It’s a good thing too, because things were getting pretty testy in Loon Land.
Coming into the match, head coach Adrian Heath called the game the “most important” in the club’s history. Heath was probably just trying to inject his player’s with a much-needed sense of urgency on the heels of a dreadful performance at New England the previous weekend, but little did he know he was bumping up against a hornet’s nest. When said quote appeared in a Pioneer Press article that was later posted on MNUFC Reddit page, it drew over 50 comments, most of which were sharply critical of Heath for ignoring the rich soccer tradition that precedes Minnesota United’s time in the MLS.
Since the New England game, finger pointing, hand wringing, and general gloom and doom had been spreading throughout the land. Be it water cooler conversations, newspaper articles, twitter feeds, or social media threads, common phrases bandied about have included: “This team’s a joke,” “We deserve better,” “We should have known better,” and “This is on (insert name of front office person here).”
Well, the team may not yet have forged a true identity, but the fan base certainly has one.
That is not to pooh-pooh the gnashing of teeth; if there is one thing any professional sports franchise needs to become a truly respected organization, after all, it is a dedicated and passionate fan base. I recall walking from Surly Brewing to the stadium on the day of the home opener with some friends, surrounded by what seemed like hordes of chanting people decked out in MNUFC gear, many of whom had haircuts their grandparents wouldn’t approve of. A friend of mine commented that based on this cross section, Minnesota United shouldn’t have too much trouble finding its niche in the crowded Twin Cities sports market. These hordes were not generic sports fans seeking a winner; they were soccer fans.
Local soccer fans of all kinds had plenty to cheer about Saturday, and the more devoted fans might have been particularly delighted by the Loon’s go-ahead goal. What was important about this goal, besides the fact that it gave us a lead that lasted longer than two minutes, is that it represented a certain level of intentionality not just on the field, but through the entire organization.
The goal, after all, featured two of the club’s marquee signings in Christian Ramirez and Kevin Molino. Both of these singings raised a lot of questions within the MLS community when they first happened: Ramirez (can he make the jump?) and Molino (is he worth that much TAM/GAM?).
And here they were Saturday, featuring in the most important goal in what was billed to be – but was actually not – the most important game in the club’s history. Ramirez posted up about 35 yards out and held off a defender as he brought down a long ball then slotted it forward to Molino. Molino held it for a fraction of a second, then laid a perfectly weighted through ball back to Ramirez, who managed to slip behind the defense and stab the ball past the onrushing Nick Rimando. Ramirez put his hand to his ear as he ran to the corner to celebrate, and the fans obliged.
At that beautiful moment perhaps more than any other this season, it looked like the team, and the entire organization itself, really knew what it was doing.
So let’s celebrate and revel in another weeklong reprieve from the naysayers, because we have a nasty trip to Texas on the docket. Toyota Stadium, the home of Supporters Shield winners FC Dallas, is not exactly the ideal place to maintain momentum. This weekend could be rough, and there will surely be plenty more bumps, bruises, and hand wringing as this expansion year chugs along.
Apparently it’s going to chug along with some reinforcements, incidentally. Here is my favorite quote from the Reddit thread about the trade that sent Mohammed Saeid and Josh Gatt to Colorado: “I bet the word excited has never been used this much when talking about Sam Cronin and Marc Burch.” Of course for a team with our particular track record, words like Cronin and Burch sound like divine harp strings.
But even if Dallas manages to pick us apart in the manner they very well could, let’s take solace in the fact that even though we may not yet have our own stadium, any DP’s, or a goals against average below four, we do have something that several MLS markets lack: a passionate fan base with an institutional memory.
Middle-aged guys like me – who preach reason and patience – are somewhat useful in the ecosystem of a fan base. We can perhaps help add some perspective when things get particularly bumpy. But for my money, when it comes to my fan DP, I want that guy at the front of the supporters’ section, shirtless in the driving snow, screaming his head off.