The Loons have a lot going for them. Minnesota United has a wonderfully intimate stadium, Allianz Field, which felt like the right place to be on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in the Twin Cities.
The Loons are competitive, and until Sunday had not lost at Allianz.
After a season in which their defense was found lacking, they have generally become much tougher to score against, although Philadelphia solved them in its 3-2 victory over Minnesota on Sunday.
The Loons held their sixth annual Pride Game, honoring the LGBTQ+ community. And while most professional sports leagues these days make similar nods, Major League Soccer actually advertises its inclusiveness with the slogan: All Fans Welcome.
The nature of the sport means that rosters are international. Brent Kallman, from Woodbury High, plays alongside Cuba, New Zealand, Ghana, Slovakia, Ecuador, Italy, France, Trinidad & Tobago, Tanzania, Kenya, Colombia, Finland, Canada and even Wisconsin.
Sunday afternoon, the game itself belied the traditional American criticism of the sport. It had five goals and dozens of quality chances, as the ball sped end to end. There were no boring moments in this match.
United coach Adrian Heath declined to blame his goal scorers, saying, “I’m not going to stand here and criticize my players, because they don’t deserve it,” he said.
Then he contradicted himself. He blamed Kallman for failing to clear the ball before Philadelphia’s game-winning goal. “Brent should attack it with his feet,” Heath said. “That’s a mistake. That’s one of those things, you can dress it up as much as you want; if he goes at it with his feet, he clears it.”
Heath is correct. Kallman made a judgment call in the moment and tried to head the ball away, and got burned. It’s just strange that the coach watched his team botch a dozen — maybe two dozen? — prime scoring opportunities, declined to criticize them, and then found fault with a difficult play that went awry.
Give Kallman credit. Three players spoke after the loss — the two goal scorers and Kallman. Kallman went through the play in vivid detail, then said: “It’s obviously one I’d like to have back. If I keep my feet moving, then I can attack it and it’s not a problem.”
And give Kallman credit for cutting through the excuse-making when asked about the Loons’ inability to convert their offensive chances. Asked specifically about Philadelphia’s shot-blocking ability, Kallman said: “Yeah, but we’ve got to be better in front of the goal. When you have enough quality, you know where the defenders are and where they’re going to put their legs and you miss them on purpose. We pushed forward, those front guys were flying around, but we’ve just got to finish our chances.”
That quote is all the analysis anyone would need about Sunday’s game, and this Loons season. The Loons had 29 shots. Philadelphia blocked 15. Heath called that “last-ditch defense of the highest order.”
Maybe. I prefer Kallman’s analysis.
Darwin Quintero and Angelo Rodriguez didn’t finish. Quintero had Grade-A chances, and on his best chance he kicked the ball into a defender’s legs when an elevated shot would have cleanly scored.
Hassani Dotson scored on a difficult long shot, and Kevin Molino scored while closely marked. Goals were there for those who were aware and aggressive.
“We really felt like when we got the equalizer we were going to find that goal and take three points,” Kallman said. “And then we end up getting nothing out of it. Just disappointed. But we move on.”
It was a beautiful day for soccer. The crowd was loud, the sun was shining and the play was intense, and all that wound up mattering was that the Loons aren’t scoring enough goals.
Quintero, who was outstanding last year, hasn’t scored since April 19. Rodriguez, the power forward, hasn’t scored since April 28. This team needs them to score.
Kallman didn’t name names, but then he didn’t need to.