Photo Credit: Louis Garcia


Matchday Thirteen: Joy At Home For Minnesota, After Productive Friendly, Narrow Win

by on 27 May 2019

The image that has stuck with me from Saturday night’s 1-0 Minnesota United win over the visiting Houston Dyanmo came a little while after the final whistle blew and the chorus from Wonderwall had been sung, when the last strains of the song were wafting through the loudspeakers. Ozzie Alonso’s daughter ran from him, towards the supporters, and the mascot, PK, lifted her up for the crowd. There are some photos of this moment, which also capture the crowd on the opposite side of the field.

The stands were all still full. Nobody had left.

Quite apart from the wins and losses, goals and clean sheets, this is what I have always hoped that Minnesota United and their new home in Midway would become. A place where people want to spend time. A place where people want to meet up with their friends and make new ones. A place where people can be proud of where they live and the other people who they share it with. I saw it earlier in the year when Ángelo Rodríguez’s kids were scoring goals in front of the Wonderwall, and I saw it again last night with Ozzie’s daughter. There’s something joyous about it, that, more than the play on the field, is what will keep people coming back.

That’s really the accidental genius of the “Wonderwall” tradition itself. It keeps people in the stadium for an extra five minutes. It brings everyone in a single shared effort to create a beautiful moment. It’s a gift from the fans to the players, and from the fans to each other. Once you’ve sung your heart out with a stranger, for a team of strangers, you all can’t help but be friends.

On Saturday night, I found myself thinking about two other professional sports teams in comparison with Minnesota United.

The first of those two teams is Orlando City. The Lions joined MLS two years before the Loons, and have yet to make the playoffs in four seasons. They don’t seem on track to make them this year either. There is something deeply toxic about that club that goes beyond the existential pain of living in Florida. Justin Meram’s career fell apart when he went there, partly because his early struggles were compounded by vicious abuse on social media. A number of other successful players have failed to perform up to their standards when they donned those purple jerseys. The fans have earned a reputation for occasional petty hooliganism. There’s also mean spirited chants; for instance, “Move Bitch, Get Off The Pitch” is sung for an opposing injured player. I’ve also listened to just about every OCSC podcast to get a bit of local flavor, and a lot of it can only be described as angry. Every fanbase has some folks who give it a bad name, but in Orlando there is a culture of negativity and even cruelty that exists in both the fanbase and the front office. I truly believe that that culture, taken all together, is the primary cause of their long-term lack of success on the field.

The other team I thought about was the Minnesota Twins. I think the Twins have had a long-term culture problem as well, although it was more apathy than negativity. The Twins were apathetic about winning and apathetic about making the kind of changes needed to keep up with modern baseball in order to win. But this year is different. A third-year front office and new coaching staff led by a young, progressive first-year manager have changed the team’s culture. The Twins are the best team in baseball as of this writing, they are clearly having a ton of fun, and on Saturday and Sunday they sold out, which has not been a common occurrence in the past.

On Saturday, both Twins and Loons players said similar things to the media. They had just won before packed, happy, stadiums, and talked about how it had energized them. Winning begets good feelings. Good feelings beget winning. But good feelings are temporary, and you won’t always win every day, or every week, or every season. What endures is culture. A positive, happy, friendly club culture is not the only way to have a successful sports team (see: Yankees, New York, and Patriots, New England), but it’s the way I’d choose.

Miscellaneous Notes

4. Hassani Dotson had a week to remember. We knew that the Loons rated their second round draft pick, after he made a handful of late substitute appearances in central midfield to close out games. But the young midfielder from Oregon State was surprising called into the spotlight this week, playing 180 minutes combined at right and left back, against Hertha Berlin and the Houston Dynamo, after a couple minor injuries and scheduled rest for the normal fullbacks.

But if Dotson’s inclusion was surprising, it was his play that really turned heads. Against a Bundesliga club that included the formidable Salomon Kalou, Dotson was composed. Then just a couple days later against an MLS side with wide attackers like Mauro Manotas and Memo Rodríguez, Dotson again held his own.

Heading into the week, I simply was excited to see what Dotson offered. I wasn’t expecting to see two full games from him, and even less was I expecting those two games to be mostly faultless.

