Tag Archives: Wonderwall

Minnesota, the team to beat

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bridget McDowell - MNUFC/mlsfemale

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

Bridget McDowell - MNUFC/mlsfemale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until we made the joke our own:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m not crying. You’re crying.

Featured image: @MNUFC

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

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Just maybe, Loons fans. Just maybe.

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

Saturday, September 22: 3-2 Win

A scrappy squad came home to roost at the University of Minnesota on Saturday night. Was it pretty? Not always. Was it effective? In the first half, yes; in the second, just barely. Was it enough to win? Probably not enough for a spot in the playoffs, but it resulted in a round of Wonderwall for the fans who might just give the front office a few days’ peace and quiet. Three points all around then.

Minnesota United FC, a club that typically has problems getting out of its own half — with every attack muddled in the midfield and defensive tactics picked apart with a few probing passes — quickly found its legs against a tough Portland Timbers side. Of course, the Loons, who began the match attacking toward the Supporters, had this strong image to bolster their intentions against the Timbers:

United, running out a 4-2-3-1 which consisted of 6 midfielders, cast an unlikely Paul Bunyan: Romario Ibarra. When Darwin Quintero took advantage of a beautiful long ball from midfield to charge into the box, Portland keeper Steve Clark dove too early; Quintero skipped the ball over him toward the far post and into the path of Romario Ibarra. Step, shoot, score. 1-0 in the 18th minute.

It took ‘Super Romario’ another 18 minutes to bag a brace, putting the home team up 2-0, but the moment was soured by a leg injury during the play that saw him subbed off immediately. No matter. Minnesota had another lumberjack in back.

Defender Michael Boxall scored a stunner to widen the gap minutes before the break and it was as if some sort of alternate reality had developed at TCF Bank Stadium.

Thankfully, Alvas Powell and Sebastien Blanco came out of the Portland dressing room determined to remind us that we are Minnesota sports fans. With Powell and Blanco scoring in the 55th and 79th minutes, respectively, the Supporters, though loud, became unsettled. The questions began: Would the Supporters sing Wonderwall with raised scarves or would they hum another tune over their sad beers?

Hello Darkness, my old friend. I’ve come to talk with you again…

A red card issued to Fernando Bob in the final minute of regulation would have been the cue for Simon & Garfunkel for most teams. But the Loons play better a man down than up. They gutted out six minutes of stoppage time. And that beautiful record played.

And all the roads we have to walk are winding…

Unlike a previous 3-2 win at home, the locker room was festive and Adrian Heath spoke encouragingly (and cryptically, as always), pointing to positive moments from his players (Miguel Ibarra‘s work rate, Quintero’s creativity) that they can build on this week.

And build they must against NYCFC. Bob and Maximiano will be suspended and Romario Ibarra is yet to be assessed. But in this stadium, with these fans, with just a little momentum…

Just maybe…

Featured image: @MNUFC

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

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‘That’s the way it is’ for MNUFC

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

Saturday, August 25: 2-0 Loss

The latest edition of the ‘Nicest Rivalry’ ended the way it always does. Minnesota United FC dropped three points in Kansas City, losing 2-0 and stretching their road record to 1-11-1. The match was not quite as disappointing as previous meetings – the Loons had good opportunities and toughed out the full 90 minutes, managing to hold Sporting goalless through the first half – but the commentary from the gaffer is considerably more frustrating.

Forced to play without midfielder and leading goal scorer Darwin Quintero, the 3-5-2 returned with new DP Angelo Rodriguez and rookie Mason Toye (recalled from his USL loan) spearheading the attack. The result was much what you would expect from two players with twenty appearances and one assist between them – plenty of opportunities, but no results. It’s not that we expected them to be a like-for-like replacement of Quintero who has ten goals and nine assists in nineteen appearances, but had the match been played at home, I can guarantee the Wonderwall’s ‘Score, da*n it!” call would have been heavily used, with considerably more harshness than humor.

Of course, if this match had been played at home, the Loons may have won. When sideline reporter Jamie Watson asked Adrian Heath for his first reaction to the loss, the gaffer replied, “That’s the way it is on the road.”

Frustrated yet? Wait, there’s more.

From the post-match press release: “Some of the [offensive] performances were quite good, but it’s another disappointing defeat on the road which [sic] I feel as though I’m saying the same things a lot of the time.” And, “It’s the oldest saying in football: goals change games. They scored at really important times and that was the disappointment because I don’t think they had to work hard enough for their two goals.”

With such comments coming week after week, here is what the Supporters have started to hear: Losing on the road is simply common practice for the Loons. An expected hazard. The early-season win in Orlando was a fluke – Did you really expect another? We were good, but disappointing; poor, but promising. Goals go both ways. Moments of greatness mean nothing if you can’t score, but goals are more important than moments.

Centerback and Man of the Match Brent Kallman (“He’s one of us!”) offered a more reasonable perspective on the match:

“When you think about the games we’ve played here, you can use the word embarrassing. The performances have been. But we can hold our heads high after this one.[…] We were more disciplined. We stayed more to the plan. We can take that moving forward because things don’t really get any easier. We’ve got a lot of road games still.”

Fortunately, the Loons have two weeks to plan their tactics for the next match against DC United and to decide what angle the remainder of their road narrative will take. And with a handful of crucial starters out of the discussion (Michael Boxall is suspended for yellow card accumulation, Francisco Calvo is suspended as well as receiving a call-up from Costa Rica for a stretch of friendlies,  Rasmus Schuller was called up by Finland, Eric Miller and Darwin Quintero are questionable with injuries, and Tyrone Mears has mutually separated from the club) the Loons will need to make every minute of that extended rest and training count. 

If not for them, for their Supporters.

Featured image: Scarfage

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

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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

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

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