I started writing this piece in my head while sitting in the stands of TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday night. I had forsaken the well-insulated and heated press box for the ability to actually be able to cheer out loud for Minnesota United, but there had been more shivering than applauding by the full-time whistle.
Initially, I didn’t really know what to make of the game. So many parts of it were frustrating: Atlanta United’s time-wasting and pervasive injury epidemic, the cross-cross-miss-repeat cycle of Minnesota’s attack, and of course the relentless cold.
I also found two particular postgame comments to be interesting. Adrian Heath was “delighted” with his players’ performance. Francisco Calvo took the post-match interviews to rant about a perceived lack of respect in MLS for the Loons. And then some stuff happened on Twitter.
Let’s talk about Inchy first. He said that his players “carried the game plan out to a tee,” which was the source of his delightment. I can’t say that he’s wrong. Minnesota did exactly what they were supposed to. They went behind early after an own goal (more on that later), but went on attack. When Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez was sent off for his second yellow, Atlanta bunkered. So the Loons maintained possession and launched attack after attack, which was really resulted in cross after cross after cross. It didn’t work. The completion rate tanked and there weren’t very many shots on goal.
Was the game plan the right one? Yes it was, and the players did execute it well. Atlanta was just well suited to defend and waste time away. I think that the Minnesota’s inability to finish reflects a bigger issue: an inability to finish.
Going into this season, I saw striker as one of the team’s deepest positions. Christian Ramirez was coming off of time with the USMNT, Abu Danladi really should have won Rookie of the Year last season, and Mason Toye still seems to be a good bet for the future. Striker has actually been a liability so far though, and injuries haven’t been helping.
A good striker is a good finisher—they specialize in putting the ball in the back of the net. A forward like Ramirez is reliant on his finishing ability, but that hasn’t been there. Ramirez, and Danladi, who got the start on Saturday, are only part of the problem. There are certainly others who could have scored a goal.
Now, for what Calvo had to say after the game.
Calvo had a similar reaction to Heath in his post-match interview, except for that snippet at the end. Now, for a Twitter thing that happened:
It's very likely that I know nothing, but with all due respect Atlanta was 1st to almost every ball & 1/2 the Loons players looked spiritless & unmotivated. 3 shots on goal against 10 men is not good enough & the game plan of 1000 crosses didn't work.— Wes Burdine (@MnNiceFC) April 1, 2018
Wes Burdine saw MNUFC’s performance as “spiritless & unmotivated,” and Calvo and Miguel Ibarra were not impressed with his take.
Calvo and Ibarra are perfectly right here, the players were clearly motivated.
There’s one other thing that Calvo did that I’d like to point out: he apologized on Twitter for his own goal. The goal was far from his fault—an unexpected rebound off the crossbar meant he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time—but he claimed responsibility anyway.
That’s how a captain should act. A captain fights for the respect that he and his team receive. A captain defends his team’s reputation and hold himself accountable to impeccable performances.
It’s great to see some fire coming from this team. It means that there are expectations, and those were disappointingly absent last season. As Minnesota heads into the bye week, that energy needs to be maintained. The injection of Darwin Quintero should help results as the season progresses, but the team also needs to keep the energy going.