Tag Archives: Minnesota United FC

Minnesota United v LA Galaxy

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

Minnesota United FC kicked off a long road trip on Saturday, playing their first match of the PS (Post Superman) Era against the LA Galaxy. While it certainly wasn’t pretty (Galaxy maintained nearly 61% of possession overall, had 19 shots to United’s 10 and forced 32 clearances by the Loons compared to their 13), it was surprisingly effective. The Loons left LA with their first road point since March 10 (a 2-1 win in Orlando).

It started out like a typical Loons road game. The home side scored early (Allesandrini, 7’) and a congested midfield struggling to complete passes and get into the final third all through the first half. When sideline reporter, Jamie Watson, asked Adrian Heath about his second-half game plan, Heath replied simply, “There will be changes at some stage, I think.”

Cool. A manager notorious for keeping his third – and, sometimes, second – sub on the bench right through the final whistle might make some changes. Indeed he did, but it took a while, so let me rewind.

The Loons rallied after the break and snagged a tying goal off of a… Set piece??? Yes, the Loons finally scored on the follow-up of a set piece, courtesy of Michael ‘Boxy’ Boxall. The human steamroller/defender got his head on a ball from Darwin Quintero and sent it through two defenders toward the far post in the 64th minute. His first MLS goal is worth watching a few times:

Sebastian Lletget made it 2-1 nine minutes later, but that tiebreaker initiated Heath’s promised changes. The midfield shifted when mid Romario Ibarra came on for defender Eric Miller in the 75th minute, then again when forward Abu Danladi came on for mid Collen Warner in the 79th. Both of these subs played a vital role in what I would say is one of United’s most impressive comeback rallies.

Danladi, after a long run through the midfield in the 84th minute, sent a pass over the defense which found Romario at the far corner of the box. Romario, with one touch off the inside of his right boot, notched his first MLS goal. 2-2. 

With three points still within reach, Heath made a third (!) substitute, pulling forward Angelo Rodriguez for defender Tyrone Mears.

Then it got messy.

Not only will United be without Warner (yellow card accumulation) in Dallas this weekend; they will have to do without Francisco Calvo, who was ejected after he tossed the ball in the air in frustration with what should have been a quick restart in Galaxy’s half. Somehow the ten-man Loons held off a Galactic comeback and secured the point.

MNUFC did get an assist from Galaxy DP, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who did nothing in this match worth writing about here. Despite the usual United defensive issues, Boxy and Brent Kallman were both solid that night. Boxy may have earned the official Man of the Match title for taming ‘The Lion,’ but BK was mine after a full 90 minutes of, literally and figuratively, laying it all on the line to guard the box.

Can United earn a point, or three, against FC Dallas this weekend? Crazier things have happened.

Featured image: Minnesota United FC Facebook

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Latest goings on with MNUFC

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

Weekly Update

Saturday, August 4: MN United FC faced the Seattle Sounders for the third time in their short MLS history on a hot and humid night in Minneapolis. This time, the Loons came out on top in a low-scoring and messy, yet effective, match on home turf…

That is how I remember opening my gamer, which was half complete as stoppage time was announced. Unfortunately, my computer froze sometime after the 90-minute mark, then crashed, my words lost forever. But those words were rendered moot anyway when, early in the six minutes of announced added time, Minnesota gave up a penalty in an attempt to score a second goal, allowing Seattle to equalize on the other end of the pitch. Then, in the seventh minute of the added time, with Minnesota fans willing the ref to blow the final whistle, Seattle dealt the fatal blow, ending the match 2-1 in the last gasp.

The only part of my gamer worth salvaging was the first sentence: It was the third meeting, and was indeed a tad warm. I may also have noted that Darwin Quintero scored the beauty that put the Loons up 1-0 in the first half. And I may have mentioned the tifo display which turned the words of Seattle’s own Jimi Hendrix against them.

But the shade MNUFC Supporters threw at Seattle was overshadowed by another dark cloud (no pun intended). The benching of fan-favorite forward, Chris Ramirez, in favor of new DP Angelo Rodriguez, drew immediate criticism on Twitter and bolstered the transfer rumors bandied about during the week prior. No way we trade the face of the team, the soul of the club, half of the Dynamic Duo, our very own Superman!

