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Match 1, PTFC vs MNUFC: The team that had no spine

A fond look back at the Loons’ inauspicious MLS opener

MLS: Minnesota United FC at Portland Timbers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

The following is the first in a series designed to get us through the live soccer famine created by the Coronavirus pandemic. My ambitious goal is to pick apart Minnesota’s turbulent first year in the MLS, game by game. For each contest, I’ll do my best to recollect my emotions at the time, and then provide some analysis about the game with the benefit of hindsight.

Game 1: at Portland

5-1 Portland.

  • 14’ – POR – Lawrence Olum Watch
  • 47’ – POR – Diego Valeri Watch
  • 79’ – MIN – Christian Ramirez Watch
  • 82’ – POR – Diego Valeri Watch
  • 91’ – POR – Fanendo Adi Watch
  • 93’ – POR – Fanendo Adi Watch

My thoughts at the time

It had been a heady preseason. Like many Loons fans, I had spent the months leading up the opener obsessively scouring the Internet in anticipation of each new signing. The smooth-passing Rasmus Schuller was rumored, then signed. The clever and war-hardened Vadim Demidov and flashy Francisco Calvo came into being, and a dream center back pairing was born. The expansion draft netted the gritty Collen Warner and the tidy Mo Saeid, not to mention the rights to the prodigal son Miguel Ibarra. Preseason is a time of hope and anticipation, and I could do nothing but pour my imagination into the possibilities that these and all the other signings represented.

It was pissing rain when the match started, and the Timbers Army unearthed a tifo featuring a cartoon hockey goalie which read, “Stick to what yer good at, dontcha know.”

Gulp!

I was dreadfully nervous as the brand new Loons took the field, and cautiously optimistic when they didn’t implode immediately. I mean, we went a goal down in the 14th minute, but, you know, we were playing at Portland. Even two goals down didn’t squash my spirit, and when Christian Ramirez came on as a second half sub, posted up at the top of the box, received a pass from the crafty Johan Venegas, executed a half turn and pounded the ball into the corner, I was up off the couch yelling at the TV. We were in this thing! This Scandinavian, Costa Rican grab bag of a roster was going to pan out after all.

No, it wasn’t. Not by a long shot.

Some people took heart from the fact that we gave up two of our five goals in injury time, and while that was a tempting rationalization, the fact remains that goals are given equal weight, whether they are scored in the 6th, 39th, or 94th minute. A goal is a goal, and we had shipped five. I was still beyond excited about the prospect of watching an MLS season unfold with my very own team to follow, but I sure didn’t rest easy that night.

MLS: Minnesota United FC at Portland Timbers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Looking back now

Good gracious, that opening day roster was a who’s who of misfit toys. How did I think that was going to work? I’m not saying they were all bad players, but what stands out to me most is glaring the deficiencies appear in hindsight. Kevin Molino was and is a quality MLS player, and although neither Bashkim Kadril or Johan Venegas lasted long in this league, their shortcomings weren’t going to kill us; the deficiencies in the spine, however, would prove fatal.

The team had overpaid for a foreign goal keeper — a classic MLS blunder — the center back pairing was walking nightmare, and protecting the back line was the less than formidable duo of Warner and Saeid. If any one of these five had been inserted as a weak link into an otherwise robust spine, this team might have survived. Warner, for example, had a habit of wandering out of position and taking ill-advised fouls, but if he had Ike Opara and Michael Boxall behind him, and Ozzie Alonso standing beside him, we might not have noticed so much. But good God, the collective shortcomings of those five players was enough to sink several very large ships. Demidov has already been famously cast as a scapegoat, but the most overwhelming thing to me in hindsight is the fact that every player up that spine had their very own copious collection of tragic flaws that played off one another’s tragic flaws and then multiplied like the Coronavirus at the Atalanta-Valencia game in Milan this February.

It took a good two years to dig out from the epic disaster spawned by the Frankenstein horror show that was Minnesota United’s MLS opening day spine.

Next week: game 2, Minnesota vs. Atlanta.