seven Points Into Allianz Field

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

Minnesota begins the fabled Third Year in MLS with a five game road trip. While the idea of the Loons playing away conjures an image of cartoon figures in wing kits trudging along under their own personal rain clouds, one Dark Cloud draws us out of our corners to participate in a game that forces us to rediscover our optimism. Or, at the very least, to rationalize our pessimism.

Bruce ‘du Nord’ McGuire (no relation to club owner, Dr. Bill McGuire — though he does have a brother named Bill) is a MN Dark Clouds OG and a pro at keeping Minnesota fans focused. At various points through the season, McGuire invites his Twitter followers to guess how many points the Loons will earn over that period, logs the entries and regularly updates the total of still-standing entrants.

I play every time. Unofficially, with no record and, thus, no mental consequences that can’t be shoved aside. But I am a committed, recorded entrant (one of 220, as of Friday evening) in the 2019 du Nord How Many Points for MNUFC In The First Five Games Contest.

I predicted seven points, officially.*

*Unofficially, I predicted that plus or minus six; I’ll tell after Week Five.

In 2017, the Loons took just four points from their first five matches on a draw at Colorado and a win at home against Salt Lake. Last year, a rare two-game win streak earned the Loons six points, away at Orlando and home against Chicago.

So if there were a single home match among these five, I would add two more points, but with Vancouver, San Jose, LA Galaxy, New England and New York Red Bulls all on the pre-Allianz docket, I’m fairly comfortable with an optimistic seven point total. That’s two wins and a draw. Or one win and four draws. (A lot of ties will really win over the Minnesota Vikings fanbase.)

One draw and two wins, based on a few incredibly generalized observations:

  • I see one point coming out of the opener in Vancouver. While the Loons went undefeated in preseason, there is still the question of how a re-built defense and re-shuffled midfield will come together when it counts. My biggest concern is how flexible Loons’ gaffer Adrian Heath will be with his formation when (not if) adjustments are needed. On the other hand, Heath has leg up on Marc dos Santos who is practically rebuilding his new club from the ground up with very few preseason tune-ups. So I’ll just call that a draw.
  • The Week Five match in New England is one the Loons are most likely to win, if preseason was any indication. A United squad heavy on new guys experiencing their first matchplay as a unit, dismantled a more veteran Revolution side for a confidence-boosting win. Winger Miguel Ibarra notched the only goal of the evening (discounting a Revs own-goal), but the attack seemed fresh, the defense solid… Judging from limited club updates and just a few minutes of highlight video.
  • Rewind to Week Three in San Jose. The veteran Loons will go in with a huge chip on their shoulders thanks to previous years’ results and the newcomers (Ike Opara and Ozzie Alonso, especially) will carry in the commitment and leadership to funnel that steam toward a positive result – the win that any club but San Jose should get in San Jose.

Alternate scenario: The Loons win convincingly in Vancouver and go on to draw the remaining four, bringing seven points into the first match at Allianz Field, which nearly 20,000 fans will walk into for the first time with low expectations, but ready to party.

Either way… Come. On. You. Loons.

Featured image: @MNUFC

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Loons Reveal Secondary Kit, Primary Keeper

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

In the middle of the messiest snowstorm of the year (so far), MNUFC took over the Mall of America rotunda for what is often the most exciting part of the preseason: the kit reveal.

I had planned to be there to hear the fan reactions to the new design, but had to turn around after just five sketchy miles of freeway driving. While I waited in a checkout line with 100 pounds of tube sand to balance my car on my Monday morning commute, a quick peek at Twitter replaced the sound bytes I had hoped for: Meh.

The 2019 away kit is appropriately called the Drift Kit:

*For those of you who don’t follow winter sports, the Xcel Energy Center is home to the Minnesota Wild hockey team.*

Fans seem to be fed up with the Adidas templates that are sweeping the league and Minnesota United fans, still accustomed to the individualistic lower league designs of yore, are certainly no different. But, I’m going to put a positive spin on these icy whites.

