It would hardly have seemed possible that a 5-1 loss to Philadelphia was not rock bottom. But after a 2-0 loss, at home, to one of the worst teams in recent memory, in which Minnesota was convincingly outplayed, ending in a bench-clearing brawl, managed to up the devastation ante. With nothing left to play for this year but pride, and in front of what should be a Minnesota-record number of fans, what tact can the Loons take? What can be salvaged?
Minnesota earned one of its precious few road points at the StubHub Center earlier this season, a 2-2 draw against the Galaxy. Michael Boxall and Romario Ibarra found the back of the net, the first goal in a Loons uniform for both, and Minnesota clawed back from two deficits to earn the draw. In 2017, Adrian Heath’s men suffered twin losses at home and away.
M Sam Cronin (cervicogenic dysfunction) – Out
M Kevin Molino (torn ACL) – Out
M Ethan Finlay (torn ACL) – Out
M Collin Martin (right ankle injury) – Out
GK Bobby Shuttleworth (back injury) – Out
D Harrison Heath (suspension) – Out
M Alexi Gomez (suspension) – Out
F Abu Danladi (right leg injury) – Questionable
M Romario Ibarra (hamstring injury) – Questionable
Los Angeles Galaxy
F Giovani Dos Santos (undisclosed injury) – Out
Though Minnesota may not have anything to play for in the standings, Los Angeles is still gunning for a playoff berth. With a four point deficit on the final playoff spot in the West, but with a game in hand, the Galaxy will be bringing along legendary striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who would not normally play given TCF Bank Stadium’s artificial turf but will tough it out given the stakes at hand. Whether Ibrahimovic will see the starting line up or will come on as a substitute remains to be seen, but Minnesota will likely man mark him the entire time he is on the pitch.
The Loons might consider giving Romain Alessandrini the same attention. As an attacking midfielder, Alessandrini has ten goals and seven assists on the year and was a thorn in Minnesota’s side in previous matches. Ten goals and seven assists may not seem like titanic numbers, but consider that only roughly a dozen players belong to MLS’ all-time club of ten non-PK goals and ten direct assists in a season (Alessandrini is already a member in the limited company from his 2017 campaign). If Ibrahimovic earns all the attention with his 21 goals, it should be remembered that people like Alessandrini are helping to put the ball at his feet.
For Minnesota, the questions that linger are more existential than tactical. Sure, the Loons have a tough decision on how it will handle duties on the left wing with Alexi Gomez suspended and Romario Ibarra injured (Rasmus Schuller previously filled in on the wing, and Franz Pangop is available). But that’s a problem they have stared down the barrel of all season. What is more pressing are two concerns: which players are playing for their 2019 livelihood, and how can you put on a show in front of over 50,000 fans, many of whom may be seeing the Loons for the first time, and turn them into team acolytes and future ticket buyers.
I believe that 99.9% of the time players are doing their best, trying hard, and wanting to succeed. Commentary about lacking heart, desire, and effort I believe are misguided typically, and players don’t reach the point of playing professional soccer because their hearts are of such fragile glass that a tough game has them shutting down entirely. No one wants to fail, and everyone wants to see countless hours of hard work come to fruition, no matter what the obstacles and no matter what the job. This is a long way of saying that none of these players should be one good game, one strong effort, away from securing their job for next season. We’ve seen them at maximum effort, we’ve seen what skills they truly bring to the table, and nothing that happens in the next two weeks should unmake those perceptions.
To the question of the fans, and I may be biased a bit on this, I believe those fans will be impressed no matter what happens on the field. Attendance has risen steadily over the last two years despite fairly poor performances overall from the team (granted, they are better at home, so that could perpetuate the growth). A big part of that is because the gameday atmosphere is electric and genuinely like very few in this country. Whatever the result of the game, that atmosphere will still be on display Sunday. More converts will be won than lost, and people will head home telling more stories about their experience in the stands than about the action that unfolded before them. It’s a reality that has propelled Minnesota soccer through the decades, through good teams and bad, through every team name and every league.
Thus we come to the lede, buried painfully deep: this game matters even less than you think it does. Watch to see a legend in action, watch to cheer against a team that has had Minnesota’s number, watch to see your best friends in the stands, watch because you support the boys no matter the numbers on the scoreboard. Make the game about what matters most to you, and don’t lose heart.
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