But we did. On Monday evening, the news broke that Ramirez had been traded to first-year expansion club, LAFC, in exchange for at least $550,000, with potential bonuses, for a total of nearly $1 million. Hearts broke and tempers flared. With #HeathOut exploding, once again, across social media, some fans had a little fun in reaction to the Supporters versus Front Office battle lines. Inspired by the (manufactured) rivalry tees released by MLS, one supporter designed this:

Though Superman’s departure is emotional for many fans, myself included, the trade makes perfect sense for both the club and for Ramirez’s career. Ramirez was one of four forwards, suddenly a position of depth after the addition of Rodriguez. Two of those forwards, Abu Danladi and Mason Toye, are still young and in development, desperate for minutes.

The trade frees up space for United to have a starter be backed up by one developing sub while the other goes on loan. That loanee was announced on Wednesday. Toye will go to USL side Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, while remaining available for recall to Minnesota if needed.

The trade also gives Minnesota the resources (both TAM and GAM) to make other moves to shore up its roster. Many fingers and toes are being crossed in the hopes of a defensive acquisition.

And, it would be selfish of us to refuse to let Ramirez develop his career. He deserves more playing time and a manager who will help him develop his game rather than squandering his talent. He needs to find his confidence again and to earn the confidence of USMNT staff (he has earned a call-up to camp, but not a roster spot, which he deserves). LAFC checks both boxes. Plus, he returns, with his own young family, to his family home. 

And, so, a new chapter begins. For Ramirez, for MNUFC, for the Supporters. The Loons turn the page Saturday when they face the Galaxy in L.A.

Featured image: Minnesota United FC Facebook

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Loons Desperately Singing Take Me Home

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

Weekly Update

Minnesota United FC returns home to Minneapolis on Saturday. With any luck, TCF Bank Stadium will be the site of a renewal of the Loons’ playoff hopes, all but dead after having a homestand winning streak snapped in last weekend’s 4-2 loss in Vancouver.

There were bright spots on Saturday:

– #Ibsonity returned. Midfielder Ibson scored in the 82nd minute and renewed some life in Minnesota’s half.

Forward Abu Danladi, after nearly two months on the injury list, came off the bench in the 87th minute.

– Danladi promptly scored. It was his first goal of the season and leveled the score. (Watch the goal and read a breakdown of the play, as described by Danladi to MNUFC’s Steve McPherson, here)

– We got to watch some brilliant play (and some brilliant goals) from a homegrown 17-year old bound for the Bundesliga.

And, of course, not-so-bright spots:

– #Ibsonity took a dark turn long before Minnesota’s first goal when a classic Ibson backheel was performed at a far from ideal moment. The Caps accepted the turnover at midfield with no complaint and went on to score.

– The aforementioned Bundesliga-bound youth was Alphonso Davies.

– Alphonso Davies currently plays for the Vancouver Whitecaps.

– Davies notched two assists on the night.

– Davies also notched two goals of his own.

– 4-2 Vancouver.

There’s obviously more to United’s home-turf success than the proverbial “Home Field Advantage.” It looks more and more like there is an extremely negative away mentality that overrides every ounce of chemistry and connectivity in the Loons from one end of the pitch to the other. With a heavy away schedule over the next six weeks or so, they need to find a fix to have any chance at a playoff run.

First though, United needs a win at home against a team that is right on their heels. The Seattle Sounders are unbeaten in their last six matches, most of which they played on the road. Tenth place Seattle is just one point behind eighth-place Minnesota, with one game in hand (and a significantly lower goal differential).

In addition to the typical imbalance of the scales, United has the added disadvantage this week of two mainstays missing training (and recovery time) for the All-Star Game. Defender Francisco Calvo started at left wingback on Wednesday night and put in a solid 30-minute shift against Juventus. Midfielder Darwin Quintero was one of the final wholesale subs late in the evening but immediately added some flavor to the game. Unfortunately, he quickly learned that MLS keepers have apparently shared his highlight reel with their counterparts in Italy, as his patented 19-yard chip shot was picked off by Juve’s keeper.

