Photo credit: Dan Mick

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“The Fans Didn’t Deserve That” Minnesota United Loses Inauspicious Home Opener 6-1

by on 12 March 2017

On a cold and snowy day, when the game-time temperature was 28 degrees and the field was covered with an inch of snow, Minnesota United FC proved that its previous game against Portland Timbers FC was no fluke and lost 6-1 to fellow upstart Atlanta United. Josef Martinez put in three goals and Miguel Almirón scored two to put the game out of reach for the home side, and early. Kevin Molino scored off a penalty kick, and Jacob Peterson headed in his side’s sixth goal in stoppage time.

Inauspicious (adj): not conducive to success; unpromising.

While the weather and the fans set the stage for a great game, the team on the field couldn’t match it in their home debut. The fans were loud even from before kickoff, celebrating with the team all the players, coaches, and other people who helped make this 41-year journey from the start of Minnesota professional soccer to today, the first home game for Minnesota’s MLS side.

Governor Mark Dayton even got in on the festivities, proclaiming March 12 “Soccer in Minnesota Day.”

“The fans didn’t deserve that.” Adrian Heath

Some might have thought that the snow would have given the Minnesota side an advantage, with several Scandinavian players on its roster possessing a familiarity with similar weather conditions.

Any hope of an advantage quickly disappeared three minutes into the match when some slipping and sliding by the Loons at midfield couldn’t stop an Atlanta attack. A quick pass by Almirón to a just-onside Martinez and all John Alvbåge could do was was flail at the wide-open shot. Three minutes into their home debut and Minnesota was down one.

Minnesota spent the next ten minutes struggling to maintain possession and so it was Atlanta which struck again; this time Almirón found a lane between Jérôme Thiesson Thiesson and Vadim Demidov on the right and rifled the ball into the upper 90 to put the visitors up by two.

Minnesota’s best look in the early going was in the 24th minute, when the Loons had a free kick 30 yards from goal. Mohammed Saeid’s free kick sailed long and was easily cleared by the Atlanta defensive line.

Atlanta scored its third goal of the match in the 27th minute with Martinez again splitting center backs Francisco Calvo and Vadim Demidov and then beating Alvbåge.

After the third Atlanta goal, the Loons appeared to refocus their efforts, and what had been two- or three-pass possessions turned into longer stretches with the ball. Minnesota finally found a way onto the scoreboard after Molino was upended in the 18-yard box and scored on the ensuing penalty kick. The goal breathed a bit of life into the side in gray, but an ill-timed official timeout to clear the playing field lines of snow allowed Atlanta a chance to regroup and ride out the first half up 3-1.

Neither team played particularly attractive soccer with the snow coming down around them, but Atlanta proved to be the team that was able to turn the mistakes of their opponents into real opportunities on goal.

Minnesota came out in the second half ready to try to close the score. A Loons goal early in the second half might have flipped the game, possibly giving Minnesota a chance to even the score in the tough conditions. After a couple early attempts on goal that ended in goal kicks, Minnesota’s aggressiveness cost them.

Atlanta showed a solid defense and potent offense. Photo credit: Dan Mick.

Johan Venegas lost the ball after an Atlanta player slid into him, but the ref waved play on and Minnesota never fully recovered during the ensuing counter attack. Hector Villalba’s shot was parried away by Demidov, but only to the top of the box where Almirón was waiting. His one-timer found the open side of the net to give Atlanta a shocking 4-1 lead.

Martínez completed his hat trick later in the half with a brilliant run behind Demidov, rounding Alvbåge, then slotting the ball across the goal line in collected fashion.

Alvbåge had a scary moment late in the match, when a laceration on his knee forced him out of the match and Bobby Shuttleworth came into finish the game. Even the change in keepers couldn’t keep Atlanta out of the back of the net. Late game substitute Peterson headed the ball in to give Atlanta six on the day and Minnesota with a minus-nine goal differential after two games.

And so we’re left with the question, what does Minnesota do from here? How does a team react to a cumulative 11-2 scoreline on the young season?

There was nothing to celebrate in the game, according to coach Heath. “They didn’t give any kind of performance that warranted the support they got today,” the gaffer said after the game. “Very disappointing, and I apologize for that.”

FiftyFive.One’s three stars

Match statistics

Minnesota United FC 1 – Atlanta United 6
Stadium: TCF Bank Stadium
Kickoff: 4:00 p.m. (CST)
Weather: 28° Snow
Scoring Summary
Josef Martinez (3′, 27′, 75′)
Miguel Almirón (13′, 52′)
Kevin Molino (30′ PEN)
Jacob Peterson (90’+4)
Discipline
Rasmus Schüller (Unsporting Behavior 19′)
Leandro González Pirez (Unsporting Behavior 34′)
Francisco Calvo (Unsporting Behavior 41′)
Héctor Villalba (Delaying the Restart of Play 48′)
Kevin Molino (Persistent Infringement 57′)

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  • Timothy J Hayes

    The lack of subs is very concerning to me. Coach Heath showed the same lack of subs in Orlando last year before getting the axe.

