Maybe, just maybe, he has been shorthanded all along.
It was reminiscent of a broken record so many times in the past two years as Minnesota United head coach Adrian Heath waxed and waned about his lack of personnel resources. Poor performance after poor performance, Heath had a familiar excuse. “We’re lacking experienced players” or “We need to add some quality to the squad.”
United has been especially poor on the road during its opening two years in Major League Soccer, with last season proving to be especially woeful as the Loons finished with just the single win away from home.
But maybe Heath was on to something. United have opened the 2019 campaign in inspiring form going undefeated in their first two games, both of which came away from Minnesota, including Saturday’s 3-0 win against the San Jose Earthquakes.
“Obviously winning always breeds confidence, but I’m more concerned about the performance… if we play like that, it’s normally enough to win games,” Heath said. “We’ve had two road games, six goals and tonight we conceivably left a few out there because we probably should have been two or three up at half time. So it’s been a really good performance and I’m pleased with the group, pleased with the fact that it’s a clean sheet, and it’s a good start.”
One of the best analogies far how far United have come since their busy offseason would be comparing them to their most recent opponent. San Jose finished at the very bottom of the Western Conference with a meager 21 points, which was 10 points lower than second-to-last Colorado. Yet it was the Earthquakes who came out on top in both meetings with Minnesota last year. In a word, the two were clearly peers.
This was definitely not the case this time around. Not only did United look the more potent side as they created the clearer cut chances, but the Loons were ruthless in front of goal when given the chance. What’s more, United demonstrated a composure often seen from winning teams both before and after taking the lead. Additionally, and maybe most tellingly, San Jose often looked frantic and overwhelmed throughout much of the proceedings. Minnesota fans know this look well because that’s exactly how United used to look.
Defender Ike Opara came from an MLS side in Sporting Kansas City known for consistency. He’s one of the biggest additions amongst a group of new players that have revamped United.
“I think it’s been a calming effect on the group, we don’t have that baggage of the last couple of years, we come from winning organizations, winning teams and we have the mentality that each and every game we want to win home or away,” Opara said. “I think injecting that new life has been big for a lot of the guys around us, the belief that we can be competitive each and every game no matter who we are playing, and I think we’ve demonstrated that over the first couple of games.”
Coach rating out of 10
8 — Maybe he really was shorthanded all along. Heath fielded an unchanged side from last week’s 3-2 win and he was duly rewarded with win and an even better scoreline. Also, his substitution of Angelo Rodriguez was a good fit as Romario Ibarra was struggling mightily with holding up play. More importantly, it came early in the second half and was clearly a pro-active move as opposed to his previous trends of reactive substitutions.
Select Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best.)
CB Ike Opara, 8 — The stalwart defender showed one of his primary attributes that makes him among the league’s best center backs: an uncanny sense of where the ball will be played into his own penalty box. He made numerous clearances throughout the night, but it was always the most dangerous ones that seemed to find him (or vice versa). It’s hard to imagine anyone will touch Quintero when it comes to being United’s most influential player, but Opara is making a strong case for second place.
CAM Darwin Quintero, 8 — The Scientist is relentless and halfway through Saturday’s match he’d already had a hand in five goals (2 goals, 3 assists) this season. In fact, the only thing keeping him from still having had a role in every Minnesota goal this season was because late on San Jose scored on themselves.
GK Vito Mannone, 7 — The Italian has not yet been truly put to work, but in his bit-part appearances the former Arsenal goalkeeper looks as sturdy as can be. It’ll be fascinating to see how he — and United — fare when they start to play the upper echelons of MLS.
RM Miguel Ibarra, 9 — Surely the man of the match as it was he who won United ’s penalty and later finished expertly by cutting in and curling one with his weaker left foot. If Ibarra plays continues at this rate, Minnesota’s playoff chances will continue to rise.
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