A late-game collision with a former San Antonio teammate left Minnesota United FC goalkeeper Daryl Sattler lying flat on the Metrodome turf collecting his senses.
Sattler finished the game, a 0-0 opening night draw played before an announced crowd of 6,754 fans. A chipped tooth was the price of taking Esteban Bayona’s inadvertent shoulder to the jaw.
“He and I aren’t friends anymore,” Sattler joked.
Starting a new era of local professional soccer with a scoreless game took some satisfaction away from the players and coach Manny Lagos. Former UnitedHealth Group CEO Bill McGuire emerged last fall to buy the team, formerly called the Stars FC, and saved it from certain doom.
Rebranding the team as United FC in March, all involved hoped to make Saturday’s game a triumphant reboot. But attendance fell short of the 8,693 at last season’s Metrodome opener. Moreover, a new playoff format, in which the first-place teams from each of the season’s two halves advance to the finals, means missed opportunities on the field echo in the standings.
“We only play 12 games in this first season, so when you’re at home you want to rack up the points,” midfielder Aaron Pitchkolan said. “Overall, it was not a positive result, but there was a lot of positive play. We had some decent chances and that’s what you want to build on.”
United FC struggled at times in the first half to find its offensive continuity. Ramping up the pressure after halftime, United FC saw two of its three best chances take place about two minutes apart.
Pitchkolan drove a shot off a feed from Etienne Barbara into Scorpions goalkeeper Pat Hannigan in the 69th minute, a blast Pitchkolan said he “wishes he could have put away.”
About two minutes later, Simone Bracalello, a key part of the past two Stars teams that reached the United States Soccer League finals, blasted a ball off the crossbar from 30 yards away.
On the other end of the field, Sattler made a few key saves to keep his former team off the scoreboard and salvage a draw. He dove low to his right to make a first-half save and got some help as a San Antonio header attempt in the second half deflected off the crossbar.
“We can be much more of a threat going forward,” Sattler said. “We’re not happy but we can build on this.”
Said Lagos: “It stinks a little bit … but the reality is, it was a battle for both teams to find goals tonight. We should be pleased that we played well, but we’re also disappointed we couldn’t get three points for the fans.”