  • 래리 갭 닉

    That was super disappointing on a number of levels. The weather, the stadium sucks for soccer, the outcome, the defensive roster construction, we had to shut down 1 puto attempt and I heard of another as well as an instance of a fan telling an Atlanta player to go back where he came from, we had to return our food at one of the stands because it was inedible…and on and on and on.

    We talked two friends who were casual fans into going. Both said they’re not coming back at that stadium unless the tickets are free, and none of their complaints were about the weather. I kind of felt bad for talking them into it.

    Positives: the supporters groups were good. My $5 straight-black Caribou coffee was hot. Molino is legit awesome.

    The casual fan novelty with this team is going to wear off reallllllly quickly if they don’t immediately do something with Taylor and Demidov. Taylor doesn’t seem like he has the pace to play for Minneapolis City, let alone a top flight club. Demidov was wildly out of position and couldn’t get the ball to go to anybody but opposing players. If Taylor is trotted out there one more time it speaks very poorly of either the coaching or front office aptitude of this franchise…and that’s not something we should be saying this early in the transition to MLS.

    If they get hammered for 2 more games and attendance dips to 15k in that stadium with an empty upper deck and you can read the seating lettering of Minnesota on the TV, that’s a big marketing/optics problem.

    That being said, they’re not getting outclassed whenever the ball moves forward and their problems are about 90% defense and 10% needing a holding midfielder to transfer play forward.

    They’re the second oldest team in the league without 4 league-ready defenders. That’s a big problem going forward. Something’s gotta give.

    Also, stadium security is such a ridiculous concept. Show up at a place in a jam-packed train car with no boarding security to enter a building that has a ton of it. Zero sense. It’s more about protecting vendors so they can gouge customers than it is actual security for the attendees. F’ing ridiculous.

    • TJ McCann

      Very good points. I also invited some co-workers to the game who had never been to a soccer game before, let a lone a United match. After the game their quote was “there are already so many teams in this city I can pay to watch lose, why would I come pay to watch this one get absolutely throttled every game?” Hard to argue with to be honest.

      The die hards will keep coming back and the team will have a solid supporters section all year (as it should, its still surreal we have an MLS team). That said, the front office needs to realize its money-ball (or just plain cheap) strategy is not going to work and address the lack of talent immediately this summer.

      While I agree there is plenty of blame to place on Heath and his tactical/lineup decisions, I keep coming back to the front office as the main culprit. Its not Adrian’s fault we have absolutely not backline depth/options. They have openly admitted they had a chance to sign players during last years NASL season but opted not to out of respect for their current players. I wonder if they regret that decision?

      • 래리 갭 닉

        It’s wayyyyyyy to early to make any judgments, but my inner reactionary is getting bad vibes about Heath. Not making any change at the half, tactically putting bad defenders in bad positions, waiting too long to sub when things clearly aren’t working…

        The front office definitely deserves heat for fielding a roster without enough league ready defenders.

      • Jawad Towns

        Casual fan here (and season ticket holder) and newcomer to this site. I’m from Louisiana, a football state so unfortunately I wasn’t exposed to soccer in my youth. Now that I have a son who is deeply involved in soccer and because we live in the Twin Cities, I thought I’d invest in the squad. I appreciate reading all of the comments, it helps me to understand the game more. (It took me forever to understand offsides!) I also appreciate the perspectives offered–I wanted to get a sense of what fans think the Loons prospects for making significant improvements throughout the season are. It seems a few are holding out hope for the team to turn it around but the majority are suggesting what we see now is pretty much what we’ll get for the remainder of the season. It was discouraging hearing one of the FS1 announcers in so many words mention fairly early during the Timbers match that it was apparent the Loons lacked talent. The same announcer then toned it down a bit for the rest for the game–I guessed he realized it was just the first half of the Loons first ever professional regular season match. Nonetheless, the comment was discouraging.

        Listening to 1500AM on the way to TCF Bank yesterday, the teams’ (Loons/ATL United) two different approaches to the offseason was described. Before renewing my tickets for next season (although the new stadium is too tempting regardless of this season’s outcome) I would like some sort of assurance and proof from the front office that they will work hard to improve the team during the offseason. We can’t christen the new stadium with the squad we have now.

        Btw, I love the Dark Cloud!! I need to learn those chants! I was hoping the rest of the crowd would join in occasionally. (I was a New Orleans Saints season ticket holder–I often left games with very little of my voice left. I hope to do the same after some Loons games in the near future, win or lose, as long as we’re competitive.)