Fresher legs and new tricks will have to be tried against the Sounders. United will also have to regain their home form from July to get the result they need on Saturday. The Loons need it. The Wonderwall needs it.

Come. On. You. Loons.

Featured image: @MNUFC

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Tested Loons tear through rested LA

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

Weekly Update

While Minnesota United kept a self-same 3-5-2 for the third straight match in nine days, LAFC flew in fresh legs after a heavy week of US Open Cup and MLS competition. Some LAFC fans may have guffawed at the matchup which placed the new club of Diego Rossi and Carlos Vela, against a side built from NASL holdovers and a single DP (their newly minted second still waiting on paperwork and an international slot).

They may also have laughed at the final score and Minnesota’s celebrations, comforted by the knowledge that it could have been much different if LAFC’s full complement of starters had been available to play. For Minnesota fans, however, Saturday’s game and the midweek matchup with New England Revolution were reminders of how much fun it can be to watch United when all the pieces come together, when the players themselves can enjoy the game.

I watched Wednesday’s match against New England from a new perspective, standing alongside a team of U10 players, parents and coaches in town for the USA Cup, a youth tournament held at the National Sports Center in Blaine, on the same campus as MNUFC’s training facilities and their former home stadium.

For most of the group from Idaho Juniors FC, that match was their first professional soccer experience. With all the cynicism and bitterness recently surrounding the club, it was refreshing to experience the game through their eyes. Their excitement was a reminder that these shared experiences – the highs and the lows, every moment we share around this team, this game, right in our backyard – should not be taken for granted.

Maybe I would feel differently if I had not had the opportunity to sing Wonderwall with the parents and coaches that night, if some Loons hadn’t taken a break from their celebrations to spend some time with the kids on the field. Maybe. But I would like to think that if the score had been reversed, if it had ended with a 2-1 loss instead of a 2-1 win, I would still feel incredibly lucky to have shared an experience with this club with my new friends from Boise and that I could still revel in the memories with them the next morning while standing on a muddy field in Blaine.

Thankfully, I will never know because Minnesota won, 2-1, on goals from Christian Ramirez and Darwin Quintero. A much too easily given penalty to the Revs in the 52nd minute was the only damper on a night which saw Minneapolis-based Surly Brewing forced to honor for the first time this year, the “Surly Bird Special,” a free beer awarded to any fan with a ticket stub when a Loon scores in the opening ten minutes of a home game.

Ramirez scored in the fifth minute, his fifth on the season. Quintero added one just before the halftime whistle. Adrian Heath was actually happy after this win because of a number of standout performances by his defense, most notably centerback Brent Kallman.

With that win setting the tone for the conclusion of the homestand, a tired United faced a depleted LAFC. As always, there was concern that goals would come early and often. Indeed, six goals were scored in 60 minutes of play, four of those coming in the first half.

Surprisingly, five of the six goals scored were earned by Loons. An even bigger surprise was that Minnesota successfully defended 15 LA cornerkicks (LA’s lone goal by Benny Feilhaber came from a sequence following a corner in the 26th minute). Perhaps the biggest surprise yet was who opened the scoring: midfielder Rasmus Schuller knocked in a beauty in the 25th minute, with an even prettier assist from Quintero. It was the Finn’s first MLS goal.

Just before the half came a shot from Ramirez, assisted only by a goalkeeper error. 2-1 Minnesota in the 45th minute. Less than sixty seconds later, Quintero added another, assisted by defender Eric Miller, to go 3-1 into the half. Would they fall apart after halftime, with LA coming out of the locker room hot (yet another humid night) and bothered (coach Bradley was irked by the boos his son received when Toronto FC was in town) and hungry to even the score?

