1. In a mid-week question and answer leading up to what we are billing as the biggest week of the season for Minnesota United, Ethan Finlay offered a bit of narrative construction. “If you take away the first four games and the start we had,” he suggested, “we’d be like the third best team in the league. So, if you could do that you’d say ‘wow, I think we’re doing great. And we’re right back where we were when we ended last season and picking up kinda where we left off.’ But we did, we started slow and put ourselves a little bit behind the eight ball. But I love the response of the group.” This is a narrative of resilience and will and what Finlay went on to name a next-man-up mentality. A group effort to turn things around. And there is a point there, as this team has gotten good results since those first four. (Although, to be fair, if everyone got to drop their worst four results the standings would be about the same; in one sense, Minnesota just got theirs early and in a row.) If results are all that matter, though, the more convincing narrative might still be games in hand, as Minnesota has one or two games in hand against every team above them except Colorado, as well as one or two against the teams clustered along the playoff line. A reminder that a long and difficult and still quite pandemic-strange season is far from over. If style and entertainment of play are what matter then a better narrative may be of injuries and late signings, the long absences of Franco Fragapane and Robin Lod and the intermittent health of Emanuel Reynoso, though Adrian Heath’s passive framing of this after the game on Saturday - “At the end of the day, if players aren’t fit and aren’t available, then they’re not fit and available” - is a bit troubling. As is this team’s inability to find anything more creative during those long absensences, a lack that elicited a second bit of passive resignation from Heath when he said, in reference to subbing Fragapane off against Seattle, that “the unfortunate part was we didn’t really have an awful lot of options to do, to change him with. We had to sort of move things, people around a little bit, which is not ideal. But, as I’ve just said, that’s where we are at this moment in time in terms of forward players.” Yet all of those seems to miss the point of this being the biggest week of the season. For that point is that three times this week Minnesota plays a 6 point game. Regardless of the narratives we might want to hold, each night presents a chance for them to move up or stay in the middling pack. On Saturday they stayed in the middling pack, on the field and in the standings. During a week when many of their fans became team owners and the Gopher’s wrapped up their non-conference schedule without a loss and without conceding a goal, it is beginning to feel like the Loons are simply another Minnesota men’s professional sports team.
2. Heath has often noted his admiration for Sporting Kansas City as a team and as an organization. They are, he has said, an aspirational club for MNUFC. Which makes a lot of sense. After an off year in 2019 Peter Vermes has returned Kansas City to being a team and a club that continues to simply win. The wins are not always pretty but Sporting teams always work hard and are hard-nosed, with a bit of chippyness in them. It is an identity and style that seems to run through the entire club. Seattle offers a different kind of aspirational organization, something we might call, in moments of neutrality, a quiet professionalism. Eschewing the flash of an Atlanta United or LAFC, Brian Schmetzer and the rest of the organization have continued to focus on creating the conditions for moments of success. This has been on full display this years as the Sounders have struggled through an awful bout of injuries. All season Schmetzer has had to move things and players around, implementing a new formation and often starting an out of necessity XI. Yet even in this necessity when the kids were played and players were out of position they remained within a system that was focused on their success; they were never simply thrown onto the pitch in desperation. That is, it seems, a different meaning of depth.
3. We have learned, of course, that goals change games. Tyler Miller’s opening double save, then, certainly changed the game.
Double save, @Tymiller01 pic.twitter.com/9BlRztUReK— Major League Soccer (@MLS) September 11, 2021
Even with only four official saves he was quite deserving of the Bell Bank Man of the Match recognition. The award is more promotional moment of fan appreciation and celebration than tactical analysis, as it is a moment for the community of fans and supporters to recognize one of their own. And Miller, even without the mustache, has made himself one of this club’s own. He has also been one of the best defensive goalkeepers in the league this season. Which would make the opening moments of Heath’s post-game interview with Kyndra de St. Aubin and Callum Williams so baffling if not so in character. Find the clip if you can because the incredulity and dismissiveness is hard to capture in a written transcript, but the moment went something like this:
Heath: “Cal. Did I just hear that right? Tyler Miller was man of the match?”
Callum Williams: “Yes he was.”
Williams: “That’s according to the fans who voted, yes.”
Heath: “I would have thought it was someone who was busy today.”
Which again, isn’t wrong, but entirely beside the point.