Seven games into the season, Minnesota United is at a bit of a loss.
A four-game loss, to be more accurate.
Heading into Saturday night’s match against the Houston Dynamo at TCF Bank Stadium, the Loons have been outscored 10-1 in the first half of their seven matches. They’re also on track to allow 73 goals this year, which would top their league record of 70 last season.
To be fair, at this point a year ago United was on pace to concede 117 goals, and that clearly didn’t happen. But while the team is undoubtedly better than its first-year incarnation, team captain Francisco Calvo is still unclear as to why his squad can’t pull together a full 90-minute game.
“It’s not a secret that we’re not getting into the games at the right point,’’ the center back said. “If you ask me why, I don’t have the right answer right now. … I’m pretty sure if we do the right thing, we’re going to beat any team in this league. I’m sure about it. But we need to do it. We need to stop talking and do it.”
Talking is something coach Adrian Heath is tired of doing. The coach said he felt like a broken record player telling his players how it’s unacceptable to give themselves a mountain to climb by letting in easy early goals. A theme of the past several games has been that United plays well for the first 20 minutes or so, only to let in several goals within the span of minutes. And though the team picks up its performance in the second half, it’s too late to avoid a loss.
Heath pointed to individual errors as the cause of those goals and said the defensive shape of the team was actually pretty good. Goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth agreed.
“When it comes down to it, we’re in the right spots, and we just don’t make a play when we need to make a play,” Shuttleworth said. “We go over it every single week in training, and the manager tells us what each of our responsibilities are and where we’re supposed to be, and we’ve gone over it so much. So it’s not a thing where we don’t know what we’re supposed to be doing.”
Calvo owned up to his error that caused Seattle’s second goal in a 3-1 loss a week ago. Forward Christian Ramirez said having leaders such as Calvo or other veterans step up and speak to the team after that loss — saying “enough’s enough” — helped motivate the whole roster to turn around this skid.
“We have some mistakes that we continue to beat ourselves on. That continues to be a story for us, and it’s getting frustrating that we continue to beat ourselves,” Ramirez said. “We can accept a screamer from 20 yards out in a game, but the little goals and the little mistakes that we’re giving up easy goals, it isn’t what we’re trying to model ourselves after.”
After five of seven games on the road, the Loons now have five of six at home. Heath said after this stretch, he’ll be able to better assess his team. Even with a 2-5-0 record now, he’s found some moral victories in the losses, such as solid possession and circulation.
Calvo said while defensive troubles are always pinpointed on the back line, he and the rest of the defenders are creating an invaluable foundation by playing together despite losses and calls for personnel changes. Calvo has lofty goals for this stretch of games, expecting five home wins and at least a draw at LAFC in two weeks.
“With the ball, we are better than any team in this league,” said Calvo, adding cleaning up the defense is the glaring need. “I’m pretty sure after we get the three points on Saturday, next week ... the calm is going to come back.”