Not much is on the line for this match – maybe second or third place, sure, but second place in the spring season won’t even get you a firm congratulatory handshake. Given this, I thought I’d abandon the traditional recap format for a night. Instead, I’m going back to the early days of the sports internet, and bringing back a relic from the early 2000s: the Bill Simmons-style running diary. Live, from the press box at the National Sports Center!
1′ – Christian Ramirez is back up front for United, with Ben Speas behind him and Stefano Pinho on the left. Carl Craig said this week that United was “too Minnesotan” in their past three games, which I think meant that they’re bad at zipper merges.
5′ – The Loons have had about 22 corners in the first six minutes of the match. All that’s happened so far is that Ramirez ran over Danny Cruz on one of them. Friendly fire is a real problem.
10′ – According to the National Weather Service, it was 88 degrees at kickoff tonight, and the sun’s blazing down on everyone who’s not sitting in the west stands. People are slowly roasting. Also, in true NSC style, everyone in the east stands has his hand up to block the sun. A Mr. Burns-style sun-blocker wouldn’t go awry in Blaine. On the field, United takes two more corners, neither of which comes to anything.
15′ – Most of Miami’s offense so far has been the following play: one of the center backs waits until Ramirez presses, then launches a hopeful eight-iron forward at center forward Jamie Chavez. A rare Miami cross does lead to the best chance of the match so far, though, as Dario Cvitanich works free in the penalty area – and nearly whiffs, meaning Sammy Ndjock can just fall on the ball.
20′ – Words will not do what happened justice, but I will try. Ariel Martinez split Damion Lowe and Brent Kallman and was alone in on goal. He tried to chip Sammy Ndjock, but hit the crossbar. The ball rebounded to Kallman, who suddenly had an existential crisis. “Why are we here?” he seemed to say. “What will it matter if I clear this ball or not?” In other words, the ball hit him in the midsection and rebounded toward the goal line, as his legs suddenly and momentarily stopped functioning. Luckily for his future prospects, he came to his senses and managed to hook the ball off the line, straight to another Miami forward – whose shot was straight at Ndjock, who got a hand to it and saw the ball drift lazily around the goalpost. All that needed was a bit of calliope music to really give it a goofy soundtrack.
26′ – Kevin Venegas nutmegs a defender after a corner, and crosses – but straight into goalkeeper Mario Vega’s hands. Two minutes later, United wins a free kick, and Venegas bends it around the wall and into the side netting. Right now, “Kevin Venegas making dudes look stupid on set pieces” is United’s best attacking strategy.
30′ – Random thought: maybe when Craig said that United was “too Minnesotan,” he was taking a very direct shot at Kallman? Well, no. He wasn’t. But these are the things we must ponder at times like this. (Translation: not a lot happening.)
34′ – Venegas once again beats a defender and fizzes in a low cross that rebounds to an onrushing Speas. With the goalkeeper floundering, though, Speas’s shot is straight at a Miami central defender and is cleared for a corner. Best chance so far for the home side.
40′ – Ibson kicks a dude and earns a yellow card. He’s in full bulldog mode tonight. Now he just has to keep his cool for 50 more minutes. Odds: not great!
44′ – Speas has another shot in the area blocked by a defender on the goal line. Miami playing three or four goalies tonight, apparently. Just lining up two on either side of Vega whenever the ball comes to Speas.
HALFTIME: Minnesota 0, Miami 0. Speas and Venegas are having the occasional pop at the goal, but otherwise, it’s another desultory half for United. Miami’s circus show was the best chance either team had. The crowd still looks overheated. Might be the biggest NSC crowd of the year, though, according to a couple of staff members. Three losses in a row aside, it’s hard not to want to get to a game at a time like this.
47′ – I don’t know what Carl Craig said at halftime, but if it was “Mesmerize the Miami defenders so that they stand entirely still while Ramirez sneaks in to nod a Speas cross past the goalkeeper for the game’s first goal,” it worked perfectly. 1-0 Minnesota.