It will be interesting to see what is next in the short term. The Loons play twice in this coming week, away to Atlanta and then at home against Philadelphia. Asking any player to play four games in two weeks is tough. But the Loons do not have a team at full health, and Romain Métanire is suspended against the Five Stripes. This is a time when Carter Manley and Chase Gasper must be called upon if healthy. But Dotson will almost certainly be tasked with carrying more of the load.

It will also be interesting to see what is next in the long term. In preseason and the draft, the word was that Dotson was viewed as a professional fullback. But as preseason wore on, and in the season itself until last Wednesday, he had been used in his college position of defensive midfield. Where will he end up?

To switch back to baseball for another moment, part of the Twins’ success has been that they have two to three players on their team who are extremely positionally flexible. That has allowed the team to constantly rotate the line-up, allowing virtually every player to get regular rest. In that sense, Dotson’s abilities and versatility remind me of what Gonzalez, Astudillo, and Adrianza offer the tenants of Target Field. Might we see him used similarly?

3. We also saw some good work from Dayne St. Clair in the midweek friendly. The Canadian goalkeeper hasn’t gotten as much action on loan as the position players, but Bobby Shuttleworth’s injury gave him an opportunity to get a full 90 in against a top quality opponent. He looked game in his Allianz Field debut, with two nice saves. Alas, he was also the primary culprit on the game’s lone goal, when he parried a shot from distance straight back out into the field, where the rebound was tapped home. Mentioning this is old news by now, as St. Clair took responsibility for the error after the game. He knows what’s up, and in fact had done exactly the right thing on a similar shot earlier in the match. It was a learning experience in a game that didn’t matter. We’ve seen worse.

As with Dotson, the Loons are going to need to figure out a way to get more minutes in productive situations to St. Clair. Maybe he will be able to win the starting role in Madison after Shuttleworth returns, or maybe it’s best that he continues to train with Mannone and plans for the Aston Villa friendly later in the summer. But while Dotson breaks into United’s eleven and Wyatt Omsberg and Carter Manley continue to be every-week starters for the Mingos, the top draft pick of the team’s 2019 haul is clearly deserving of more consideration.

2. The Loons have gotten very lucky this year. Sooner or later, they’ll need to start making their own chances. The winner on Saturday night was among the more fortuitous goals that you’ll ever see. Métanire hit a cross, and the ball deflected to a high, looping arc that found its way into the net via the back post.

If we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that this has happened quite a bit recently. Métanire’s first goal of the season came off a simple direct cross that Rodríguez ran across and froze Bill Hamid. The team has also gotten four penalties this year including the opener in the 3-2 win in Vancouver, and none of them have come from situations in which the Loons were truly threatening the opposing goal. I love the adage that ‘you make your own luck,’ but aside from the goal against DC, it’s a hard argument to make that Minnesota have been anything but extremely lucky.

Against the Dynamo, Minnesota made some nice attacking movements, but failed to score. Darwin Quintero manufactured a brilliant opportunity but hit the crossbar. Ethan Finlay had a great chance that he missed. Rasmus Schüller had a late moment, but was denied by a good save. This isn’t a team that is sitting around twiddling their thumbs. But the attack isn’t putting the ball in the net from open play, and it won’t be every week that the team gets extremely lucky. Hopefully this works itself out, but there’s still plenty of reason for concern.

1. Miscellaneous Notes. Happy Birthday Dylan Wolpers!… …With their sixth win of the year, the Loons have passed the Grant Wahl Line for the third straight year… …Michael Boxall has been great since returning to the line-up. The Loons have looked like an entirely different defensive team without Francisco Calvo… …Ally Ng’Anzi also got the full game with Forward Madison against Hertha Berlin. Imagine being eighteen years old, moving to a completely new country to pursue your dream, and getting to play a full match against a Bundesliga club. No matter what happens in your career, you’ll always have an experience like that… …Check out this great thread on how the transportation options are being used at Allianz Field. By most accounts that I’ve heard, things are going smoothly. I’m not surprised, of course, but plenty of people were certain that there needed to be a lot more parking. I hope we can all learn from this!

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