VANCOUVER – Minnesota United Sporting Director Manny Lagos promised there will be adversity with a team remade over the winter by adding five new starters. He didn’t predict it’d happen so early and so late in Saturday’s 3-2 season-opening victory at Vancouver.
A season ago, United allowed far too many goals and won just once on the road, then searched South America and Europe all winter to improve their defense along its “spine” from goalkeeper on out.
And yet five minutes into its third MLS season, the Loons trailed by a goal as if nothing had changed.
But it did Saturday, when United scored the next three goals — with forward Darwin Quintero contributing in his own way on each — and held on after the Whitecaps scored in the 81st minute to get within a goal.
The victory was United’s first away from home in nearly a year — it won at Orlando in last season’s second game. They did so against a Vancouver team that has added 15 new players and said goodbye to 21 others itself.
“We definitely showed a lot of maturity,” Quintero said through an interpreter. “The entire mentality is completely different this year.”
Completely different perhaps, even if it looked like more of the same after Vancouver defender Erik Godoy burst open and scored off a free kick with a sweep of his foot.
New United goalkeeper Vito Mannone called it a “shock” for a defense that was so stingy in preseason to make a mistake by allowing too much space on the line that let a “simple ball” to be played behind it.
“Obviously, it was too free,” he said. “That’s not supposed to happen.”
Loons fans have seen such things and United coach Adrian Heath sounded like a man who could hear them 1,500 miles away.
“I said before the game, not getting beat on the road was going to be big for us today,” Heath said, “because I know the same questions would have been asked. I’m sure there were one or two people back saying, ‘Here we go again.’ No, it’s not here we go again.’ This is a different group than we’ve had before. This one is stronger mentally and physically. They don’t have any baggage from the last couple years.”
Mannone credited his new team for its “great reaction” and “character.” Defender Francisco Calvo cited “belief” in their comeback after he scored his team’s go-ahead goal.
Heath said his team controlled most of the game after that early goal. He praised the composure of new midfielders Ozzie Alonso and Jan Gregus and the pressure new right back Romain Metanire created by attacking Vancouver’s right side.
And he acknowledged Quintero’s brilliance again.
“That’s why you pay them the most money,” Heath said. “Scoring and making goals is the hardest thing in football and he was involved in all of them today.”
Quintero scored himself on a tying penalty kick in the 37th minute after he passed to Calvo, who drew a foul in the penalty area. His perfectly placed pass lobbed over the defense created Calvo’s running header in the 66th minute, and his tackle set up Romario Ibarra’s deflected goal four minutes later.
Quintero celebrated his penalty kick with one of his wiggly dances. Teammates Gregus and Rasmus Schuller joined in, not very successfully. Quintero called the dance one for his daughter, who turned 5 on Friday.
“Part of the sacrifices one makes to play the game,” he said. “Happy to get that goal and honor it to her.”