It’s gonna be a long season, Loons fans. That’s no reason not to be optimistic. But what did you expect? You’ve watched your team in the lower leagues for decades, and you’ve watched MLS, right?
Without question you’ve noticed the difference: speed. Speed is always the difference when moving from one level to the next, whether that is high school to college or college to pro. Or, in this case, lower division to MLS. The fact is, there are too many players on the pitch for the Loons that aren’t up to the speed of play, so far.
A friend of mine texted me after a Seattle Sounders pre-season game and said how good Harry Shipp looked. I agreed. Shipp played well. He asserted himself and looked dangerous. But I also said it was like watching a college all-star game. The team on the field so far this season has not been prepared to play at the speed necessary to thrive in this league. Forget thriving. At this point, we’re all wondering if it’s going to be enough to just survive.
What did you expect?
From an outside perspective, Minnesota United looked like the greatest underdog story coming into the season, and they still are. In my opinion, there is nothing better than being the underdog. The problem is, the underdog takes a lot of punches trying to make it to the top. Remember, Rocky [spoiler alert?] loses at the end of Rocky. Point is, you have to take a beating.
The other point is this: You’ve got to stick to the plan. Whatever beer-stained cocktail napkin of a plan it may or may not be, you’ve got to stick to it. You just have to ride it out. Departing from the plan is the first sign that it’s time to panic. Regardless of the poor outcomes so far, Minnesota came into the season with a plan, and they are sticking to it. That’s a good thing.
Speaking after the match against New England, coach Adrian Heath said, “That’s the puzzling thing. We spend most of the week on defensive shape and being in the right spots at the right time. Then obviously today in the first half, [New England] could have conceivably had a lot more.”
Now don’t take any of this the wrong way. I love an underdog story. I love the story of the journey of MNUFC on their way to MLS. I am a fan of Minnesota United. Every match, when they take the field, I believe they are going to win, and hope with all my heart that they believe they are going to win as well.
Believe me, I’m not just blowing smoke here. I’m also a Cleveland Browns fan. Did you know last year the Browns went 1-15? Have you seen the clip of the owner and his wife celebrating that one victory like they’d just won the Super Bowl? No one in Cleveland was or is calling for Hue Jacksons’ head, no matter how bad the season was going. We bought in to the plan. Yes, the same plan that involved them playing six different quarterbacks in the first seven games of the season. Yes, the same plan that watched the team lose 14 straight games before getting their first and only win of the season. Yes, the same plan that almost saw the 2016 Browns go down as the worst team in NFL history. And we’re still sticking to the plan.
Not to be a jerk, but just to give you a visual of what the last place team in MLS looked like over the past five years, here’s a quick breakdown:
One thing that is always consistent is that the worst teams don’t win on the road. Two wins in 2012 make Toronto FC look like they knew what they were doing. I mention this because the draw at Colorado was the first major turning point in this season. Watch that game again. You’ll see a team that looked pretty good. Good enough to compete. The defense looked organized, for the most part. But in this league, mistakes will be punished. And the two most glaring mistakes MNUFC made that day both turned into goals for Colorado.
The first goal was an absolute atrocity. A pair of poor efforts to get the ball out of the back handed the Rapids’ Dominique Badji a chance in the box that he calmly finished. And the second goal was equally disappointing, with three Colorado attackers unmarked at the back post, any of whom could have put the cross away unchallenged.
Give the Loons credit for scoring two goals on the road in Colorado, but the fact is, they could have had more. And if even if they didn’t score any more goals, they certainly could have played much better.
Minnesota was their own worst enemy in that game. Forget the goals they gave up, take a look at how many unforced errors they had when they were in possession. Bad passes that went out of bounds and passes that were easily picked off by defenders were a regular occurrence throughout the entire game. And the worst part is, they even happened when players were unmarked. I believe this was a team trying to adjust to the speed of play that just stumbled over their own feet a bit too often. But you could see progress, that’s the important part.
After the 5-2 loss to New England, defender Brent Kallman said, “Whatever we decide, we have to do it together. Eleven players defend, 11 players attack. It’s not on the defenders necessarily, it’s not on the midfielders, it’s a group effort.”
Don’t wince when you hear the locker room interviews. They’re not just trying to say the right things, they are legitimately working towards putting together something that works on the field, or at least that doesn’t suck. For long periods of time against Colorado, they did defend as a team. International duty and a suspension may have prevented the Loons’ from playing their ideal lineup against New England, but that’s what playing in MLS is all about. Giving up five goals cannot happen.
No one wants to go down as the team that gave up more goals than any other team in the history of the league. It certainly isn’t comforting to realize that the current record holder, Chivas USA, is now defunct, leaving the league in 2014 after a decade in MLS. The Loons are going to lose a lot this year, let’s just hope they don’t lose the most.
Now, I predict 11 results. That’s about two losses for every win or draw. And there will definitely be more draws than wins. That would put them just ahead of the 2013 DC United team, which ended the season with three wins and seven draws. I see MNUFC ending the season either 3-23-8 or 4-23-7.
I’m an optimist, what can I say?