Frequent contributor Jon Marthaler has written about virtually every sport in the Twin Cities, and fills in on Saturdays for the RandBall blog on StarTribune.com. He'll cover the professional soccer scene in the Twin Cities, whether at the Metrodome or at the National Sports Center.
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Minnesota United took to the turf at the Augsburg Dome on Friday, playing Chicago's Bridges FC (about which more here) in a pair of 70-minute practice matches. The team's second string won its match 3-0, but the first team - which drew 0-0 and only created a few chances - showed that United still isn't quite ready for the season to begin.
This was the first chance for United's vaunted free-agent forward attack to play together in the preseason, but both Pablo Campos and Etienne Barbara looked far too static. Campos did get the ball in the net in the first half, though he was offside, and Barbara forced a save from the keeper in the first half, but otherwise neither really threatened the defense at all. Barbara in particular looked as if his fitness is way off the mark - he appeared to be nowhere near ready to play 90 minutes at NASL speeds.
Head coach Manny Lagos used the term "sluggish" to describe the first team's play, especially in the opening 35 minutes. "It maybe wasn't as sharp as I would have expected at this point of the preseason, in terms of finishing and taking advantage," said Lagos. "I thought as a group, it was just okay. I don't think there was anyone who’d walk off the field in the first scrimmage and say, 'I had a really really good day.' I wouldn’t say anyone stood out, but I don’t think there were a lot of negatives either."
Connor Tobin and Ernest Tchoupe started in central defense, and made their share of errors. At the moment, central defense might be the team's weakest area, as the back line struggles to rebuild without mainstay Kyle Altman - which is to be expected, given that the guys at that position simply haven't had that much time together. That said, goalkeeper Daryl Sattler, making his first appearance for United, might have been the team's best player in the scrimmage, standing tall to stop a couple of shots from Bridges FC.
As for the team's fitness, Lagos said he was happy overall, but did say that there were a couple of individuals who had work to do. "This sport's a crazy sport," he said. "You just have one guy who isn't quite as fit he needs to be, and you can't quite move as much as you want."
The second unit provoked far more enthusiasm from the head coach. Luis Heitor-Piffer, Anthony "Sausage" Salciccia, and Travis Wall scored for the second unit in a 3-0 win. "I thought the entire group really came on and played some fun soccer," said Lagos. "You could see they were working hard for each other. It was fun to see."
Kevin Venegas at right back was particularly impressive, and I also was impressed with triallist Brent Kallman, who played 70 minutes at center back. Michael Reed in midfield, and Wall, up front, played quite well, too.
Ultimately, a day like this might be necessary as part of the preseason. It'll serve as a signpost for United - showing them just how far they have left to go.