No. The Loons ripped open their shirts and unfurled their capes. Miguel “Batman” Ibarra notched the fourth goal of the night in the 56th minute, assisted by best buddy Christian “Superman” Ramirez. Less than two minutes later, the Dark Knight returned the favor, assisting a Superman brace. 5-1 Minnesota. The following thirty minutes saw a flurry of subs (including Ramirez coming off for Romario Ibarra to make his debut), but the tired, tested Loons came out on top against the fresh legs of LAFC.

The press conference and locker room were both much more festive Saturday night than they were for the 3-2 win over Real Salt Lake the previous weekend (the night Heath raged furiously at his players while opposing coach Mike Petke made his now-infamous VAR speech). Heath was happy, the players were happy. And it would seem that happiness made all the difference.

“It’s amazing! Everybody’s happy in the locker room,” Ibarra said of the streak. “We’re all enjoying playing. You can just see it out there on the field. We scored, we conceded and we just didn’t put our heads down. We kept going and we kept playing our game. The second half, we came out hungry.”

Ramirez reflected, “I think [the club] is getting a winning mentality, that every game we need to go out and win wherever we play. In these three games at home, we’ve shown that we want to be playing to fight for the finals.”

But now the Loons go on the road, where they will play for the better part of the next month. Heath holds no misconceptions about the promise of replicating the win streak, saying, “Let’s win one first on the road before we get to three.”

Defender Francisco Calvo had an interesting perspective on the first away match, this Saturday in Vancouver: “I don’t think we have to change anything. Anything. Because, if we play — I mean, I never play in Vancouver, but I think that the field is the same, or more awful than this one, you know. So, I mean, we have to feel like we’re playing at home. Try to do the same thing.”

Have you ever stepped onto astroturf and said, “Ah! Feels like home!”? Neither have I, but the Loons have always had a gritty attitude perfectly suited to such reflection so maybe…

I said, maybe…

Featured image: @MNUFC

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Loons win and lose all in one night

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

Saturday, July 14: 3-2 Win

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

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

Too bad Rimando was up against Darwin Quintero this week.

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

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

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

There is a reason I highlight the timing…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Featured image: @MNUFC

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In Minnesota, if it’s not the heat, it’s the set pieces

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

Recapping the week

Fresh off an exhilarating win at home against MLS defending champs Toronto FC, Minnesota United flew to Houston and quickly rediscovered their reality. The Loons’ 3-0 loss to the Dynamo on Saturday night was the club’s eleventh on the season, with most of those losses coming on the road.

Despite the Loons’ poor performance in set pieces being an overwhelmingly obvious factor in the loss, coach Adrian Heath told the media, “I don’t think we were sharp enough all evening. Overall it was just another indication that we have issues on the road. I am disappointed with the level of commitment considering where we were on Wednesday.”

Fans were disappointed with Heath’s lack of ownership in the loss and Minnesota soccer Twitter succumbed once again to a barrage of #HeathOut statements, including one from the #HeathOut barometer:

Another quick turnaround to yet another hot, humid, Wednesday night match brought seeds of hope, but also anger. The international friendly against Costa Rican club Saprissa, planned long before United’s recent woes, nonetheless came at a very inopportune time.

All the usual starters got a rest or rode the bench, except for centerback Francisco Calvo (having rested in Houston on yellow card accumulation) who captained the squad of young or untested players. Frantz Pangop, a high profile signing in the preseason, was a bright spot that night, scoring his first goal in the Black and Blue (yes, I know the shirt’s grey, but the song has been ‘Boys in Black and Blue’ for as long as Minnesota has been horrible in set pieces). Unfortunately, that was their only goal. The Loons would give up two goals to the visitors, both on mistakes from Pangop’s countryman, Bertrand Owundi Eko’o.

Fans and analysts all agree that United’s defense desperately needs help and the midfield needs effective coordination. These were the expectations as the transfer window opened. Signing announcements came quickly. And, just as quickly, criticism followed.

First came 23-year-old Romario Ibarra of Ecuador, an attacking midfielder from Club Deportivo Universidad Catolica. But he is neither the Ibarra (“His brother is better,” said nearly everyone on Twitter) nor the midfielder (they just signed a DP mid who likes to score so why add another?) the Loons so desperately need.

