The MLS Is Back Tournament begins July 8. Meanwhile, I will keep trying to fill the void with my look back at the Loons inaugural MLS journey. I already broke down the team’s MLS opener, now on to the infamous home opener.
Game 2: vs. Atlanta
· 3’ – ATL – Josef Martinez Watch
· 13’ – ATL – Miguel Almiron Watch
· 27’ – ATL – Josef Martinez Watch
· 39’ – MIN – Kevin Molino Watch
· 52’ – ATL – Miguel Almiron Watch
· 75’ – ATL – Josef Martinez Watch
· 90+4’ – ATL – Jacob Peterson Watch
My thoughts at the time
The day got off to a cracking start. The pregame atmosphere at Surly was festive, and I followed a small marching band to the stadium with a parade of fans who had been waiting years for this very moment. As the snow fell, my friends and I ruminated about the potential home field advantage that the weather could afford a team that was starting two Swedes, a Swiss, a Norwegian, and a Finn. At the stadium there was a parade of who’s who of Minnesota soccer history, and an epic tifo was revealed to a an appreciative crowd. We were ready!
Then the game started. LOL!
In addition to the disappointment, there is something kind of awkward about being blown out at home. It’s kind of hard to know exactly what to do. You aren’t on the edge of your seat, and you certainly aren’t celebrating. It was far too cold to just sit there and remain quiet, and I’m not much of a leave-the-stadium kind of guy. That left us to pick our spots – the occasional completed pass, a good clean tackle – and celebrate those small moments, and vent our frustration upon the referees whenever they left us any sort of opening. Although it was still too early in the process to go full cynical, most of us were not above throwing up our hands in disgust here and there, and questioning line up decisions.
Overall though, I’d say the crowd took it pretty well. We were together, and suffering at the expense of bad weather compounded by an under-performing sports team; it was an occasion for which most of us felt well suited. My winter boots, many layers of clothes, and the company of good friends helped to keep my morale above water.
And there was that one point in the game. One of those “it could have been” moments. We went down 3 – 0 – and quickly. But then there was the Molino PK, and a few minutes later there was a scrum around Atlanta’s box. Jermaine Taylor — you won’t find this on the highlight reel – found a bouncing ball near the top of the 18 and hammered it towards goal. The ball looked to be soaring beyond the keeper’s reach. In my mind’s eye I saw a narrative shift developing. It was going to be 3 – 2, and we would have momentum on our side, not to mention all those hearty Scandinavians in our lineup. A comeback in the snow! A day to remember, a glorious . . .
The shot hit the cross bar. There was a collective groan, and Atlanta resumed being superior to us in every single way.
Looking back now
My contention that a few Scandinavians, a snow storm, and an enthusiastic crowd could help to tilt the advantage in our favor against Atlanta United in hindsight seems pretty naive. The transfer fee Atlanta paid for Miguel Almiron was more than Minnesota would spend on transfer fees – combined – during its first three years in the league. Atlanta had three designated players, while Minnesota had yet to sign any. Atlanta spent more than two years building towards their MLS opener, while Minnesota cobbled together their roster in a period of less than six months.
When you have more time and money, it’s a lot easier to make good decisions, and this study in contrast bears that out. While Minnesota whiffed on several key signings, Atlanta seemed like they could do no wrong. Their mix of high paid foreign stars and savvy MLS veterans made up a core of players that would go on to win multiple trophies.
I was a bit despondent that day as I made my way out of the stadium. The image of Vadim Demidov and Francisco Calvo parting like the Red Sea, while Martinez and Almiron frolicked through the gap and took turns slamming the orange ball into the back of the net was stuck on repeat in my head. I could only wonder how much longer the downward spiral might continue. Take heart, I would tell my 2017 self if I could speak to him from the future, because this was the very bottom. The gap between Minnesota and Atlanta will never again be as gaping as it was on that snowy afternoon, and the Minnesota United franchise would never again look as pathetic as it did that day.
Performances this bad demand that everyone take a hard look in the mirror. I don’t think anyone in the Loons front office slept well that night, and necessary changes loomed on the horizon. Surely, lineups were already being shuffled in Adrian Heath’s head as the final whistle blew, and important phone calls were being made to look for players that might help. The Loons set a then record for goals allowed that season, and never mounted anything close to a playoff run, but the 6-1 home loss to Atlanta is when they hit rock bottom and began a slow crawl towards something resembling light.