When last in action two weeks ago, Minnesota United FC earned a third consecutive shutout victory. The last-minute upset of defending North American Soccer League champion New York provided an emotional lift.
Down a man much of the second half, the Loons (3-1) never faltered. The victory — the first in nine tries against the Cosmos — kept Minnesota on pace for the spring season championship and an automatic postseason appearance.
“If you look at the film, after the red card we all come together close,” forward Danny Cruz said. “We said, with a few choice words, ‘We have to do this. This is where a team can find out what it’s made of, or we can break.’ We didn’t break. Those can be defining moments in a season.”
The season resumes at 1 p.m. Saturday at Ottawa. Motivation will not be an issue. The Loons will seek to maintain their spring season success on the field where the 2015 season ended just shy of the championship game.
Views differ on the timing of last week’s bye. Forward Christian Ramirez would have liked his team to stay in its winning groove. Coach Carl Craig welcomed a chance to rest regulars Jeb Brovsky, Cruz, Justin Davis and Ben Speas.
“When you feel like you’re getting hot, you want to keep going,” Cruz said. “But this is a professional group, and we won’t let the bye week slow us down.”
Success in Ottawa (1-3-1) starts with defense. Minnesota goalkeeper Sammy Ndjock hasn’t conceded a goal in 334 consecutive minutes. Young central defenders Brent Kallman of Woodbury and Damion Lowe have played well. Veteran Tiago Calvano also has made contributions. And outside defenders Justin Davis and Kevin Venegas have played to their Best XI form.
“Winning is great but then to get three shutouts is extra nice,” Davis said. “Our depth has showed on the backline. If we continue to start Brent and Damion, that means we’d probably sub Tiago. If Tiago is your sub, that’s pretty good.”
Among other top-end players yet to see significant action are midfielder Ibson, another Best XI selection, and Stefano Pinho, who earned league most valuable player honors with Fort Lauderdale last season.
“With all the pieces we have, I think there is still room for us to improve,” Davis said.
Offensively, Ramirez and Speas have contributed a combined five goals to pace the attack. Ramirez found the back of the net in the 90th minute to stun New York. Last season Minnesota struggled in the clutch, allowing 26 of 39 goals in the second half and 11 in the final 10 minutes of matches.
“I think we’ve found a new level,” Ramirez said.