        • 래리 갭 닉

          Wilkommen. It’s going to be a slog. They are going to have to 1- get another quality defender on the roster (preferably more) and 2- figure out a way to have a more cohesive backline with additional help from the midfield. A lot of this is just figuring out how to play well with one another, hustling back, anticipating when someone might get turned and burned, etc.

          With no new talent additions, I’d like to see them try a few starting halves with K. Venegas, Kallman, Calvo and Davis while hoping that the NASL 3’s familiarity with one another > Taylor’s lack of pace and Demidov’s whatever-it-is that causes him to not be very good. It can’t get worse than what’s out there right now. At least Venegas and Davis appear to be able to run at the required speed to be on the field.

          Also, there are a lot of really great clubs for youth soccer in the area. One is the clear best 😉 Have y’all tried futsal yet? It’s what gets us through the winters.

          • Jawad Towns

            Thanks for sharing. I suppose it’s like many other team sports–players have to continue to gel and build cohesion. It appears it will require great coaching to put each player in the best position possible if we want to be somewhat competitive this year.

            Btw, I left at 75′. Any updates on the goalie’s injury? What are your thoughts about the Swedish goalie?

            Re; local youth clubs, if you’re referring to the St. Paul Blackhawks, you’re correct my friend! 🙂 (Is that the club you have in mind?) My son played futsal this winter and will be playing in the spring/summer league. I really missed out on playing such a great game when I was a kid. I suppose it’s never too late to learn to play…

          • 래리 갭 닉

            Heh. #teamJOTP

          • Jawad Towns

            I love JOTP! We’ll be there for free time one of these upcoming weekends. But still, GO Blackhawks!!

      • Kyle Eliason

        Moneyball involves the identification and exploitation of inefficiencies in the talent market.

        Sadly, I see no evidence MNUFC has made use of such a strategy to build its roster.

        • Eric Beckman

          Right. As of now, it looks like a failure of such a strategy. It may be that veteran Scandinavian players are *appropriately* valued in the talent market.

  • MmattN

    The snow beat our midfield and attack and left our weak defense, one with a brand new player, on its own. Terrible, awful, horrible result but a sign of what is to come for the rest of the season? I say no.

    • duluth_loon

      But why didn’t the snow also beat Atlanta’s midfield and attack?

      • MmattN

        Beats me, they had a better game plan and or got lucky early

        • Tres Gatos

          6-1 is not “lucky”. 6-1 is definitive. 🤔

          • MmattN

            The first goal was definitely due to a lucky deflection and sometimes that is all ya need get the rout going.

          • Eric Beckman

            Demidov trying and failing to win the ball at midfield set up the first goal.

          • Mark2309

            The first goal was also caused by Taylor being out of sync with his defensive counter parts and falling slightly back. Had Taylor been in his proper position Martinez would have been called offside.

      • lusophone

        I feel that adverse conditions amplify the distance between two teams. You see stronger teams feed off the adversity and weaker teams crumble under it.

  • Clint

    To me it looks like a combo of poor roster construction and Heath not putting players in the best position to succeed. Clearly roster construction was/is a problem. There are no capable, proven MLS defenders to rely on. Which MIGHT be ok, if there were a couple of capable, proven MLS D mids covering the back line. It’s the combination of neither of those things that has allowed both Portland and Atlanta to run through the team. The team does look capable in attack, and I would even argue has depth there. However, Heath seems so focused on what that attack can be that he has not put any emphasis on the middle of the field or defensive structure. My big worry is that even with changing out some of the parts on D (Taylor, Theisson, Demidov out, Kallman, Venegas, Davis in) you still are in the same situation. That said, those three would at least have a feel for each other. Add Calvo, maybe its better. But, those four would need 2 guys holding (Warner?, Schuller?). My hope is for a very structured 4-2-3-1 to simply stop the bleeding. Also, play Miguel.

    • duluth_loon

      I agree that Taylor and Demidov need to be removed from the back line (at least temporarily?) but I’m not sure NASL guys like Kallman and Davis are the answer. Kallman’s no quicker than Demidov and Davis (while a fan favorite) did not exactly have a standout performance last week at Portland. Venegas at least deserves a chance at RB, though I’m intrigued to see Thiesson after a full week of training with the team. Don’t forget he literally landed on US soil three days before yesterday’s match. A much more structured defensive shape is absolutely a good place to start. 🙂

      • Melissa Danner

        I actually think that Davis didn’t have as bad of a game as he’s being given credit for last week. Taylor is an ABSOLUTE MESS and if I see him out there again in the next few games I am going to be extremely disappointed in the team. Demidov is slow, but may be effective if he’s not attempting to cover 2 defensive positions at once. I think Calvo would be good with the right partner. I think that for next week Heath NEEDS to put out some other defenders and give them an opportunity to succeed. They certainly can’t do any worse than the current back line! Give me Davis, Calvo, Kallman, and Thiessen/Venegas and see what happens.

