Mar 2, 2019; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Whitecaps fans parade before the start of the game against the Minnesota United at BC Place. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports
Minnesota United FC opened its 2019 campaign with a victory over Vancouver Whitecaps. And while it was the Caps that opened scoring, the Loons regrouped and answered with three goals of their own. That proved enough of a cushion to see off a late Vancouver rally and hold onto a one-goal victory.
Darwin Quintero notched a pair of assists and converted from the penalty spot, building upon an impressive 27-game debut for Minnesota in 2018 in which he tallied 11 goals and 15 assists. Romario Ibarra and Francisco Calvo also scored their first goals the young season.
It was far from a perfect performance from Minnesota, but three points on the road are always welcome. In that vein, here are three takeaways from Minnesota’s season opener.
Loons concede twice from set pieces
In the 6th minute, Yordy Reyna’s free kick picked out Erik Godoy, with the latter given a clean look at the Loons’ goal on the edge of the six-yard box. Later, in the 81st, Hwang In-Beom restarted play with a pass to Victor Giro. The latter quickly picked out Doneil Henry in space, again on the edge of the six yard box. Both lapses in marking resulted in Caps goals.
“We didn’t look like we were going to do that in preseason,” Loons coach Adrian Heath said, referencing Godoy’s goal. “We looked really, really good on set pieces, but we’ll have a look at the good things, have a look at the stuff that was not so good and try and correct it and get ourselves prepared for next week.”
On both goals conceded, some Loons held the offside line and others dropped toward goal, and in both instances, there was no one wearing gray to challenge for balls sent into the middle of the penalty area. Hopefully for MNUFC, the issue was a starting XI that featured five players making their competitive debuts for the team, and all that’s needed is a better understanding among teammates that will come with time.
5th MLS road victory
On March 10, 2018, Ethan Finlay scored a brace as an announced crowd of 24,038 at Orlando City Stadium watched the Loons defeat the Lions 2-1. Over its next 15 away games, MNUFC only recorded a pair of draws to go along with 13 losses. It was an erosion of road from Minnesota’s debut MLS season that saw the team earn 11 points outside the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
This weekend, MNUFC recorded just its fifth away victory since joining MLS in 2017.
“Not getting beat on the road was going to be big for us today because I know that the same questions would have been asked if we hadn’t have done,” Heath said. “After the first goal, I know there would have been one or two people back home going, ‘Oh here we go again.’ But no, it’s not here we go again. This is not the same group as we’ve had before. We’re stronger, mentally and physically.”
Heath and sporting director Manny Lagos have each spoken about the benefits of adding battle-hardened veterans like Ike Opara and Osvaldo Alonso, who have played for their share of winning MLS teams. It’s no coincidence Heath praised his team’s mentality in his postgame remarks.
Calvo finds early success out wide
A lot went wrong with Minnesota United’s defense during its first two seasons. Turnovers and a lack of protection from midfielders put the Loons’ back line under regular duress, aside from any errors made by defenders. Amid all this, MNUFC captain Francisco Calvo was learning the ins-and-outs of Heath’s 4-2-3-1.
Pro Soccer USA spoke to MNUFC assistant coach Mark Watson about that adjustment last June.
“It was a bit of a challenge, at least initially, with Fran, as he’d played on the left side of that three [-man back line], or even as the wingback [in a 3-5-2],” Watson said. “I think when you start in a back three and you’re the wide one, there is a bit of a challenge to playing in a back four and knowing there are only two centerbacks in the middle of the field as opposed to three. It does take a bit of time and Fran’s doing well with that.”
At the end of 2018, Calvo was auditioned at left back. The move took advantage of the Costa Rican international’s strong left foot, his athleticism and his range of passing. In the Loons’ final game last season, Calvo scored a brace in a losing effort against the Crew.
The recent addition of Ike Opara to a team that already rostered the likes of Michael Boxall and Brent Kallman gave the Loons ample depth to keep Calvo out wide. And at present, his only left-footed competition at fullback comes in the form of rookie Chase Gasper. Picking up where he left off in Columbus, Calvo started at leftback against Vancouver and again found himself on the score sheet.
Naturally a No. 8, Heath deployed Rasmus Schüller as an inverted left midfielder Saturday. The Finn’s preference to pull inside onto his right foot opened up plenty of space down the left flank, with which Calvo made good use to get forward.
In the 32nd minute, Calvo nearly grabbed Minnesota’s first goal of the season when his shot from the corner of the 18-yard box clipped the Caps’ crossbar. In the 66th minute, he gave the Loons their first lead of 2019, surging forward to get on the end of a Darwin Quintero cross. Diving to head the ball past Maxime Crépeau, Calvo put his team up 2-1.
Calvo’s move to MLS has been accompanied at times by dips in form and a share of frustration, but no one who covers the Loons doubts the defender’s drive and passion. Part of that frustration has been a lack of production in spite of his athletic and technical abilities. But given a new role that flatters his talents, Calvo looks poised to take a step forward this season.