A concussion sidelined Minnesota United FC captain Kyle Altman for three weeks, during which time he slept up to 20 hours per day in a dark room.
He missed a 3-2 victory on May 25 at defending North American Soccer League champion Tampa Bay. He returned last Saturday at last-place San Antonio, where a 2-0 loss continued a dizzying stretch of inconsistent play.
Numerous injuries have forced coach Manny Lagos to revamp the lineup weekly and the constant shuffling, he said, makes it tough to sustain success. Parity in the NASL also has caused United to rise and fall. Just five standings points separate the league’s eight teams.
But Altman isn’t looking for excuses.
“To be a champion you have to be consistent,” Altman said. “You have to have that willpower to turn losses into draws and draws into wins.”
Minnesota, fourth in the standings, returns home to face Fort Lauderdale at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Metrodome. The Strikers are tied with San Antonio for last place, though both teams are just a lone three-point victory behind Minnesota.
Lagos said there are “a lot of layers” as to why his team is “not doing a good enough job on the field.” Injuries top the list.
“We have four to seven starters out each week so it’s been tough to get consistency and our record reflects that,” Lagos said.
Starting goalkeeper Matt VanOekel said, “I don’t think we’ve had the same back line or center midfielders play two games in a row.”
Personnel issues remain this week. Lagos said it is “unlikely” Etienne Barbara, Simone Bracalello, Aaron Pitchkolan or Lucas Rodriguez will see action against Fort Lauderdale. Bryan Arguez and Max Griffin are “possible” to play, he said.
Opportunity is the flip side of injury. Lagos said some younger players have yet to grasp theirs.
“We’ve got younger guys who are still getting their feet wet,” Lagos said. “We hope they get to the level where they are ready to contribute.”
Altman said preparation starts with good tempo and intensity in training.
“It has to replicate a game. Otherwise, you’ll get out there and you’ll be flat,” Altman said. “That’s been my focus and I’ve gotten on guys I’ve seen slacking.”
Sandwiching a strong effort against a good Tampa Bay team were losses to Des Moines, a lower-level amateur team, and last-place San Antonio. Lagos called the idea of his team playing to the level of its opponent an “honest assessment.”
United’s recent slump of one victory and four losses started with a 2-1 loss at Fort Lauderdale on May 11, the first blemish on previously undefeated United’s record.
“There are a lot of areas where we’ve complicated things,” Lagos said. “We’ve been knocked down but I fully expect us to get back up.”