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Written By Nic Hallett (ZoneCoverage.com)
It took five games but Minnesota United mercilessly have their first Major League Soccer victory after handing out a whip-lashing of their own Saturday night with a 4-2 defeat of Real Salt Lake.
“I thought this was the most important game in this club’s history, I really do,” Minnesota United head coach Adrian Heath said post match. “And I told the players that before the game. Our supporters need to see something. A little bit of drive and desire and enthusiasm and I thought we had all of that in abundance.”
Here are the major takeaways from the match.
Defensive Issues Still Loom Large
Even during United’s first-ever top flight victory, the Loons set an MLS goals conceded record.
Minnesota set the infamous record, which previously was 19 goals allowed in the first seven games of a season, by matching that feat in four games and four minutes, according to ESPN’s Paul Carr. United later set the record by allowing their 20th goal against in the 88th minute. In all likelihood, that record may continue to grow.
This is thanks in large part to Minnesota being incapable of keeping a team scoreless in the first 17 minutes of any match this season. It continued Saturday as the Loons conceded in the fourth minute after Francisco Calvo haphazardly sent his clearing header directly into an oncoming Real Salt Lake attacker, who had the simplest of tasks scoring from less than eight yards out.
Calvo, who captained the team on the night, has been here before and is among the reasons the Minnesota’s front office felt the need to make a major trade just a few days prior to this match. As a full international for Costa Rica, he is expected to provide calm at the back, not be the source of its downfall.
His alternative Vadim Demidov hasn’t fared much better this season and it is concerning that all of Minnesota’s center-back alternatives for tonight’s starters have either never started more than a handful of MLS games or are 30 or older.
Heath said people will highlight the back four when referencing United’s poor defensive record thus far but said defending is the job of all 11 players. “The six in front of them are really important as well,” he said. “I thought the midfield worked hard tonight and I thought we gave the back four more protection than we have in the past.”
Still, the coach’s answer when asked at what point he firmly felt confident Minnesota would see out the result speaks volumes to his true confidence in his team’s defense.
“When he [the referee] blew the final whistle,” Heath said as the entire press corps laughed. “No, I’m serious because when they scored the second goal, you know what it’s like. I thought, ‘Please, God, not another one.’”
This Team Can Score, However
Despite beginning the season in tepid form, United had consistently looked dangerous when going forward and seemed to further demonstrate that by managing to score in all its matches prior to Saturday night.
Saturday night at TCF Bank Stadium proved this was not an aberration. The Loons sprung numerous incisive attacks on Real and could have scored even more than they did.
What’s more, United did so in myriad ways.
At times the attack looked most ominous via the fullbacks sending in crosses, with Justin Davis and Jerome Thiesson both accounting for some sublime services. Other times, the counter attack looked the most deadly as Johan Venegas and Kevin Molino both showed that they’re on par with almost anyone in the MLS when it comes to their pace and dribbling capabilities. And finally, and most simply, playing through their striker in Christian Ramirez, whose 4 goals now lead the team and rank him tied for second league-wide.
“I think we’ve shown moments of brilliants with the guys up top,” Ramirez said. “It’s been overshadowed by losses. We’ve kept believing and kept working on it. Just continuing to know to know that our moment was going to come and today it was on display.”
During the week, Heath said he needed to see big performances from some of his big-name players.
“We feel as though we’ve got good forward players and I felt as though three or four of the frontmen gave us a proper performance. A performance I know they’re capable of,” Heath said. “And if we can do that on a consistent level, and not give too much away, then I think we’ll always be in games.”