Much of the interest to be found in sports and, indeed, many of mankind’s leisure interests is not knowing the outcome beforehand. In the age of the boundless knowledge of the internet and the wealth of conversation on social media, an event with an unpredictable outcome is exactly what the casual fan wants.
Unfortunately, any Minnesota United road game this season has come with the spoilers written before the game’s opening whistle. Any bits of optimism created by the club’s two consecutive home wins were utterly destroyed as the Philadelphia Union put four goals past them by halftime, adding yet another embarrassment to the season-long struggles away from Minnesota with a final score of 5-1.
Even Adrian Heath’s lineup selection provided moments of optimism, as what looked like his current best eleven took the field. Maximiano and Fernando Bob returned from suspension, Rasmus Schüller started alongside them in a 4-3-3, with the attack and defense now reasonably settled.
The game’s opening moments too said, “Tonight’s going to be different! Really!” Ángelo Rodríguez created a half-chance within the game’s first minute, looking to continue his good form after a two-goal outing at home against New York City FC.
The Loons were on the front foot, and showed flashes of their attacking prowess.
Unfortunately, the script was followed to a T. Philadelphia was on the board in the eighth minute as Cory Burke was given entirely too much time to shoot from distance. His low shot should have been easily saved by Bobby Shuttleworth, but it glanced off his fingers and the disaster had begun.
It was the fifth time in United’s 16 away games that they had allowed an opening goal within the game’s first 15 minutes, and the old familiar habit of back-to-back goals was at it again. Philadelphia’s second was in the 17th minute, and its third in the 23rd.
The mistakes were rampant, the judgments poor and the Union could have had even more.
Alejandro Bedoya’s goal, the second, was the simplest creation. A cross from the right side, a near-post run, and a glanced finish ahead of his defender. Fafa Picoult ran between Brent Kallman and Michael Boxall, and the pass between them was unchallenged as the newest member of the U.S. Men’s National Team squad punished the defensive lethargy.
Picoult was the one to twist the knife with five minutes to go before halftime as he pushed the lead to four. Completely unguarded as he received a pass on the run down the left side, he had all the time in the world to set up and curl a shot around the closing defender and Shuttleworth. The dance moves were deserved, and United’s worst half of the season was in the books.
The lack of drive, energy and defensive integrity was both shocking and completely unsurprising. Heath’s change of Jérôme Thiesson for Alexi Gómez to move to a 3-5-2 after the half did not appear designed to heal the rifts in the defense, but what could? There were no expected better options to come off the bench.
Darwin Quintero’s goal in the 54th minute served as nothing but consolation. The Scientist’s 11th of the season was a usually nice finish and a great bit of interplay with Rodríguez, but the game was done and dusted by that point. Ilsinho restored the four-goal deficit with the night’s finest goal in the 79th minute, and there was nothing else to say.
Rarely is there a game of soccer played at the highest level where the referee chooses to give no stoppage time in either half, but the result of this game was so conclusive that not a second of stoppage was played in this game. The referee showed pity on United’s effort more than anything else. This many goals merit some amount of time.
The result confirms the Loons’ long-expected elimination from playoff contention, rendering the season’s final three games a chance to play spoiler and an opportunity for Heath to see whatever he wants to see from the squad’s players as the club moves to a decisive offseason before the move to Allianz Field.
It will also give the club’s ownership the opportunity to consider whether or not Heath is the man to lead this club into its future, as the cries for his dismissal will only grow louder with the club’s MLS-leading 13th away loss of the season. Results like tonight, by deficit and goals allowed the worst of the season, pose questions for every member of the organization.