A week after the playoff-elimination hammer finally fell in a 5-1 loss to the Philadelphia Union, the Loons were trailing the Rapids, one of the league’s worst teams with one of the league’s worst offenses, 1-0 at home. Just as the embarrassment stepped up a notch — goalkeeper Matt Lampson was chipped to seal the result — the spark came.
It came in the form of the Rapids’ Tommy Smith, who celebrated the goal inside United’s technical area.
Miguel Ibarra promptly shoved him and a fracas ensued. To be clear, fighting has no place in soccer, but the display was one of the fiercest Minnesota United fans have ever seen.
Harrison Heath, perhaps the most heavily criticized player on United’s roster, was a central figure in the fray and earned a red card for his efforts. He was incorrectly accused of spitting — deeper analysis shows a water bottle in the vicinity — but clarified his actions in a Twitter statement:
Fans have found it easy to take pot shots at Heath all season. He is, after all, the son of manager Adrian Heath, who would not be manager much longer if some Twitter users had their way. Harrison has also played sparingly and not particularly well, though he has not been a total failure on the field either.
He’s also had reason to lose a lot of faith in the club’s leadership. Heath was close with winger Sam Nicholson, who was traded to the Rapids, and fullback Tyrone Mears, who left the club to join West Bromwich Albion in England.
But his position as a central figure in the locker room was solidified in the chaos as he stood up for his teammates — and the fans.
Other players took offense to Colorado’s disrespect, like centerback Brent Kallman and rookie Mason Toye, but none like Heath did.
In a season that has been only marginally better than the Loons’ first, there have been few bright spots. The fight that United’s players displayed at the end of the match was something that’s been missing all year.
The players clearly respect each other. We saw that play out. But why can’t the team act that way every week? How can they take offense to a goal celebration, but not a 5-1 defeat?
If it’s an issue with team leadership, that issue needs to be addressed. But more than likely, we’ll have to be satisfied with the fire shown by the team in Saturday’s chaos.
So value Heath for what he is: a valuable part of the locker room who cares enough to back up his team, even as fans adamantly criticize his existence as a professional soccer player with United.