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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This has been a disappointing first-half season for Minnesota United, which needs a tie or a win tonight against Atlanta to avoid finishing sixth in a seven-team league. It's a place that nobody associated with the club expected to be, and that includes head coach Manny Lagos. "I think it’s definitely frustrating because we definitely should have done much better," he said.
His one saving thought, though, is that no matter how bad the first half has been, the season as a whole is still just half over. "The last couple of weeks have been trying for the club, and frustrating," said Lagos. "I wish we could get back at it right away again."
Atlanta comes into tonight's game with an outside chance of stealing the NASL title, but Lagos insists his team isn't thinking about playing spoiler. "I look at the game being so important for us to bounce back from the lethargy that we showed in Edmonton," he said. "I’m not really thinking that much about Atlanta and their chances; I’m thinking about getting this team back on track for the second half of the season... [The game] doesn’t mean anything for the second half [in the standings], but it’s important that we step on the field and respond in a way that I think is appropriate, that I think that the club has in the past responded. "
Looking back at Edmonton, looking forward to tonight
Going into Sunday's game in Edmonton, Minnesota still had a chance of staying in the title race, which made it all the more surprising when the team came out completely flat. Within 24 minutes, United was losing 2-0, and their chances were effectively gone.
Lagos, when asked if he was surprised by this, chose a different word. "I would say a little more disappointed," he said.
The United head coach offered a couple of different theories as to what went wrong. "I think the heat was overwhelming the first 20 or 25 minutes," he said. "Mentally, maybe we haven’t been as strong as we need to be, and the game against Carolina really took a lot out of the team. From what we put into [that game], what it meant to us, and to lose the way we did - it’s never easy to come back from that type of loss. I fully expected we would [come back], but it’s not easy. Combine that with the kind of heat we were dealing with in Edmonton, and let’s be honest - it was a poor game for us, and I think a disappointing one that really kind of exposed that we need to get better in a lot of areas."
The one bright spot might have been the play of Miguel Ibarra, who came off the bench for the first time this season in Edmonton, and scored his first goal of the year. That's something we'll see again tonight, in an extended version, as Lagos said he'd bring both Ibarra and Simone Bracalello in off the bench against Atlanta.
The injury report hasn't changed much from Sunday. Aaron Pitchkolan will miss out again, along with Connor Tobin. Both will me aiming for the summer exhibitions for their returns, the first of which is July 17. Midfielder Bryan Arguez, who did not play Sunday in Edmonton, is also questionable for tonight's game with Atlanta.
Back to Blaine
This is Minnesota's first game of the season at their home field at the National Sports Center in Blaine. They'll kick off at 7pm, with the game to be followed by some Fourth of July fireworks.
The team announced on Twitter yesterday, and confirmed via text, that the Reserved section of the stadium (basically, the two sections of seats with chair backs) is sold out tonight. I can't remember that happening for a long time, so that's an accomplishment. We'll see whether that translates into a large overall attendance for tonight's game.
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