Ahead of Saturday’s game, Minnesota United coach Adrian Heath remarked on the importance of the match, noting that United would have only 11 games, with seven on the road, left in the season after Saturday.
So it was interesting that he made a big change in his lineup ahead of such a monumental match, which the Loons ended up losing 2-1 in stoppage time to the Seattle Sounders. He benched last year’s leading scorer, Christian Ramirez, who had recently emerged from a slump to score three goals in three games, and debuted new designated player Angelo Rodriguez.
“I thought he’d give us what he was,” Heath said of Rodriguez’s performance. “He wanted to start, and he felt really good. Probably lasted a little bit longer than I thought he would. Gave us some strength. A great header. He feels like he probably should have scored. He led the line well back to him. He’ll give us a presence up there, which is, I think, sometimes what we’ve needed.”
Winger Miguel Ibarra, who is best friends with Ramirez, said the offense wasn’t “as sharp” as usual against Seattle.
“That’s why we lost. Darwin [Quintero] and I were able to do the play we always do: him on the right, and I go up and down on the right side. But that wasn’t enough so we have to keep working,” Ibarra said. “[Rodriguez is] a big, physical forward. You play it into his feet, and he’s going to hold it off. He hustles, he doesn’t let a loose ball go. I think for his first game, after not playing and coming in, he did well.”
Rodriguez played 69 minutes before forward Abu Danladi replaced him. In that time, he had a few decent scoring chances, including a header late in the first half that hit the post. The striker said he thought he had a good game even though Heath eventually subbed him off because the coach thought he looked tired.
“It was my first game. I wanted to score and for the team to win, but that’s soccer,” Rodriguez said through a translator. “Now we have to prepare for what’s ahead.”
But the future — which involves a five-game road trip starting Saturday night at Los Angeles — is a little murky for United, which is six points out of playoff contention. The transfer window closes Wednesday, and rumors have swirled for weeks about Ramirez’s potential departure now that Rodriguez, a similar physical striker, has arrived. And Ramirez’s not playing at all Saturday might be a sign.
Then again, Heath has said on several occasions that there is still potential to play Rodriguez and Ramirez together. And with two other young strikers on the roster — one who is still developing and another who is injury-plagued — trading away a 14-goal scorer in 2017 is a risky move, even for the estimated $600,000 of allocation money the 27-year-old could fetch.
Whatever the outcome, the drama has reached team captain Francisco Calvo, who lamented postgame some comparisons between Ramirez and Rodriguez he saw on Twitter.
“I don’t think that’s good, that, because that doesn’t help the team,” Calvo said. “Rodriguez, he’s going to get more confidence, and then it’s the coach’s selection. Christian has been doing good work, but I think if [Heath] picks Rodriguez, he has to play, you know?”