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Kibbles and Bits from Minnesota United’s win over the Chicago Fire

Matt Lampson talks Chicago and crosswords, CEO Chris Wright speaks about some of his plans for United, plus my three takes from the home opener.

March 17, 2018 - Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States - Fans sing Wonderwall in celebration after Minnesota United defeated Chicago Fire 2-1 at TCF Bank Stadium.
March 17, 2018 - Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States - Fans sing Wonderwall in celebration after the Minnesota United defeated Chicago Fire 2-1 at TCF Bank Stadium (Photo by Seth Steffenhagen/Steffenhagen Photography
Photo by Seth Steffenhagen/Steffenhagen Photography

There aren’t too many soccer players who enjoy crosswords, and Minnesota United goalkeeper Matt Lampson may be the only who works on them immediately after a game.

While some players enjoy standing on chairs to mock teammates giving interviews (Harrison Heath) or show off their babies to their fellow players (Jerome Thiesson), Lampson prefers to sit at his locker and complete a crossword. He’s pretty quick at them too, and when media members hawk around a player like Ethan Finlay, he takes advantage of the time to complete one.

Matthew Lampson prepares to take a free kick during the Minnesota United home opener against the Chicago Fire
Tim C McLaughlin

“They take me quite a few days,” he expains. “The New York Times, Monday through Thursday I can finish in maybe an hour or so, maybe even less. Sunday is just bigger, which is kind of fun because it’s just bigger, but it’s not necessarily harder.”

But the hardest? “Saturday is hard as s**t. And the times that I finish those, it’s a good day for me.”

And what does it take to force a professional athlete to give up on a puzzle? “If I ever have to look something up, I feel defeated and I say, ‘this is bulls**t, I’m never looking at this crossword again.’”

Lampson also enjoyed beating his former team. Chicago traded him to Minnesota on the day of the SuperDraft, something Lampson wasn’t exactly pleased about. He restrained himself from revealing his full emotions, not wanting to get in trouble, but did admit it was satisfying. “I definitely had this day circled on draft day basically when I found out,” he said. “It feels good, I’m not going to lie. But at the same time, I’m just doing everything I can to help Minnesota United to win games now. It doesn’t matter who it’s against, it doesn’t matter who the team is, as long as we get three points I’m happy. As long as I do my job for the rest of the team, I’m happy. And that’s what he had today. That’s all there is to it.”

He also finds Minnesota’s supporters to be an upgrade from his experience in Chicago, even from his time with Columbus Crew SC. “I don’t think I’ve ever played for a team that has this type of support from the city and a fanbase,” he praised. “It happened every now and then in Columbus, very rarely happened in Chicago, and it’s something I’m really grateful for, because that’s not something you take for granted. These guys love us, they support us to the end and it feels really good to win today.”

MNUFC’s CEO, Chris Wright, spoke to media members at halftime of the match. He asserted his excitement for Allianz Field, where the Loons will begin play next year. “We’ve got to elevate our fan experience,” he said. “We only hold 20,000 inside of Allianz Field, so we’re not going to have any problem selling out every single game next year.”

He also explained how the club is handling transfer strategy for the time being and the future. “We’ve got to be competitive, and be exciting,” he said. “I’m much more in the camp of younger players who can grow with the franchise...I think that we’ve identified the types of players that we want.”

Fans celebrate a 2-1 victory during the Minnesota United home opener against the Chicago Fire
Tim C McLaughlin

Rumors that Minnesota was going to partnering with USL side Saint Louis FC have gone slightly cold, something that Wright acknowledged. “I don’t honestly know whether we’ll be able to get everything in place for the 2019 season,” he conceded. “I would doubt that we would not have a USL team by 2020. Right now, we just don’t know where that team will play. There are lot of opportunities: it could be Blaine, it could be one of the other cities in the upper-Midwest region—we’re working our way through that...Right now, 2020 is more likely than 2019.”

My three takes from Minnesota’s home opener:

-Miguel Ibarra is actually a great fit for the number 10 position. He received great marks from Adrian Heath, Ethan Finlay, and Sam Nicholson for his play there today, and with Kevin Molino being out for the season, it would appear that the spot is his for the taking. To compound on that, Finlay and Nicholson also looked fantastic today, a promising sign of what the United attack can do.

-Minnesota’s fullbacks, Jerome Thiesson and Tyrone Mears, both had fantastic performances. Chicago’s flanks were extremely exposed and they had plenty of room to advance. Mears was able to get all the way to the Fire’s box without much difficulty, and Jerry was able to partake in some dandy link-up play with Nicholson. Mears may turn out to be one of the most important players on this team, though he may be out for a bit (see other notes below).

-The fans were extremely strong today. The tifo was something legendary, Wonderwall, sounded glorious, and chants were loud and easily distinguishable from the press box. Heath mentioned in his press conference that if a half-empty stadium is this loud, a packed Allianz Field will really be something. He’s absolutely right.

Other info from today’s game:

-Ibson’s goal was his first in MLS. And Heath remarked that he shouldn’t have been that far up the pitch anyway.

-Christian Ramirez’s production has been low, and that was expected. His time with the USMNT took away from his fitness, so he’s not quite at 100%. Heath expects him to hit peak form around the next match at the New York Red Bulls.

-Tyrone Mears was subbed off near the end of the game with a pulled calf. Heath said this injury could keep him out for a significant amount of time, depending on the severity. Mears will undergo tests, which will ultimately determine how long he’ll miss.