It’s been a long time coming for Kevin Venegas. Six years to be exact.
The 27-year-old full back/midfielder was originally selected in the 2012 MLS Supplemental Draft by the now defunct Chivas USA but was released prior to the season. Venegas then went on to join Minnesota United’s NASL side where he made 109 appearances and won various accolades over the span of five seasons. He featured in the league’s Team of the Week 10 times and was named to the league’s Best XI back in 2015. Prior to Saturday’s game against New England, Venegas had made the game day roster just once this season and had not played a single minute in MLS.
“I’ve been with this club for six years, through the ups and downs,” Venegas told EPluribusLoonum. “Being able to stay with [the Loons] and show them loyalty and get it back as well... we have fans traveling to every game. Things like that make it feel like one big family.”
After patiently waiting for his turn, the Southern California native was thrust into the starting eleven on Saturday against the Revolution due to a combination of injuries, international call-ups, and an untimely red card.
“It’s pretty exciting”, Venegas said. “I’ve been working pretty hard to get to this point in my life and have been thinking about it for a really long time.”
The score line didn’t quite shape up as the Minnesota United might have hoped on Saturday, and the Loons fullback expressed regret that the team was unable to secure a positive result for the fans.
The first half of the game was nothing short of tumultuous for Minnesota United’s defense as they allowed the Revolution to beat keeper Bobby Shuttleworth on four separate occasions. Revolution forward Juan Agudelo was able to take advantage of a one-on-one against Venegas where he made a clever cut and slotted the ball near post for his second goal of the game. Venegas put it eloquently when he said that it seemed as if the Loons were “chasing shadows” on defense in the first half.
After halftime manager Adrian Heath tinkered with the tactics and had the team play a 5-3-2 with both fullbacks pushing forward up the field. Despite struggling defensively in the first half, the Loons were able to hold the Revolution to one goal in the second half, which came on a penalty kick conceded by Collen Warner.
When he was called upon to push forward and help provide service for the attack, Venegas showed promise and looked as if he could be a key piece for the team provided they stick with the formation and tactics used in the second half. The longtime Loon did a great job of pushing up into empty space, and in the 47th minute, one of his passes found Abu Danladi who was hauled down for the free kick that resulted in the team’s second goal.
The 27-year-old also had a couple of dangerous crosses into the box but they were just a bit too high for the Loons attackers to capitalize on. He also was able to find space and make himself available for crosses in the attacking third.
Saturday’s matinee was truly a baptism by fire for Venegas, as he was tasked with stepping into a makeshift backline against a New England squad that is loaded with solid attacking players. He reiterated that there were things that he could have done better and needs to work on, like his defensive shape, but on a day where there were not many positives, Viva’s MLS debut is something worth noting. He’s now the sixth Minnesota United player to appear in an MLS game after being brought over from their NASL squad.