Minnesota United wrapped up the first month of the season by losing 1-0 at home to Atlanta. With some mixed results to ponder, a brand new signing to digest, and a bye week ahead, it seems like a good time to take stock of the club.
Atlanta loss reax
The Loons left valuable points on the table Saturday. In spite of going down a goal in the first five minutes, they played most of the game with a staggering possession advantage after Atlanta went down a man. Considering Minnesota is facing a couple of tough road tests in Portland then Seattle, those are dropped points they could lament down the road. The team, however, was not in the mood to agonize over lost opportunities.
Head coach Adrian Heath used the postgame presser to lavish praise, not point fingers. “I’m absolutely delighted with my players,” he said. “As pleased as I’ve been pleased with them probably since I’ve been here. I thought we carried the game plan out to a tee.”
In the locker room, the obviously frustrated players also closed ranks. “We are so much better than last year,” said captain Francisco Calvo. “You can see the commitment, the effort. . . We want to fight for our teammates.”
Ethan Finlay echoed Calvo’s remarks. “Everyone’s buying in,” he said, referring to the team’s effort against Atlanta. “We’re on a good path right now.”
While one could argue that a team with high expectations should be more bitter after being shut out at home, it’s clear that the players are conscious about the importance of staying on the same page. Heath’s comments, meanwhile, could reflect a coach who feels he has enough breathing room to overlook a frustrating result in the name of focusing on the big picture.
“I think we deserve more respect in this league. I’m tired of that,” Calvo told a group of reporters in the locker room. The respect rant was unprompted – “I know you’re not asking this, but I want to say this,” was how he introduced his remarks – and it created a bit of a ripple in the Twittersphere. Of course the best way to earn respect is straightforward, right? Win. Well, that isn’t necessarily the whole picture when it comes to earning league-wide respect.
Flash back to week one: The popular MLS podcast Extra Time Radio was breaking down results from the opening week. One of the hosts quipped that he’d like his men’s team to play the Loons in order to improve his team’s confidence. This was in the wake of Minnesota’s 3-2 loss on the road at San Jose – a game in which Minnesota was pressing for the tying goal as the final whistle blew. Atlanta, who had suffered a four-goal thrashing at the hands of the Houston Dynamo, was spared similar derision.
Minnesota United – who went 10-6-18 its opening season – slots in somewhere near average when it comes to expansion team performances. However, the memorably disastrous opening month coupled with a very low key offseason has people tempted to slip back into the narrative of the Loons as league patsies.
What makes Atlanta so appealing, in the eyes of many around the league, is that it is an adopter of the new Designated Player model which favors young South American talent over aging European stars – think Ezequiel Barco, not David Beckham. There is a lot of admiration for this approach, and it is widely considered the best way for the MLS to take the next step in terms of international respectability. The respect Atlanta has earned is only partially a result winning games; the team’s business model puts a sheen on everything it does.
Is there a shift in the narrative about MN?
First impressions matter. Some people still associate Minnesota United with blowout losses, and overpriced Scandinavians. I’ve seen Vadim Demidov called the worst signing in MLS history – although I think that’s probably an exaggeration.
While the lack of big signings over the winter reinforced a negative impression of Minnesota, the front office did earn props for its performance in the January SuperDraft. The Loons not only picked up talented rookies like Mason Toye and Wyatt Omsberg, they also leveraged a trade with Chicago that allowed them to pick up starting keeper Matt Lampson for practically nothing.
Meanwhile, as of last week, Minnesota is no longer the lone team without a Designated Player on its roster. While Darwin Quintero is not the classic number 10 that fans crave, he is an attacking piece with genuine talent. Finlay noted that Quintero is the kind of player who could have made a difference in the Atlanta game. “It’s a guy who can help you break down a team,” said Finlay. “Someone with some ‘one-v-one’ ability. He’s gonna help all of us up front; he’s gonna draw a lot of attention.”
The signing has also drawn attention around the league. No one is calling Quintero a home run, but most agree that a DP is long overdue in Minnesota. MLS analyst Matt Doyle, speaking about the Quintero rumor back when it first surfaced in March, said that the move could be a positive one provided the front office don’t end up paying more than $2 million in transfer fees to acquire the Colombian. An article by Paul Tenorio published on the MLS site over the weekend reported that Club America let Quintero go for around $200,000. A write up in Fansided called the deal “an absolute steal.” The good news for Loons fans is that while Quintero will gobble up a reported $1.5 million salary, the small transfer fee means there remains room in the coffers for more potential big moves this spring or summer.
Of course the most important thing is how Quintero produces once he hits the field, and It will take time to figure out whether or not his offensive tool kit can help the Loons win games. Meanwhile, it’s possible that a respectable if not dazzling opening month, coupled with some well-regarded moves made by the front office, could help to gradually shift the narrative about who Minnesota United is. The seeds of respect are being planted; now it’s up to the team to see that they bear fruit.