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Is Minnesota United turning a page?

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New-look defense gives Dallas some trouble

MLS: Minnesota United FC at FC Dallas Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s what I appreciate most about Minnesota United’s 2-0 defeat at Dallas Saturday: it played out like a normal soccer game.

I’m not celebrating or anything – the team I support lost and failed to score a goal – but given the context, Saturday’s match on the road at FC Dallas was important.

Here’s why: this exciting thing happened in the first half – the other team did not score for several minutes. The clock kept ticking – past that three-minute mark (see Atlanta), the four-minute mark (see New England), then even past the 18-minute mark (our previous record against Colorado) – and the game remained scoreless. You could see the Dallas players sort of scratching their heads. They tried probing passes down the flanks, they built through the middle, they tried hitting some crosses, all to no avail.

Dallas figured out how to score – they tallied once in each half – but they were a bit puzzled for a while there. The head scratching that took place made me feel like maybe, just maybe, Minnesota United had turned a page. Suddenly the beginning of the season and those lopsided losses seemed like they happened a long time ago.

Remember that rainy opening night in Portland? The clip rolls in my imagination like a black and white home movie. Aw, isn’t that cute! Kevin Molino doesn’t even have blonde highlights yet. And look, there’s Vadim Demidov, remember him? Oops, there is the ball in the back of our net. Oh dear! There it goes again. Oh my!

Atlanta United FC v Minnesota United FC Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Ooh, look, here is another old clip I found. The field is covered in snow and the fans are bundled in hats and jackets. Oops, that goal happened kind of fast. Oh goodness! Oh mine eyes! Look away!

In these old clips, there is a pattern. The opposing team sends a probing pass somewhere slightly left of center, deploys a speedy and serviceable attacker along after it, and they hit pay dirt. Rinse and repeat. The Minnesota United team in these old clips seems a bit like an exhibition team. They’re plucky, and somewhat entertaining, and I am fond of them, but there is something missing.

The Minnesota team that lined up against Dallas Saturday looked like a newer, more professional version of the old one.

An early long ball came floating down the left side, and Center back Brent Kallman was there to meet it and head it away with authority. Later, a speedy Michael Barrios made a dangerous foray along the edge of the box. Jerome Thiesson was there to push him outside, Collen Warner showed up to help slow him down, then Thiesen made an authoritative tackle to snuff out the play. These defensive plays were fairly ordinary, really, but I found myself pumping my fist to each one, and watched each tick of the clock with growing satisfaction as we charted new can’t-score-on-us territory.

Minnesota United was doing what professional soccer teams are supposed to do: make it hard for the other team to score. This was so exciting for me that I never thought to complain about the fact that we didn’t score, and that as the half progressed, Dallas dominated more and more of the ball.

Of course this new-look defense is about far more than just attitude; it represents a complete facelift. Center back Francisco Calvo was the only player in the back five who lined up for the team’s inaugural game at Portland, and newcomer Sam Cronin – who helped bolster the stingiest defense in the league last year – was patrolling the number six slot right in front of them. The coaching staff has obviously spent time working on defensive shape, and the front office hasn’t exactly been twiddling their thumbs either.

This new-look D doesn’t mean we’re destined for playoff glory, or guarantee that we will slow down Houston next week, and we probably still are not ready to compete with the Chicago Fire for a spot in the World Cup, but it does offer the possibility that teams will have grapple a bit, and maybe even get creative if they want to put the ball into the back of our net.

Maybe someday, we will shut out an opposing team for an entire half. #dreambig.