The Loons are poised for an improved away performance this year that will put the design in perspective: The shirt is simply a template in which the Loons will build a road team identity. And if they don’t…

Maybe Clorox Bleach will replace Target as shirt sponsor.

The keeper kits are a tad more interesting, even more so given who walked out in one.

Italian keeper Vito Mannone has joined MNUFC on a one year loan from English Championship side Reading FC. He comes to MLS with Premier League experience, including seven seasons at Arsenal. Mannone is set to take the top spot between the sticks, demoting Bobby Shuttleworth (who, to my knowledge, was not seen at the kit reveal) to the bench.

When the Mannone rumors first started, I was not convinced he was the upgrade that Adrian Heath & Co were so openly shopping for. After some comparison between Mannone and Shuttleworth’s stats though, I’m a little more comfortable with this game plan. Based on numbers reported by Transfermarkt, Mannone averaged 62.5 minutes between goals conceded over the 2017/18 season, while Shuttleworth averaged 47.3 minutes in 2017 and 44.1 in 2018.

These certainly aren’t the definitive stats to go by, but Mannone, combined with the D-line upgrades made in January, indeed appears to be an improvement.

New looks abound in the North. Come. On. You. Loons.

Featured image: @MNUFC

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MNUFC’s pivotal year three spending spree

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

With preseason matches kicking off this week, it is time for that deep dive I’ve been teasing. This will, unfortunately, be a low dive, but I’m sure the next few weeks will give us plenty of material to build on. After all, I believe there’s still some TAM, GAM and JAM (or is it jelly?) in the coffers, ripe for spending.

We’ve had enough Twitter. This one is all words. Ready, Loons? Dive.

Minnesota United is making strides in rebuilding one of its weakest links on the pitch ahead of the club’s third MLS season, with nine additions to the backfield: Osvaldo “Ozzie” Alonso, Jan Gregus, Chase Gasper, Hassani Dotson, Dayne St Clair, Romain Metanire, Mitchell Osmond, Kevin Rodriguez and, most recently, Ike Opara.

Of the five expected to immediately compete for starting roles, only two (Metanire and Opara) are true defenders, but doubling down on the defensive midfielders certainly isn’t a bad thing for this club.

In 2017 and 2018, compounding on the issue of the Loons’ leaky defense was a discombobulated midfield that struggled to move the ball into the final third and struggled even more to maintain possession in their own half, meaning the defense was nearly always on their back foot before they came face-to-face with the opposition’s attack. Adrian Heath’s experimentation with the 3-5-2 sparked hope, but like a line of dominoes, no matter the formation, one mistake would lead to total collapse.

So United needs to get back to the basics. Defensive stalwarts like Opara and Alonso will provide a solid backbone to a successful transition. Both would operate well in either the 4-2-3-1 or the 3-5-2. I would pair Opara with Michael Boxall in a four-man backline, with Calvo and Metanire to their left and right, respectively. In a three-man backline, I see Wyatt Omsberg (or Gasper?) on Opara’s left and Kallman on his right.

There are too many variables for me to lay out the midfield, but in either formation I want Alonso and Jan Gregus orchestrating with Rasmus Schuller and Miguel Ibarra anchoring the wings.

The varied experience brought by Alonso and Opara counteract many of the negatives cited (over and over and over) on Minnesota Soccer Twitter. These are two MLS veterans with hefty postseason resumes, not just grainy highlight videos from another league. Their composure and leadership will balance the youthful inexperience of the fresh legs around them and give the other Minnesota mainstays (i.e. Calvo and Kallman) more favorable conditions to rise to their potential consistently. And I have a feeling that consistency will be the buzzword this season.

Yes, we need depth. Yes, we need more starters. Yes, we need to score goals, too. But when the Loons’ receive their credit statement for the past month, the transaction history will, for the first time since the club’s promotion, hint at forward progress in the building of a team with playoff hopes.

Is the third time the charm? Either way…. [Insert photo of shiny, new stadium here.]

COYL

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