Adrian Heath’s summary of Minnesota United’s 2-1 loss to Union Omaha in the U.S. Open Cup was one word: “Embarrassing.” And while he’s right, the best word I can come up with was less about embarrassment, and more about where the team goes from here: Alarming.
Here are four genuine causes for alarm, from Wednesday night.
1. The obvious one
Minnesota United FC lost, at home, to a third-division team, with a lineup that wouldn’t have looked out of place in an MLS game.
Nine of the starting eleven for the Loons have started an MLS game this season. Seven of those nine have started at least six games. Five of them started on Sunday against Dallas. Two of them are Designated Players, both of whom played the entire 90 minutes.
Union Omaha deserves major respect and credit for the win, but even so, even given the ongoing development of lower-division soccer in the United States, the Loons should be able to win, at home, with that lineup.
It’s impossible not to be worried about the remainder of the season, given Wednesday’s performance.
2. Opportunity given, opportunity not taken
I thought this quote from Adrian Heath was telling: “We always talk about players coming in asking ‘when am I going to get my chance, I need an opportunity’. Some of them have had a chance now and not done a lot with it, I’m afraid.”
He didn’t name the players, and was never going to name the players, but you don’t have to search very hard to find players who would expect to get opportunities, but who haven’t been playing much lately – the aforementioned Designated Players, Luis Amarilla and Adrien Hunou.
In response to a question that was specifically about Hunou and Amarilla, he said, “I think they looked the same as everybody else. It wasn’t good enough. I expect more out of the group, full stop. I expect more out of them. I expect more out of the guys who’ve not played an awful lot.”
Hunou, at least, scored a goal. But it must be said that, playing in the attacking-midfield role, he didn’t create a heck of a lot. Amarilla, for his part, was mostly anonymous, his only highlight an attempted bicycle kick that was never anywhere near being on target.
One of Minnesota United’s strengths this year should be that their roster depth is good, that they have competition for playing time, that players are fighting to get on the field. The team needs the players that aren’t being picked to work even harder. But Wednesday night was an alarming sign that this isn’t happening.
3. Maybe nobody’s listening?
The alarming thing is not, necessarily, that the Loons failed to take Union Omaha seriously. The worrying thing to me is the possibility that the players aren’t listening to the coaching staff.
“I couldn’t have said any more to the guys from Monday, Tuesday, and tonight’s game of what to expect and what was to come,” said Heath.
His pregame quotes back that up; every time he’s spoken about this game publicly, he’s stressed the need to take the game seriously and give Union Omaha the proper amount of respect.
That didn’t happen.
More to the point, this answer was in response to a question about where the team goes from here, with the players who’ve wanted a chance and didn’t perform, which speaks to the coach’s frustration with those players – that they just didn’t listen.
It’s alarming because the coaching staff can only do so much instructing, but if that instruction isn’t being heard, then the problem could well be much, much harder to fix.
4. Dissension in the ranks?
The following quote from Michael Boxall, the captain on the night, set off a lot of alarm bells. The context is that MNUFC started the game with just five players on the bench, one of them a goalkeeper – and the only one with significant first-team minutes this season, Joseph Rosales, was called into action after a half-hour after Kervin Arriaga was injured.
“We have a sixteen-man squad tonight, with some healthy players sitting in the stands that could’ve helped us tonight,” said Boxall. “30 or 40 minutes isn’t going to kill anyone for the weekend.”
On the one hand, this is an extremely mild thing to criticize, the frustration of a player who had just watched his team chase the game with a bench made up of three Homegrown players and Niko Hansen. It’s what you’d expect to hear from a player that’s desperate to win every game, and so in a sense it’s a good thing.
On the other hand, I can’t quite tell you how buttoned-up both the coaching staff and the team usually are in interviews, especially a guy like Boxall who is regularly called on. Brent Kallman often gives deep and thoughtful answers, and Boxall usually lets a swear word slip, and that’s about it for truly notable press conference moments.
As mild as the complaint might have been, it was surprising to hear Boxall say anything at all.
Wednesday night was a bad result, both for the team as a whole and for a few particular players.
The one thing, though, that has been true of Minnesota United over the past few years is this: They have had bad results before, the kind of results that I expected to turn into a death spiral, that felt both alarming and utterly unfixable.
And every time, those results haven’t turned into a streak.
They just ended a four-game winless streak in MLS by going into Dallas and being the first team in months to beat FCD in Frisco. They lost in Austin earlier this year, and came home and hammered Colorado six days later. Last year they blew a lead at home, against a 10-man Rapids team, then turned around and won their next two games.
The resiliency has always been there. The ability to forget what’s just happened has always been there. Even when alarming things happen, the ship always has sailed on.
That’s the silver lining that we’ve seen; for the most part, the Loons always end up with their heads above water.
Will they stay above the surface once again? Or will this be the current that pulls them under? Only time will tell.