Photo Credit: Alex Schieferdecker

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Matchdays Twenty-Seven and-Twenty Eight: Loons’ Long National Road Trip Nightmare Is Over

by on 18 September 2018

It’s easy to forget that Minnesota started their recent stretch of seven games, six of which were on the road, riding high on a crest of optimism. They had just pulled off an incredible week with nine points in three home games, and the playoff line was in touching distance. That was nearly two months ago. The Loons haven’t won since, and another Era of Bad Feelings has set in.

But that being said, I must say that I really enjoyed this past week. Sure, the results were poor, as the Loons blew opportunities to win in DC and Salt Lake. But injuries and international absences resulted in a lot of minutes for players who I have been desperate to see get back on the field.

In particular, I was thrilled to see Maximiano and Wyatt Omsberg get 180 minutes each, and Romario Ibarra get 90 minutes after a successful international break with Ecuador. None of the three were brilliant, but they all contributed. What matters most is that they played. Maxi and Romario are 23, and Omsberg will be 23 by the end of this week. Each are young players, but not youth prospects. Two are already on the Loons’ books, the third presumably has an option to buy on his loan. All three need to be out on the field, week after week, gaining experience.

Among all the regrets of Adrian Heath’s nearly two seasons as head coach, the inattention to developing young talent is surely among the most glaring. The coaching staff has repeatedly opted to give valuable playing minutes to older veterans like Marc Burch, Tyrone Mears, and Ibson. That would make some sense if these players had proved crucial to earning results on the field, but they haven’t. With the Loons all but mathematically eliminated from postseason contention, there is no longer any excuse to prioritize veterans over young players building into their prime. Minnesota will be far richer heading into the critical 2019 season if Maximiano, Omsberg, Romario, Collin Martin (23), and Carter Manley (22), each have 540 more minutes under their belt from the final six games of this season. The same goes for Abu Danladi (22) if healthy, Mason Toye (19), and Alex Kapp (23).

The best time to give these players minutes was a long time ago. The second best time is right now. They will have ups and downs. Manley, in particular, struggled this week. But as my favorite Minnesota sports figure, P.J. Fleck says, failing is growing. The Loons have been failing a lot in two MLS seasons, but this week they finally paired it with some growing.

Miscellaneous notes

5. How out of the playoffs are the Loons? They are very out of the playoffs. Minnesota’s maximum possible point total is now 47. The current playoff line is now 44. To make the playoffs, the Loons would have to win all of their remaining six games, and at least one of Salt Lake, Seattle, and Portland would need to not win any of their remaining matches. Also, Vancouver and the LA Galaxy would also need to not go on late season runs.

To sum up, it’s over.

4. Minnesota lost a potential game-winning goal against Salt Lake, thanks to a video review. To my eyes, the referees got the call correct in the end. Darwin Quintero, who assisted the goal in question, was offside when the ball was played to him, regardless of when it was last touched. .

But it’s one thing to get the call correct, it’s another thing to get the whole process of VAR correct. On Saturday, the officials made a complete hash out of the review. After the goal, referee Chris Penso stood around midfield like an idiot with his finger in his ear for roughly two minutes. Finally, he decided to go over to the video and take a look himself, which took well over a minute. From the ball hitting the back of the net to play restarting, the whole episode took four minutes, during which the baffled commentators from both sides attempted to figure out what the review was looking at and fans were held in the kind of suspense you experience at the DMV.

It’s yet another frustrating example of VAR being used poorly in MLS this season. Getting the call correct is important, but getting it right expeditiously is nearly as important. There is no reason why the head referee must stand around for two minutes listening to his earpiece, then go over and check the play out for himself. Surely these two deliberative periods can be combined? Moreover, a review should not take more than a minute. Everyone has a different definition of the guidance that reviews should overturn “clear and obvious” errors. But we all ought to agree that if you have to spend multiple minutes staring at the tape to figure out what the correct call is, then the error is not clear and obvious.

PRO must fix their VAR protocol this offseason. The video assistant referee is usually a referee qualified to be a center official in their own right. The video assistant should be empowered to tell the head referee what the correct call is on matters of fact like on and offside, and the head referee should trust the voice in his ear and get on with the game. It won’t rule out the occasional look at the monitor, especially for incidents that might be subjective, like a missed red-card-worthy tackle. But in those situations, the lead official must go to the monitor immediately, instead of holding up play to stand around talking. The entire process can be sped up; it’s a mystery to me why PRO hasn’t taken action so far.

3. I don’t really have a lot to say about Fernando Bob, who made his Loons debut this week in DC, then started again in Salt Lake. He was perfectly serviceable in possession, but had lapses in both games on defense that played a role in an opposing goal. I’m a bit confused as to why, after playing with two #8s all season, the Loons are suddenly playing with two #6s. But the empty bucket did put a lot of bodies in the central defending third, and Minnesota had two of their better defensive games this season.

2. I had the privilege of attending Wednesday night’s game at DC United’s brand new stadium on Buzzard Point. I plan to write more on stadiums this offseason, but for now, suffice to say that it’s a great experience and I’m thrilled for the long-suffering fans in the District that they finally have a home base to be proud of.

In truth, my away trip did not do the experience justice—I took Amtrak down from Philadelphia, arrived minutes before kickoff, and left in stoppage time to ensure I was back at Union Station for the last north-bound train of the night. In part because my first train was badly delayed, I did not have any time to really explore the stadium or meet most of my fellow away fans.

Overall, the stadium made a good impression. The stands are wonderfully steep, and they’ve done a particularly good job with the team store, which is spacious, well stocked with good looking items, and prominently located. It only heightened my expectations for the Loons’ new home. For all of the positives at Buzzard Point, Midway has much of the same, but better. The rake of the stands will be the same or better, the concourse will be better, the in-stadium amenities will be better, and the roof will have far more coverage.

1. Quick hits. Boy, I have no clue what to make of Adrian Heath’s strange comments after the Salt Lake match, where he managed to take a softball question about Miguel Ibarra, who had a goal and almost another, and give an answer that didn’t mention Ibarra once. In isolation it wouldn’t be a story, but in the larger context of Heath’s obvious and longstanding distrust of both Ibarra and Christian Ramirez, I don’t blame people for being conspiratorial… …Ángelo Rodríguez’s injury against DC and Abu Danladi’s injury against Salt Lake lay bare just how phenomenally stupid it was to trade away Christian Ramirez. I’m never going to get over that trade—it still feels more like petty vandalism than a savvy business decision… …Orlando City are just four goals away from tying Minnesota’s MLS goals allowed record, set just last year. The Lions have six games left to play. It seems certain that they will shatter that record. File it under another article I’ll write someday, but what’s happening down in Orlando is a cautionary tale for Minnesota.


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