ORLANDO – Midfielder Miguel Ibarra managed to break Minnesota United’s preseason scoreless streak, scoring a 66th minute goal to lift the Loons over the New England Revolution on Saturday in Orlando City Stadium.
The way Minnesota United coach Adrian Heath sees it, the Loons are in position to be better than they were last season. His team finished 11-20-3 (36 points) last season.
“It’s the old cliché, but I think we will be better,” he said. “I think we’ve improved, not only in the starting XI, but the level of the group, the squad as a whole is a lot stronger than we’ve ever had.
“I’d still like to, because you’re greedy, you’d still like to bring one or two more players in. If we could, great. If not, you know, I’m more than pleased with what we’ve got.”
It was the third preseason match in a row during which the Loons haven’t conceded goal, but this time, Minnesota’s attack provided a goal. It’s preseason, but the string of clean sheets is a far cry from the 71 goals conceded by the Loons during the 2018 regular season.
“That’s what we’ve tried to do,” Heath said. “We’ve worked on it. We’ve been working on a lot of defensive shape and transition. Working with… and it’s not just the back four. We keep saying this. It’s what the protection in front of us is. I think we’ve got a real honest group in front of them. A really experienced group. We’ve got a group of players now that know the game that will help the back four and the keeper.”
Minnesota got on to the scoreboard thanks, in part, to an error from New England goalkeeper Brad Knighton. He mishandled a long back pass and Ibarra pounced. Ibarra had an easy look at an open goal and gave the Loons the lead in the 66th minute.
Revs coach Brad Friedel called the goal “unfortunate.”
“The only problems that they caused us at all is when we lost the ball in the midfield,” Friedel said. “I think Brad had one save, a good save, in that first half off the counterattack, and I can’t think of too many others. Like I said, it was just an individual error on the goal and those can happen.”
Minnesota United nearly got a second goal in the 72nd minute. Defender Romain Metanire sent in a cross from the right side of the penalty area and it was knocked into the woodwork by New England’s Michael Mancienne.
Heath said the Loons could have had two or three goals.
“I was pleased,” Heath said. “Even if [the Revolution] had scored late on, I’m thinking the whole 90 minutes as a whole, I was pleased with our performance.”
The match was a scoreless draw through the first 45 minutes. Both teams created chances – new Loons goalkeeper Vito Mannone was forced into a couple of saves into the first 25 minutes. In fact, the Revs looked the more dangerous side early on.
The Revolution were looking to bounce back from a 3-1 loss to USL Championship side Louisville City on Thursday.
“We got more minutes for some players,” Friedel said. “I thought we created some good chances and didn’t score them. Got a little bit sloppy in the center of the field at the start of the second half. All in all, not bad. We had a lot of good signs and some rusty signs.”