Two consecutive Minnesota United home victories gave soccer fans good reason to exalt their undefeated and first-place team.
But success sounds different behind closed doors.
“It’s been funny going into the locker room because some of us are still slightly disappointed,” goalkeeper Matt VanOekel said. “We think we should have done better. We’re not happy just winning.”
Confident but guarding against complacency, Minnesota (4-0) sits atop the North American Soccer League spring season standings. Now it’s off to play at 6:30 p.m. Monday at defending league champion New York.
United players believe they can make it there since they’ve made it everywhere else so far this season. They spoiled both San Antonio’s home opener and the first home match in Ottawa team history. They stayed perfect at home against FC Edmonton and Indy Eleven.
Taking advantage of a soft schedule, Minnesota defeated teams with a combined record of three victories, 10 losses and three draws through four weeks, including both of the NASL’s expansion teams (Indy Eleven and Ottawa).
“I don’t think we’ve walked off the field feeling like we stole one,” United coach Manny Lagos said. “We’ve deserved our wins. But it would also be naive to be at all complacent. This game bites you if you don’t continue to try to get better.”
New York can relate. Shut out in two consecutive losses, the Cosmos (2-2) are seeking to end their skid at Minnesota’s expense.
In the 1970s, the Cosmos, led by stars Franz Beckenbauer, Giorgio Chinaglia and Pele, enjoyed worldwide fame and catapulted soccer into the American consciousness. The Cosmos folded in 1985 and were rebooted for the 2013 fall season. New York went on to win its sixth NASL Soccer Bowl.
“We’re facing the champions,” United midfielder Miguel Ibarra said. “They’re hungry right now and they’re going to come out with everything they’ve got and try to give us our first loss.”
Countering New York’s desperation will require Minnesota to play to its strength — defense. Offseason acquisition Tiago Calvano has helped solidify the back line.
“We should commend the work we’ve done defensively,” Lagos said.
The offense also clicked last week against Indy Eleven. Simone Bracalello and Daniel Mendes made their debuts in the starting lineup and helped produce two of the team’s three first-half goals.
Still, Lagos said he wants to see “more quality decision-making and passing” near the opposition’s goal.
“We should be proud of where we’re at, but we also have a lot of areas where we can get better,” Lagos said. “There are things we can look at while we’re doing well.”