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 FC's game this week is on Saturday evening, against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, who currently sit last in the NASL standings - but who have already beat Minnesota this year, 2-1 in South Florida.
For more on the team, I emailed Strikers expert Pieter Brown, who hosts the nationally known internet soccer radio show Ultras Alive (www.UltrasAlive.com). You can listen Monday nights at 8pm Central Time as they discuss every level of American pro soccer (and Monday, I'll be on the show as well.) Pieter and I went back and forth about the Strikers and about United as well; our conversation is below.
JM: I've heard goalkeeper Jeff Attinella has headed back to Real Salt Lake after four games on loan with Fort Lauderdale. Who's going to be in between the pipes on Saturday?
PB: Coach Shore has not handed me his starting line up, but expect to see Matt Glaeser between the pipes. Matt is recovering from a slight injury, however. Antinella was brought in to push Glaeser and get him back to his 2012 form. What I think has given Matt his confidence back was stopping 2 PK's in the US Open Cup win against Laredo.
JM: Speaking of the US Open Cup, the Strikers got to host FC Dallas after beating Laredo. What was the attendance and the atmosphere like at that game?
PB: The atmosphere created by the Ultras and Flight 19 was awesome, the attendance not so much. Only a couple thousand diehards showed up for a match that saw the Strikers control the game for the first 60 minutes.
With new ownership in Minnesota have there been noticeable upgrades in marketing, excitement or attendance?
JM: There are different answers to the new ownership question. There has been a definite upgrade in marketing - for one thing, there is some. Under league ownership, the team didn't have any kind of budget for that sort of thing, so just seeing TV ads and billboard ads and hearing radio ads is a change. As far as excitement and attendance, though - the excitement feels like it's at the same level, and the attendance could be slightly skewed by the games being at the Metrodome rather than in the northern suburbs like usual. That said, if the team can translate the attendance to Blaine - where 4,500 fans feels like a packed house - then it'll definitely be a success.
I'm surprised to hear that nobody showed up for a game against an MLS team - what do you think caused that? I guess south Florida isn't necessarily famous for attendance (see: the Marlins), but I would have thought for a big game it'd be more than just die-hards.
PB: The weather hasn't helped attendance lately, as it has rained for what seems like weeks. Plus, there was zero advertising for the FC Dallas game - but those are excuses that get tired and old. South Florida is a tough sports market to crack, and while the Strikers have made some inroads, they have a long way to go. If they played the LA Galaxy, I think you would see a larger crowd, but in South Florida who really cares about Dallas.
Minnesota United brought in a very talented group of players this year and yet are stuck in the middle of the table. With such a talented roster shouldn't they be in first place by a healthy margin?
JM: The simple answer is two words long: everybody's hurt. The actual answer is probably a little more complex; injuries have hurt Minnesota's continuity at every position, but that doesn't completely explain the inconsistency shown by a number of players. It's impossible to blame any one thing, but United certainly didn't expect to be stuck in mid-table at this point. And injuries or not, losing at home to Des Moines in the US Open Cup is painful for everyone involved.
Turning to this week: Fort Lauderdale has scored the fewest goals in the league; the previous Minnesota game was the only time they got more than one in a match. Is it still injuries causing problems up front, or are their larger issues afoot?
PB: The injuries are really starting to stack up. The lineup is getting younger and younger every game as the reserves are having to step up and start, but injuries have let a player like Manny Gonzalez shine. Others are going to need to step up with Mark Anderson getting another annoying injury that will keep him out for at least 3 more games.
When you think about it, we only have 2 healthy forwards in Aly Hassan and Darnell King. King has spent most of his time in defense this year, and Hassan has struggled to get any playing time. We also have NY Cosmos on loan player Stefan Dimitrov, but he's been terrible so no one wants to to see him take the pitch.
So we're going to see two teams limping out on the field in Minnesota. Do you get the same feeling we have down here that it's time to starting thinking about the Fall Championship?
JM: Not yet, for Minnesota fans. If the results all go United's way, the team could conceivably be in first place on Saturday night, so it's too early to give up on the year. If Minnesota drops points on Saturday, though, thoughts may turn that direction.
Final question - what's your prediction for Saturday's score?
PB: Final score: 1-1.
JM: Thanks for all your help, Pieter.