        I actually liked the attack put out against Atlanta, but I seriously want to see Ibarra out there – not because I have historical affection for him, but because I think that he has creative attacking skill similar to Molino, and he’s fast as hell. How good could they be with creative attacking wingers, J. Venegas as the number 10 and Ramirez up top? I think really good, but WE DON’T KNOW because Heath keeps sitting Ibarra. UGH.

        As for the midfield… I don’t think they’re terrible. Not totally convinced by Said, but I think Schuller is good. Warner seems okay – I honestly haven’t paid enough attention to the midfield to fairly judge because I’ve been blinded byu the abhorrent defense and poor use of our attack options.

    • 래리 갭 닉

      I’d give an arm for them to have a decent holding midfielder.

  • Alberto Valsecchi

    In pre-season, after 2-2 with Timbers and 3-3 with RSL , I wrote:

    “Team continuity and resilience starts from the defensive line when protected by the midfielders.
    In this match I did not see MNUFC defensive organization nor the quality of defenders.
    The first responsibility is up to the coach as well to the expected lack
    of experience in MLS of some players.
    They must work on organization and movements between defense and midfield.
    The attacking line with Ramirez Molino and Ibarra looks already close to the level of MLS.
    With hard work and dedication MNUFC will do well in MLS.”

    After the first two regular season matches I am afraid that it will take long time to achieve a reliable defensive line protected by
    the midfielders.
    An improvement can be done by leaving 4-3-3 for 4-4-2 and even 3-5-2, provided that the two external midfielders can run like RB and
    LB.
    Another improvement must come from the guts of current players.

    • MmattN

      “An improvement can be done by leaving 4-3-3 for 4-4-2 and even 3-5-2, provided that the two external midfielders can run like RB and
      LB.”
      I bet Gatt and Ibarra could fill those roles nicely.

  • Peter S.

    Our decision not to sign any young, speedy, expensive South Americans is increasingly looking like a bad one. Apparently in soccer, as in life, you get what you pay for.

  • Eric Beckman

    There are a lot of caveats–very early, only two games, brand new team, snowy conditions–but, this was an epic loss. The day before non-League Lincoln City went to the Emirates and lost by the same margin to a top Premier League team. That makes yesterday look a result Mpls City could have gotten.

    Concerning.

  • Matt

    We’ve heard the Minnesota United brass say that there is a 1, 3, and 5 year plan for roster building. I see it as pre-stadium, stadium open, and post-stadium. Pre-stadium is not going to be great. Year one pre-stadium may be a Dumpster fire. Year two pre-stadium hopefully will at least be somewhat respectable.

    Stadium open better be good. Post-stadium hopefully will be great.

    Before the season started, I was pretty high on their approach, which seemed solid and strategic. But now the concern is that they have underestimated the level of competition in MLS.

    The 3 and 5 year plans may need some adjusting. And the 1 year plan will hopefully get some attention quick.

    • duluth_loon

      I guess I just don’t understand how planning on a having a pre-stadium dumpster fire is strategic. No one expects an expansion team to win MLS Cup, but at the same time, no one expects an expansion team flush with allocation money and open DP spots leave those assets on the sideline. In my mind, the new stadium and fielding a good/competitive team are not linked in any meaningful way.

  • CoachFloRida

    The Loons were 6 inches from going in at halftime 2-3. They played the last 10-15 minutes of the first half almost exclusively in the Atlanta half so not making any changes at halftime made sense. I do agree with all on here though the back 4 is unfortunately poor. And someone said we are the 4th oldest team in the league?????? That is the exact opposite of what we should be. If we are going to be terrible let’s be terrible with 18-24 year olds’ with potential.

    • MmattN

      Last report I saw on MLS (back in Feb.) we are the second oldest squad.

  • Matt

    Portland scored five goals against us, and this week scored one. Atlanta scored six goals against us, and last week scored one. These are teams with good offenses, but not *that* good.

  • Toss

    Nick Rogers tweets are an appeal to our Minnesota Nice. All well and good, but I suggest there’s a line and MNUFC management crossed it. That is, we’ll back you up so long as you’ve appeared to make a competent effort. Effort? Both marketing and squad building began ridiculously late. Competent? Those scores would have been called blowouts even in hockey. Don Garber has 12 other cities lined up. At the same time, MNUFC management is making a farce of the league. There’s mediocrity and then there’s incompetence. If you’re asking us to be happy that we have a team, we’ll be darned lucky if Garber doesn’t start wishing for another round of constructive contraction.

  • nomadic loon

    I couldn’t read the names, and sometimes even numbers on our players. Pick another color please. We want new fans to read them so they know who is playing well and who is underperforming.