Dropping two points after Carolina scored a late goal was annoying for Minnesota United. Losing last week to Fort Lauderdale, the last-place team in the league, was a reality check for the team. But after United lost 3-2 against Tampa Bay, the team's frustration was evident.
For most of the game, Minnesota was in control. After the Rowdies took a 1-0 lead just seconds before halftime, their coach, Ricky Hill, told the TV broadcast, "That's the first bit of quality play we've had in the first 45 minutes." United keeper Daryl Sattler came off his line to clear a cross, but his punch went straight out to Tampa midfielder Shane Hill, who swung the ball back in towards the goal. Two sliding Minnesota defenders couldn't get a foot on it, and it was 1-0 Rowdies.
"I came out to punch it, I felt like I got distance on it, but as the goalkeeper you want to get that ball wide," said Sattler. "He tucked it in nice. The guys come back just like they’re supposed to when I come out for a cross, and they just couldn’t keep it out. I’d like to get that one back so I could punch it wide. I came, I won it, it just didn’t land where we wanted it, and he capitalized. That’s one personally I’d like back."
United's first goal, meanwhile, was a thing of beauty. Simone Bracalello - who has been so, so good this year - found some space on the left-hand side. He ran into two backtracking defenders, so he spun to hold the ball up for a second, then chipped the ball past both defenders, right into the path of Michael Reed.
It was Reed's first goal as a pro. He said, "Simone made that unselfish pass and led me through, and I looked over my shoulder and I saw one of their center backs starting to close, and their keeper was at the near post, so I just went for a sliding shot, and it went in."
Following the goal, though, it was like the Minnesota defense switched off. The ball fell right outside the penalty area, and defender Justin Davis didn't close on the ball - and before the ball got to him, Luke Mulholland nipped in for Tampa Bay.
Said Rowdies coach Ricky Hill, "When the ball broke to him and he intercepted it I think in behind the left back, and when it bounced up, I thought, yeah, he’s going to try to volley that, because he does it in training every day. I’m not surprised. In the game, when you have to execute, Luke is magnificent. He’s our top scorer, I don’t know how many he’s got, three or four, but his workrate, his effort, his exuberance that he brings every day to the club is vital for us."
Once again, though, Bracalello brought Minnesota back, this time ten minutes later. Pablo Campos won a header, and the ball fell in amidst two Rowdies defenders. Bracalello stuck a foot in, the ball popped out behind both, and suddenly the Italian was away on goal by himself, scoring to equalize for Minnesota for a second time.
He's been Minnesota's best offensive player this year - in part, because he's playing as a winger, something that dates back to last year's playoffs, a change he reminded me of after the game. "Before I was a forward, more like Pablo," he said. "Now I am starting from the back and I can see the play. I don’t have my back to the goal. That’s completely different for me."
"That position is mine," he said, referring to the wing. "I was feeling good [playing up front], but it’s not my position."
For that final half-hour, I was expecting a MInnesota goal any minute. They went close several times - even center back Cristiano Dias had three shots at goal - but then, just as the clock got close to the 90-minute mark, Keith Savage had the ball in the back of the net for Tampa Bay.
I asked defender Kevin Friedland to walk me through the goal. "They played the ball wide - I actually thought the guy was offside," he said. "I was tracking with, I think it was [Rowdies forward Carl] Cort, into the box. There was service for the man that was behind me, I just tried to get a foot on it - and I got a foot on it and set it right up and Savage came in and smashed it."
It was a wild game, but in the end, most of the Minnesota players just looked like they wanted to punch things. Said Hill, who was of course delighted, said, "I'm happy to get all three points, but Minnesota can feel aggrieved to not get anything from the game."
Aaron Pitchkolan left the game in the first half after a challenge in the penalty area. Postgame, he was walking as gingerly as possible. Though he said he'd just twisted his ankle, he looks like he'll have a tough time coming back any time soon.
I also saw defender Kyle Altman - he was wearing a pretty awesome neon pair of sunglasses, presumably to protect his eyes from the Metrodome light following his concussion. Local soccer expert Brian Quarstad reminded me after the game that Altman had another concussion early this spring, while he was trying out with DC United.
Altman is going to med school this summer. He needs his brain uninjured. Here's hoping he gets well.
Friedland back in the swing of things
With Altman out, Friedland - an assistant coach in whatever spare time he can manage - came back into the starting lineup - and after 90 minutes, he looked completely exhausted. "I'm tired," he said. "It's been awhile."
I asked if it was tough making the transition from coaching to playing, but he brushed that aside. "I’m a player when I need to be. I’m a player every day. I might not play as much as I used to, but I think when I’m called upon I have to perform just like everybody else does. We’re in a situation now where I’m needed, and I played. Can’t say I was great, but I thought I was solid, and unfortunately we didn’t win."
A busy schedule
There's no rest for Minnesota, who plays the Des Moines Menace on Tuesday, then travels to Tampa Bay on Saturday for an immediate rematch. I asked United coach Manny Lagos if it'd be good to get right back on the field, but he said, "We’re having some injury issues and we’re light in a lot of areas on the field. I think from a team standpoint I think the guys want to get back on the field so that we’re better than what we’ve shown, certainly. From a mental and physical standpoint, we’ll see."
Sattler is more excited. "We’ve got work to do and we’re excited to play Tuesday and then get back to Tampa again, it’s going to be revenge," he said. "Tampa and Minnesota, it’s a rivalry. We may be wearing a new badge, but it’s the same game. That’s the beauty of this game. There’s ups and downs - we’re in a slump and we need to get out of it."