Next was 29-year-old Colombian, Angelo Rodriguez. The forward for Club Deportes Tolima (Columbia) signed as Minnesota’s second Designated Player. These additions are confusing considering their positions and their international status. Jerome Thiesson received his green card this week, clearing the way for Ibarra to fill Minnesota’s seventh and final international spot.

Someone will have to go before Rodriguez clears up his visa paperwork and arrives in Minnesota. Rumors cite an end to Alexi Gomez’s transfer deal to clear the way for Rodriguez.

International slots aside, the signings are confusing in light of these most recent displays of MN United’s problem spots. Why splash money on goal scorers when your defense is leaking goals? When you have a striker in Christian Ramirez who you have held on to despite bids from MLS and Liga MX clubs? Heath’s praise for the two signings offer no real explanation other than stressing each player’s ability to score.

On Rodriguez: “He is a big-time player. We have just added a difference-maker to our roster. He’s a player who is physical, skilled and knows how to score.. He causes stress on defenses by closing down and pressing.”

On Ibarra:  “We have been looking for some change-of-game pace for the team and that’s one of the best things Romario does: He changes games with his pace and he challenges defenders.”

Maybe there is a huge surprise, a big change, in the works for the defense. The Loons did shock everyone earlier this week when they drilled on set pieces in training ahead of Wednesday’s friendly so…

Anything is possible.

Featured image: Minnesota United Facebook

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Loons make some MLS history

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

July 4, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Study the evolution here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cue Wonderwall.

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

At least we will always have Wednesday.

Featured image: @MNUFC

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Loons lose two, despite not allowing early goals

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

Minnesota United’s last two matches are about as ridiculous a juxtaposition as I have ever seen between two performances with the same result. The first appeared an easy win on paper, but in reality, while allowing the brightest ‘up-and-coming’ names to make their case, tested the Loons’ grit and the coach’s tactics. The second matched a daunting foe with a depleted side in a new formation. Opportunities mounted, celebrations sparked repeatedly and….

And nothing. The Loons have nothing to show for it.

United played perhaps its most passionate game of the season in Colorado last Saturday and throngs of away fans were there to disrupt the home sides’ broadcast mics for the whole show. And both sides did put on quite a show. The Loons struck first. When Rapids keeper Tim Howard blocked Darwin Quintero’s tap-in, he sent it spinning just off his line. Few players on either side reacted quickly, but United midfielder Miguel Ibarra rushed the box and launched both the ball and himself into the back of the net to put the Loons up 1-0.

Colorado wouldn’t answer until the second half, when Edgar Castillo sent one past Bobby Shuttleworth to tie it up in the 50th minute. Fifteen minutes later Christian Ramirez tapped one in, assisted by Ibarra and Quintero, to regain the lead. For nine minutes, it appeared the lead may hold, that the Loons could hold them off, but Shkelzen Gashi and Danny Wilson worked the gaps to set up a beauty from Joe Mason. 2-2, in the 74th minute. Then disaster.

Ibarra, attempting to take the ball from Joe Mason of the Rapids for quick restart, appeared to (from the official’s perspective) take a swing at Mason’s head. Ibarra was shoved to the ground by Jack Price and further agitated. As his teammates ran to his defense, Ibarra was shown red. Ejected.

The ten-man side looked dejected as they fought to maintain a one-point result away. The Loons gutted it out for thirteen minutes and both sides showed some, um, passion as they defended their goals at all costs. But grit and passion weren’t enough for United.

Nearly eight minutes into the announced minimum six minutes (yeah, you read that correctly) of stoppage time, Gashi takes a corner and connects with Joe Mason’s head. Goal. Whistle. Loss.

Cue fan anger. The sentiment #HeathOut, having grown from an occasional addition to banter to the first reaction of many fans on Twitter, spawned an account with the handle @HeathOut. Since that match, Is Heath Gone Yet? has tweeted every day, just a word or two each denoting the gaffer’s status: ‘Nope.’ ‘Naw.’ ‘Nein.’ ‘Nuh uh.’ ‘Nopers.’ Of course, there’s always this positive outlook: They didn’t give up a goal in the opening ten minutes.