51′ – Venegas, still making fools looks stupid, whips in another low, fizzing cross to the back post. Two Loons are there – Ramirez, who’s a step away from scoring, and Pinho, who falls forward and football-tackles the ball into the goal. He might have been going for the rarely-seen Bosom Goal; the replay is not entirely conclusive about whether he’s just scored with his arm. Miami’s players sure seem to think so, leading to an entertaining interlude of the visiting players attempting to get the referee to change his decision by looking at the replay on the stadium video screen. Dear FIFA: Trial instant replay starts tonight in Blaine! Alejandro Mariscal, the referee, isn’t having it. The goal stands, and it’s 2-0 Minnesota.
66′ – The Loons went into a defensive shell following the second goal, and it didn’t really work at all. Jamie Chavez scores on a nice run to the near post, redirecting the ball past Ndjock. Following the goal, Ariel Martinez gets a yellow for shoving Kevin Venegas into the net while trying to get the ball back, one of those moments in which absolutely no one can be proud of how he is acting. 2-1 Minnesota. United’s strategy of willing the clock to go at quadruple speed was never really going to work.
74′ – Former United striker Pablo Campos is about to come on for Miami as a sub. It gives us all a chance to reminisce about Pablo’s many excellent qualities; for one, there is no one better in the league at making it impossible for a defender to get around him. He’d come on as a sub for Minnesota and just get fouled 18 times in ten minutes; he was impossible not to push over. It was magical. He’d just put a pillow over the face of the game and whisper, “Sleep… sleep now… sleep now… sleep now.” Also he is 6’2″, but wore shorts that would have been the correct length for someone who was 3’9″.
77′ – Miami midfielder Richie Ryan, who’s on a yellow card, bulldozes Justin Davis about two seconds after the ball leaves. Referee Mariscal decides that what Ryan really needs is a good talking-to, and likely makes him promise to never ever do something like that again.
85′ – Kevin Venegas, who really has been excellent offensively, does it again, cutting inside on his left foot at the top of the Miami area and bending the ball around the keeper. Unfortunately for Venegas, it smacks resoundingly off the woodwork and back to Ibson, who cannons the rebound wide.
87′ – Cruz takes the ball to the corner flag and adopts a crab-like defensive stance over the top of it. Two Miami defenders seize the opportunity to kick him approximately fifty times in the shins. Eventually, Cruz falls on top of the ball, and the assistant referee awards Miami a free kick for handling the ball. Gordie Howe (RIP) would have been proud of all of that. Gotta be tough in the corners in this league!
90+1′: United, trying to kill the game off, works the ball to Daniel Mendes on the right wing. Christian Ramirez times a run on the right side of the penalty area well, sneaking behind the Miami left back for a pass from Mendes. He crosses the ball along the turf, Ibson roofs it over the Miami keeper, and it’s 3-1 Minnesota. This is an excellent way of killing a game off and is a strategy United will want to use in the future.
FULL TIME: Minnesota 3, Miami 1. This was a needed result for the Loons, especially ahead of Wednesday’s game against Sporting KC. Carl Craig is pretty proud of his squad. “In all honesty, I thought that was the best team we saw this year,” he said. “In terms of the spring championship it didn’t mean anything, but if we lose a fourth one in a row, that’s a major problem.”
Also, I want to mention the following quote, because it’s excellent, though I cannot actually work it into this post in any legit way. Craig on the Miami midfield: “You could have thrown a beach blanket over their midfield four and they all would have been nice and cozy.” He also referred to d-mid Jack Blake as “Young Jack,” which I enjoyed immensely.
There’s no more NASL until July 2, but the US Open Cup this week, and a friendly at Target Field with Club Leon ten days later mean that the summer break isn’t quite so much of a break this year for the Loons. Bad news for their golf plans, but good news for fans.
UPDATE: Check out Jeremy Olson’s photo gallery from the game!
Also: Match Highlights