It's been a disappointing season for Minnesota United, one that - for the first time since 2010 - is going to end without an appearance in the league final. And so, in the final week of the season, everybody with the club is preparing for a week of lasts - last practice, last road trip, last game.
Tomorrow's game against Tampa Bay is, effectively, meaningless. All that's at stake is the final standings for Minnesota, and to find out just how far behind the New York Cosmos the team will finish.
Despite that, head coach Manny Lagos still thinks there's something to learn from the final trip of the season. Said the coach, "I think every guy can have a different definition of what being a professional is, but I think these moments, where it’s important to take the game and take what we’re trying to do seriously, it comes out."
Lagos is also trying to look forward; in some ways, he's thinking of Saturday's game as the first game of next season, and is unwilling to say he's glad for the season to be over. "I'm never glad when we're not in the final," he said. "In my mind, I’m only glad we finish [the year] so we can get started again to build the team again."
Certainly, the team is already on track to finish the fall season better than it finished the spring; Minnesota's 3-1 win against Fort Lauderdale guaranteed that. The spring squad finished the half-year by losing 3-1 and 3-0 and generally looking disinterested in playing soccer at all, but the fall team appears to have kept its collective head in the game more succesfully.
A couple of weeks ago, defender Aaron Pitchkolan agreed with his coach about the need to focus on the future. "I think Manny’s done a good job of just letting the guys know that we’ve got to keep working hard and doing the right things and start building for next year," he said. "You never know who’s going to be around next year. You always want to build a foundation and keep a foundation and build on the success we had. It’s not a lost year, just because we didn’t make the finals. You’re always building for something in the future."
Two wins to close the season won't erase the defeats of the 2013 season as a whole; United has endured too many letdowns for that. Another win, though, would certainly speak to a team that's being professional - which would be a good sign as thoughts turn to 2014.