Ahead of Minnesota’s home game against FC Dallas on Friday, the account posted, “Not today. Maybe Tomorrow.”  Present and accounted for, Heath rolled out a different formation of depleted Loons that offered hope for goals against a strong Dallas side. The 3-5-2 pulled one defender, Tyrone Mears,  forward into the midfield, which has leaked like a sieve all year.

Mears played right wing opposite Alexi Gomez, freeing up Ibson and Rasmus Schuller (usually the two in Heath’s 4-2–3-1) to track forward and back without leaving too much room for a Dallas counter. With these box-to-box roamers behind an attacking duo of Quintero and Ramirez, what could go wrong?

Against the Rapids, the Loons were efficient with their shots. Out of twelve total, eight were on target, two of which found the net. Taking note of the Law of Averages, the Loons peppered shots into the Toros’ box. But only five of their fifteen shots were on target.

Schuller nearly had a highlight reel screamer, but it curled wide. Ibson sent two brilliant shots wide. Ramirez sent a few wide, failed to connect on the end of others. Quintero went wide. It was as if the humid haze above the artificial turf created a force field between the sticks. As if a rifle shooter neglected to zero in his scope, shot after shot.

But they had plenty of set pieces to fall back on. Even a team notoriously poor with set pieces should find the Law on their side given enough opportunities. Right?

Let’s do a word problem

FC Dallas takes three corner kicks. One goes in (Goal: Roland Lamah, 59’). MN United FC takes thirteen corner kicks. How many of United’s corners result in goal?

This English major comes up with 4.33 goals for United on paper. On the pitch, the Loons came up with zero.

And so, despite again not allowing a goal in the first ten minutes, the Loons lost another.

But the supporters sweated it out with them. It wasn’t just any hot and humid game night. It was Pride Night and the club was celebrating one of its own.

Midfielder Collin Martin came out publicly on Friday morning, the only active pro athlete to play openly as a gay man.

In an impromptu discussion with media before the match, team owner Dr. Bill McGuire was asked if there was anything political to be inferred by the announcement.  “This is a human statement,” he replied. “Not a political one.” In subsequent interviews, Martin noted an overwhelmingly positive response.

The Loons may have lost the match, but Collin Martin (a player who didn’t even see minutes on Friday), with the club and supporters behind him, won the night.

#PrideNightEveryNight

Featured image: @MNUFC

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

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Loons enter chase for Lamar Hunt trophy

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

FCC (1) – (3) MIN (PKs)

Before the World Cup break, Minnesota United FC began their hunt for the US Open Cup trophy on June 6 in Cincinnati. The Loons played a refreshingly boring, albeit endless, game against USL side FC Cincinnati, with two extra 15 minute periods and, finally, four rounds of penalty kicks to decide who would go to the round of 16. The eternal defensive back-and-forth proved that Cinci will be a staunch opponent when the club enters MLS play next season. It also proved that Minnesota has work to do.

Minnesota maintained possession, with 66 percent overall, but struggled to do much with it. While Christian Ramirez (aka “Martinez” this night, thanks to FCC’s commentary team) had chances, the Loons managed just 15 shots to FCC’s 10. We also saw more of Maximiniano than we’ve seen all season and the mid, who was also given an alias – “Maximino” – somehow managed to stay in the ref’s good graces for much of the match.

Ramirez set the tone for the Loons, shooting and scoring first. He was followed by Collin Martin and Brent Kallman, who both scored, and finally Collen Warner, whose shot was blocked. But it was keeper Bobby Shuttleworth (again) who secured the result, standing tall during the shootout, blocking all but one FCC shot, including Nazmi Albadawi’s which cancelled out Warner’s miss.

MN United’s appearance in Houston on Monday night will mark the first time the club has made it to the fifth round in their USOC history, including the NASL eras when the club joined the Hunt as the Thunder (1999 – 2009) the Stars (2010 – ‘12) and United (2013 – ‘16). Both this progress and the opponent will be a refreshing change.

