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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First of all, for the game story from this one, click here: United FC gets first win of young season, 2-0 over FC Edmonton.
Following Minnesota United's 2-0 win over Edmonton, Eddies head coach Colin Miller didn't try to hide his displeasure with the official. When asked if he was unhappy with the refereeing, he said, "That's probably the biggest understatement in the world."
Miller wasn't pleased with the penalty that was awarded to United in the first half, nor the free kick that led to the United goal in the second half. You can judge the first for yourself, from the highlight video, but Edmonton's Neil Hlavaty does appear to haul Max Griffin down as the latter tries to shoot.
For Griffin's part, he described the incident thusly: "I had a shot, and I felt someone on my back pulling me down a little, so I had to kind of try as best I could to get a shot off, and he pulled me down - which was obviously beneficial for us."
As for the second call, it may have been a bad call to award the free kick, but that doesn't excuse FC Edmonton's defending. After all, Kyle Altman took the free kick from about eight yards into the Eddies' half; it wasn't exactly an attacking situation. But Altman dropped the ball right where he wanted it in the box, Aaron Pitchkolan won it easily to head back across goal, and the Edmonton defense completely lost track of Lucas Rodriguez.
Complain about the free kick, sure, but that goal was down to the defending, not to the refereeing.
More of the same for FC Edmonton
The Eddies finished at the bottom of the league in 2012, and it led to a housecleaning. Miller came in as a new coach, and brought with him a bunch of new players. The team even released defender Paul Hamilton, who was in the NASL Best XI last year, as part of an effort to make a clean break.
So far, they look much better - but the results are the same. The team felt they could have won both of their first two games, and felt hard done by in this one, but in the standings, they've got just one tie from three games.
Said Miller: "Same situation as in the first two games. We have played three terrific away performances against three very good teams, and I'm absolutely devastated that we've got one point out of nine. I genuinely believe that if we continue to play the way that we’re playing, that we'll win more games than we lose. I'm really disappointed that we’ve lost by two goals here today, I didn't think we deserved that. "
It finishes a three-game road trip for Edmonton, which finally gets a home game next Sunday. Miller tried to be philosophical about having to begin on the road. "I'm certainly not going to make any excuses because we have to come to these venues anyway to play," he said. "It would have been nice to play at our home field, but unfortunately Mother Nature in Edmonton dictates that we play our away games first... There are no easy games in the NASL, I think it's a terrific standard, to be honest with you, I think it's exciting football, and I think that there's a lot of positives to come, even from losing 2-0."
"Three points is three points"
I couldn't find too many people on the Minnesota sideline that were excited about how the team played. In some ways, they knew they were fortunate to find a couple of goals on a day that they didn't play all that well. I asked head coach Manny Lagos if he was happy with the way the team played, and he said, "I'm happy with the result."
"In the midfield we have to be a little bit sharper, a little bit quicker, to find a way to make penetrating passes and then get the ball wide again," he said. "I think that two teams in a row now have come in and really set up a tough defensive wall. We have to show that urgency to attack but also that patience against teams that defend when we play against them."
It was ugly, at times. But, as several people said to me after the game, three points is three points.
In the air tonight
FC Edmonton is the only NASL team in the Mountain time zone, and when it comes to the NASL map, they're off in the middle of nowhere. Even with four new teams coming in, starting next fall, that won't change; the four are New York, Virginia, Indianapolis, and Ottawa. Minneapolis, at a three-hour flight, is the only one that's anywhere near the Eddies, and so consequently it felt like a short jaunt, at least for Neil Hlavaty.
"It doesn't really feel like an away game," he told me last week. "We're playing on FieldTurf, we're playing in the closest location possible. It's not a long flight at all compared to what we've been doing."
Normally, though, it is a little different having to start in Edmonton. Said Hlavaty, "Coming from Minnesota and traveling from Minnesota there’s not too much of a difference. We do get to sometimes travel a day earlier, we fly out on a Thursday or something just to get acclimated, so the club helps us out in that way. They're good about that, really professional about it. It is some longer travel days, but it’s just something we have to deal with, and when we do get results on the road, it's that much more satisfying."
Week three in the NASL
Atlanta came back from 3-1 down at halftime to win 4-3 at Tampa Bay, an impressive result for the Silverbacks, and one that leaves them standing as the league's only perfect team. Carolina is atop the table after beating Fort Lauderdale 3-1, giving the Railhawks seven points from three matches, but Atlanta's six points from two is probably more impressive.
United plays its first road game next week in Atlanta, and with the short season, even a late-April battle has implications for the standings when it's between a pair of undefeated teams.