They’re not actually that bad.
It was every fan’s hope after two games. It was the message at practice during the week from the coaching staff. And it was the honest conclusion after Minnesota United dug out a dramatic 2-2 draw against the Colorado Rapids to earn the franchise’s first-ever point in Major League Soccer.
At the end of the first half, center back and stand-in captain Francisco Calvo shook his head in disappointment and stared at the scoreboard at halftime. He was disappointed in himself; he knew the last thing his reeling team needed was a defensive blunder but it was he who had provided just that.
It was in the 17th minute when Rasmus Schuller found himself in a precarious position on the ball in front of his own goal but knowing he was about to lose control. He still managed to seemingly navigate his way out of it by playing an aerial ball back to Calvo but the Costa Rican was far too casual and attempted to flick the ball over Colorado’s Dominique Badji, who instead won the ball and was then free on goal, easily slotting past stranded backup goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth.
The center of defense was at fault, again. It’s clear they were seen as the primary culprit by United coach Adrian Heath, who chose to bench captain and center back Vadim Demidov for this match, despite the Norwegian being the squad’s most experienced player.
Minnesota’s 13 goals allowed are already four more than any MLS team has conceded through three games of a season, according to ESPN’s Paul Carr.
“I think we’ve given away another terrible goal,” Heath said at halftime to sideline reporter Jamie Watson. “You can’t do that at this level. You can’t give people the chances we’ve been giving them.”
But like the rest of his team, Calvo, too, didn’t play that bad. In fact, the Loons as a whole played fairly well. In the first half, they created the two clearest chances. Both gilt-edged chances fell to Christian Ramirez and he, too, was left shaking his head, knowing he could have done better.
“In general, I think our performance has been a lot better,” Heath said at halftime. “The back four looks a little bit better, we’re more of a cohesive unit and we put Ibson on now. I want someone to get on the ball and make us play… he will start to get on the ball and make people play. We’re waiting for things to happen, instead of making them happen. Hopefully, he’ll give us a spark and we can go from there.”
The Brazilian sub couldn’t have been a more poignant move has he did just that, allowing Minnesota to look like a legitimate MLS threat offensively.
Ibson was at the heart of the move that created the penalty once Collen Warner was brought down in the box. Kevin Molino buried his second penalty kick in as many games. Shortly thereafter, Ibson again helped create a flowing move down the right flank which lead to Jerome Thiesson serving a cross directly to the head of Ramirez and past Rapids goalkeeper Tim Howard.
It was the Loons’ first lead in MLS.
It lasted about one minute.
Once again, terrible defending reared itself and thanks to an abhorrent clearance, United conceded the equalizer. This team looks like it knows what it’s doing going forward but is in shambles when out of possession.
Heath made two attaching subs when he added Bashkim Kadrii and Abu Danladi, the 2017 MLS SuperDraft No. 1 overall pick, and Minnesota appeared to be in the ascendency in the match.
But then remarkable happened. Out of nothing, United left back Justin Davis was shown a red card for a seemingly innocuous challenge.
It was the worst luck for the MLS team that needed it the least.
Heath was measured when asked for comment after the match, but his opinion was the consensus of most people.
“I get in enough trouble with referees as it is,” Heath said. “I just thought it was a guy going for the ball. Has he caught him? Yeah. Is he malicious, is he with intent? No.”
For the remaining 20 or so minutes of the second half, Minnesota held their ground and wrestled a point from a Colorado club that featured in the Western Conference finals last season.
“So pleased for the players. Obviously never easy when you’ve had the start we’ve had. But they’ve dug in deep tonight. The last 20 minutes have been really tough,” Heath said after the match. “But this hopefully will be a springboard for us. I think we’ve shown enough tonight that we can play. And for all the people out there that keep doubting the credentials of this group… this team is better than people think.”
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
Bobby Shuttleworth, 5 – Was stranded much like his predecessor for both goals and could have done little to deny them. His distribution left something to be desired.
Jerome Thiesson, 6 – Looked a bit more assured this time out. Sent in an inch-perfect cross for the go-ahead goal.
Francisco Calvo, 5 – Standing in as the captain, made an unthinkable mistake. Other than that, looked like the promising young defender that he is.
Brent Kallman, 8 – Made numerous defensive clearances in his first start of the season. Actually, I’ll just let Heath do the talking: “He was outstanding, fantastic. He’s been very, very patient. I told him with his preseason form he wasn’t far from starting. Really, really pleased for him. He’s worked so hard in training. Tonight he looked like he’s played 50 games in the MLS.”
Justin Davis, 6 – Desperately unlucky to be red-carded, however wasn’t a strong figure in the match.
Rasmus Schuller, 4 – Once again, the Finn failed to truly impose himself on the match and his coach confirmed as much by replacing him with Ibson to start the second half.
Collen Warner, 6 – Is clearly the defensive midfielder Heath trusts the most, but he hasn’t been spectacular with his passing and most absorb some of the responsibility for the leaky defense.
Kevin Molino, 6 – Surprisingly tame, though created some dangerous moments. Slotted another penalty with confidence.
Johan Venegas, 5 – Was hovered around every time he got the ball. Colorado saw him as a danger man and effectively erased him.
Miguel Ibarra, 5 – Looked like he could provide problems for opposing defenses but rarely received the opportunity.
Christian Ramirez, 7 – United’s leading goal scorer, he made the strong runs his team needed him to make and worked tirelessly off the ball throughout. Will score goals if given the chance.
Ibson, 8 – Apparently the midfield anecdote United needed going forward. Expect him to start next time out, particularly with Schuller out on international duty.
Bashkim Kadrii, N/R – Again, unfortunate to receive little of the ball after coming on when United were in a vulnerable position playing with 10 men.
Abu Danladi, N/R – Heath said he was impressed with the little he saw from Danladi.