United FC soccer: Talented newcomers fill an early need

  • Article by: DAVID LA VAQUE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 20, 2013 - 1:14 AM

Former San Antonio stars seize roles without fanfare.

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Minnesota United midfielder Aaron Pitchkolan, right, leaped for a 50-50 ball with San Antonio’s Patrick Phelan in United’s NASL opener on April 6. Pitchkolan is a former San Antonio player.

Photo: Photos by JIM GEHRZ • jgehrz@startribune.com ,

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Overshadowed by the offseason signings of two former league most valuable players, fellow Minnesota United FC newcomers Aaron Pitchkolan and Daryl Sattler are proving their considerable worth.

The former San Antonio Scorpions teammates-turned-Twin Cities roommates played well in United FC’s season-opening scoreless tie against the Scorpions on April 6.

Pitchkolan provided a steady presence at the center midfielder position and just missed scoring his team’s first goal. Sattler, the North American Soccer League’s Golden Gloves winner as top goalkeeper, shook off a collision that chipped one of his teeth and kept his former team off the scoreboard.

While awaiting the scoring punch of former NASL MVPs Pablo Campos (two-game suspension) and Etienne Barbara (zero goals), United FC will lean on Pitchkolan and Sattler when the team plays host to FC Edmonton on Saturday at the Metrodome.

“Scoring goals will come with time; I have no doubt about that,” Pitchkolan said. “But as long as we’re solid defensively, that will make us successful and we can build off of that.”

Sattler, 32, brought more than a 0.79 goals-against average and 13 shutouts with him to Minnesota. He still owns classic video game consoles such as Nintendo and Sega Genesis, which make him and Pitchkolan popular among teammates.

Taking an old-school approach on the field as well, Pitchkolan, 30, earns respect for a steady, professional approach. Sattler, meanwhile, continues to fight back from major knee surgery in 2011.

Together, they embody the approach that made the Minnesota Stars FC (United’s former name) league champion in 2011 and runner-up last year. As Pitchkolan said, he and Sattler are two of the many players “quietly going about their business and getting better.”

Drafted in 2005 by FC Dallas of Major League Soccer, Pitchkolan played four seasons before getting traded to San Jose. He went on to play with several NASL teams and helped San Antonio win the regular-season title last year.

“Pitch is probably one of the most underrated players in the league,” Sattler said. “Whether there is a lot of hype about him or not, he steps on the field on does his magic.”

Sattler said Pitchkolan arrived at San Antonio “after the second game but from Day 1 he took that starting position.”

United FC forward Travis Wall said Pitchkolan endeared himself to teammates during preseason training, becoming “the guy you pick right away in practice to make sure he’s on your team.”

Coming to Minnesota without MVP-type fanfare fit Pitchkolan’s maximum-effort, zero-ego personality.

“That’s just the way my career has gone,” said Pitchkolan, a defensive midfielder who has also played center back. “Not a lot of flash. Just go in there and get the job done.”

Sattler can relate. Last season ended with a great deal of individual acclaim, little of which could have been predicted at the start. Coming off knee surgery in 2011, Sattler entered last season as a backup. When starter Pat Hannigan went down with an injury, Sattler pounced.

“I was dying to get in and it felt so good to get back on the field and do my thing,” Sattler said. “From that point I just decided that since I got my opportunity I’m going to make it hard as hell for Coach not to play me.”

Sattler upped the ante in the offseason, coming to a Minnesota team with many of the core players from two finals appearances still on the roster, including Matt VanOekel, last season’s breakout performer in goal. Earning the start for the first game, Sattler said, is the first round of what he expects to be a continued fight for playing time.

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