Outdoor soccer in Minnesota in mid-March, what could possibly go wrong?
Big-league soccer officially returned to the Twin Cities on Sunday, and Minnesota United FC supporters were treated to 19 degrees with blowing snow.
The Loons played their inaugural home match in football weather, not futbol, fitting since the match was held in a college football venue, TCF Bank Stadium.
“People are hearty here in Minnesota,” Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber said.
They had better be patient too. The expansion Loons are not very good. A 6-1 loss to Atlanta United gives them two losses by a combined score of 11-2.
Veteran United coach Adrian Heath looked as if he drank a tall glass of lemon juice over the thought of 11 goals allowed in two games.
“I’ve not had that before in my career,” he said. “There’s no easy way to get around this.”
United’s defense has been abysmal, to put it kindly. Their back line looked frozen stiff along with an announced crowd of 35,043.
It was bad weather, worse soccer.
“The only positive that we can take is the people who braved the elements to come out,” Heath said. “It’s just a pity that we couldn’t give them any type of performance that warranted the support that we got. I apologize for that.”
The poor performance didn’t ruin the party completely. Fans kept cheering even as Atlanta took target practice at United goalkeeper John Alvbage.
MLS postponed Saturday’s match between New England Revolution and Orlando City SC because of frigid temperatures in the Northeast. Not here. The league basically celebrated snowshoe soccer.
“I think the character of this community needed a game like this,” Garber said. “It will be remembered forever as their first game and this stadium with 35,000 people in the snow.”
Let’s call it the Orange Ball game. An orange ball was required for only the second time in league history, according to Garber. White ball in snow is a fashion faux pas.
The Vikings had heating coils installed under the turf when they rented TCF Bank Stadium. Mother Nature was undeterred Sunday. Stadium workers armed with leaf blowers cleared sections of the pitch where snow accumulated. They stood in the middle of the pitch blowing away snow right before kickoff.
Fans seemed to relish the conditions. Many wore snow goggles. One man in the supporter’s section even went shirtless, wearing a soccer scarf as his only accessory, a nice touch.
The Loons paid fitting tribute to longtime supporter Bruce McGuire by inviting him to conduct the prematch coin toss. McGuire has championed soccer’s legitimacy in the Twin Cities for decades, so his participation in the pomp and circumstance was well-deserved.
“It will mean way more when we’re in our own stadium,” McGuire said. “That will bring tears to my eyes.”
United’s play might cause fans to cover their eyes, if dramatic improvement doesn’t happen soon. Heath sounded dejected by the performance of his defense, with good reason. Atlanta made scoring look entirely too easy.
Heath refused to dump on Alvbage, his goalkeeper, when assessing the problems.
“It would be hard to point the finger at the goalkeeper in this situation,” he said.
We’re seeing why soccer experts had such low expectations for United. Team President Nick Rogers said the organization must put a “credible product” this season.
Many fans might be willing to accept growing pains from an expansion team, but McGuire believes results still matter.
“I’m not a believer in [using] expansion as a crutch,” he said. “But this is what I expected. I didn’t think our team was going to be better right now.”
The score was the only downer for fans on a historic day. Not even snow and cold seemed to bother them.
“This is what I dreamed of,” McGuire said.
“Because this is ridiculous,” he said. “I know our team is not going to be great, so let’s have a show. Let’s have something that people will never forget.”
Soccer in the snow with an orange ball? Yeah, that qualifies.