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 went on quite the slide to finish the spring season, losing their final three games in progressively uglier fashion. The Fort Lauderdale Strikers, if anything, outdid them, going seven winless games to close the spring, including four losses to end the half.
It was enough for the Strikers to fire coach Daryl Shore before the spring had even ended. Over the summer, they replaced him with Austrian coach Günter Kronsteiner, who brings a wealth of experience from both coaching and playing in Austria. Fort Lauderdale has also, like Minnesota, signed a raft of new players, including former Minnesota forward Martin Nuñez, who scored five goals for the then-Stars in 2012. The Strikers have also brought in four MLS players on loan, and signed wonderfully-named Brazilian forward Paulo Jr.
For United head coach Manny Lagos, tonight is an important chance for his team to right the ship. "The team has been through one of its tougher runs, historically, in a long time," he said. "We know we’re not playing as a unit as good as we should, and the results have not gone our way. I think this is going to be a huge challenge because we’re going to be playing against a team that’s going to be at home, they’re going to have energy, they’re going to be excited to start their season off on a better foot than they did last season. It’s a big game for us, for a lot of reasons, besides that it’s important to get points."
Both teams lost last week, the Strikers rather painfully, as Alessandro Noselli scored in the 93rd minute for the New York Cosmos to snatch a 2-1 win - a goal that game after the Strikers had, confusingly, headed the ball back into their own penalty area, where Noselli managed to deflect it in. The streaks have continued - five losses in a row for Fort Lauderdale, four for Minnesota. Something has to give tonight.
Ambersley available, Daley arrives, Mallace and Ubiparipovic locked in
Lagos confirmed that forward Mike Ambersley, Minnesota's return in the trade that sent Etienne Barbara to Tampa Bay, arrived midweek and trained with the team on Thursday. Ambersley is in the 18-man squad that made the trip to Fort Lauderdale, though is unlikely to start after just one practice.
Not in the travel squad is winger Omar Daley, who the club officially signed midweek. The Jamaican international was signed as cover for an area that Lagos noted needed some help. "He’s both an experienced player, and provides some width and speed," said the coach. "I think our depth wide is probably the slimmest [on the team], particularly in guys who use their pace to try to get in behind and break teams down."
Also worth a note is that the MLS mid-season transfer window closed Thursday. For United, this means that the loans of Calum Mallace and Sinisa Ubiparipovic are officially permanent for the fall; Montreal could only recall them as long as the transfer window was open (though there would have been a financial penalty for doing so, as per the terms of the deal.) The pair started in midfield Saturday against Atlanta, and could well do so again tonight in Fort Lauderdale.
United is reasonably healthy; only backup center backs Brent Kallman (ankle) and Kevin Friedland (calf) will miss out tonight.
More coverage? Why not?
With the fall season now in full swing, the club has ramped up their in-house content, bringing several local writers on board for a blog on the team website.They've brought three writers on board that I like, in Steve McPherson, Lindsay Guentzel, and Jason Concepcion, and rather than read my ramblings about how great they all are, just trust me and go check out the blog.
It's a 6:30pm start in Fort Lauderdale tonight, and you can watch live online at NASL.com/Live or at MNUnitedFC.com. The club is hosting an official watch party at Brit's Pub in downtown Minneapolis, while the Dark Clouds, the team's supporters' group, will be at the Nomad World Pub on the West Bank.