Before FC Cincinnati came to town, Minnesota United was middling team hanging onto a playoff spot while trying to grow sod during the middle of an MLS season.
Today, Minnesota United is a record-setting team on the rise whose Allianz Field turf would be the envy of Augusta National.
Minneapolis meteorologists warning citizens to avoid strenuous physical activity needn’t have worried about the Loons on Saturday. FC Cincinnati was like an ice water IV.
United began an important stretch of games Saturday at Allianz Field. The Loons began the day 6-7-3 and even the ESPN announcers were speculating about the job security of coach Adrian Heath.
Temperatures rose to near triple digits, and after a slow start Cincinnati dominated play for an early portion of the first half.
Then FC Cincinnati remembered that it is the worst team in MLS. The Loons surged to a 7-1 victory, setting records for goals in a half (four in the first) and for a game, and for the largest margin of victory in franchise history.
FC Cincinnati isn’t a football club. It’s a care package. It’s a therapy session. The Loons put eight shots on goal. Seven went in. Many NBA players struggle to hit that percentage on free throws.
Most goals scored at high levels of soccer are the result of intricate teamwork, brilliant individual skill or lucky bounces. The Loons needed to choose only occasionally from those three menus on Saturday against the Big Dread Machine.
Their first goal came on a free kick that Cincinnati didn’t bother to defend. Jan Gregus’ kick went past a halfhearted leg lift by Cincinnati’s Justin Hoyte as goalie Spencer Richey realized too late that no one on his team was going to bother to intervene. Ike Opara, unchecked on the goal line, tucked away the deflection.
A few minutes later, rookie Hassani Dotson took a pass on the right side and dribbled … and dribbled … and dribbled … and finally blasted in a beautiful shot from 25 yards.
Cincinnati’s defenders will react any day now.
Early in the game, the Loons’ Darwin Quintero went on an impressive run down the middle of the pitch, occupying two defenders, but declined to pass to an open Ethan Finlay. That play could have cost the Loons, if they had faced a legitimate opponent.
Instead, Quintero was given another opportunity, during which he held the ball near the Cincinnati goal, pulled out his phone, checked his messages, sent a few thank-you notes to the MLS schedule-makers, then dished to Finlay for one of the easiest goals of his life — and perhaps only the fourth-easiest goal scored by the Loons in the half.
Because shortly thereafter, Ozzie Alonso took the ball to the right of the Cincinnati goal, realized no one wearing blue and orange was interested in his whereabouts, received two parking tickets and tucked in his goal.
It’s one thing to have the worst defense in your league. It’s much more embarrassing to have the worst defense in professional sports. If the MLS had relegation, Cincinnati would next week be playing kickball in a park near you.
If there was anything to be gleaned from the Loons’ dominance, it was that Dotson is dangerous and versatile. He has scored two goals this year. The first came on a long one-touch volley vs. Philadelphia. His rocket Saturday would have prompted a baseball announcer to mention exit velocity.
“I think my first goal was more difficult, with the volley,” he said. “I liked this one more. I had my girlfriend and my brother in the stands, so this was more memorable.”
Teammate Mason Toye said he has seen Dotson carry a bag of soccer balls to the practice field and rip away at them, like a golfer practicing his drives.
Alone on a practice field: That’s the right way to prepare for Cincinnati’s defense.