Many supporters expected the United to draw Sporting Kansas City in the first regional group match, the club which sent the Loons home in 2014, ‘16 and ‘17 (and 2009 if you count the Thunder v. Wiz match, which most of us do). The Minnesota soccer community breathed a sigh of relief at the Houston Dynamo matchup, but, unfortunately for United, the Dynamo – who have a USOC history of their own with SKC – view the fifth round match as a stepping stone to their next league appearance, against none other than Kansas City.

Houston coach Wilmer Cabrera was quoted in a recent news release saying, “It’s going to help us prepare for what is coming against Sporting Kansas City… We want to win at home and we have to win at home, so it’s a very important game for us.”

It is no less important for United, whose three-year transition plan cited Open Cup success in addition to a playoff berth. It is also important for the fans, whose morale and confidence in the team, coaching staff and back office, have wavered with recent poor results.

The Loons need to present a solid defense on Monday night against a hungry squad of bench players looking to prove their worth in the Dynamo lineup. They also need to find a way to connect their midfield movement to both the attacking and defending thirds, making the most of every possession and counter-attack, and – hopefully – finding the back of the net.

Turnovers and poor communication have been United’s downfall all season. If the midfield can get it together, they have a chance in Houston. Instead of being victimized by the Law of Averages, they need to leverage it: Keep the ball, move the ball, shoot the ball.

Featured image: @MNUFC

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

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A tale of three Uniteds

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

No, this is not another story about the naming shenanigans that sparked a [forced] rivalry between D.C. United, Atlanta United and Minnesota United. This is a story about one club with a history of three very clear identities before its promotion to MLS. And its ongoing struggle to define itself in its second year at this level.

Over a period of three weeks, MN United supporters have seen three very different teams. First, they watched a club hungry for revenge hold off [another forced] rival Sporting Kansas City to split the points at home. Then, in the final game of a month-long homestand, they saw their superhero Loons demolish Montreal Impact (I know what you’re thinking about Montreal but this story is not about them) and send their captain off to the World Cup with Wonderwall in his ears. And, finally, they travelled to Kansas City… to eat barbeque in anger.

I have already written about facing SKC at home so let’s focus on Montreal and SKC away. Against Montreal, center back and captain Francisco Calvo was determined to end media criticism with his best game of the season before joining the Costa Rica WC squad. And he, along with his linemates, performed quite well (against a lackluster Montreal attack, yeah, I know). So did a trio of Loons from the clear-identity days.

Ibson connected with forward Christian “Superman” Ramirez who found the net in his most beautiful chance yet, after just missing out on a number of assists from DP Darwin Quintero. Then midfielder Miguel “Batman” Ibarra notched one of his own to put United up 2-0 and secure a round of Wonderwall. It was like the good ol’ days in the NASL. Surely, such energetic group play could be repeated against a top team like Sporting?

But even with vocal Michael Boxall taking the captain’s armband and Brent Kallman slotting into Calvo’s place in the lineup; even with the two dancing Brazilians, Ibson and Gomez, paired up again in midfield; even with Batman running full steam for 90 minutes… It was not to be.

Loon defender Tyrone Mears (filling the space usually occupied by injured Jerome Thiesson) scored Minnesota’s only goal on the night. He evened the score just minutes after the club gave up yet another early goal. That goal and the previous paragraph just about sum up the highlights of the match.

The Loons would fall 4-1 in a performance that saw numerous turnovers in midfield (many by Gomez), defensive miscues following each midfield disaster, very few shots taken (because it’s hard to shoot if you can’t carry the ball into the final third) and a strange lack of connection between Quintero and Ramirez after weeks of moderately successful interplay at home.

It is understandable that this club has not formed an identity for itself in MLS. With so little consistency week to week, what is there to define? The only consistency seems to be in the supporters’ reactions on Twitter, often summed up as: “Well, I guess it could have been worse.”

Featured image: Chris Ramirez striking the ball that put MN up 1-0 against Montreal

Photo by Daniel Mick / DanielMickPhotography.com

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

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