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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So far, this week on the blog has been all about punching and the fallout from said punching. Ignoring the actual match from last Saturday in San Antonio, however, would be a mistake. United beat the Scorpions with what was almost certainly their last chance to score in the match - and in a game that Minnesota really needed to win, following two disappointments in two weeks.
As usual, a match like that gives me as many questions as it does answers. Here's a few of the questions:
1. Can United avoid a letdown like the one that they had after their last late win? In June, Minnesota beat Fort Lauderdale 2-1 on a goal that was scored incredibly late - far past what should have been the end of the match. The win positioned Minnesota for a run at the spring-season title; at the time, I remember writing about how United had saved its chances for the year.
That win, though, was one of the last bright spots for Minnesota in the spring. Their next game, they took a 2-0 lead against Carolina, but blew it and lost 3-2. They then proceeded to look disinterested in a 3-1 loss at Edmonton, and asleep during a 3-0 loss at home against Atlanta. It was a fairly epic collapse - and it all came after a late goal that was supposed to propel them to new heights.
2. Did Miguel Ibarra do enough to earn an extended run in the starting lineup? If you have not seen his assist on the stoppage-time winner, I encourage you to go watch it now. Ibarra loses the ball in the corner - in the 95th minute of the match - but, through sheer effort, wins it back. He harries the defender; he gets to the corner flag before the defender can get there to protect the ball; he even gets knocked down once, but gets right back up to steal the ball back. It was that effort that won the game for Minnesota.
Maybe more importantly, that play was a microcosm of his whole night, in which he looked like the sensational 2012 version of himself. "He had two assists for a reason," head coach Manny Lagos told the team's YouTube channel. "It's because he really wanted to be involved, really wanted to push the tempo of the game."
When Ibarra is on his game, United doesn't have anyone else like him. He has quick feet, he's one of the league's fastest players, and he has the ability to create havoc like nobody else in the squad.
3. What will the back four look like against Edmonton? Left back Justin Davis couldn't play against San Antonio due to a knee sprain. I figured the natural replacement move would be to slide Kevin Venegas to left back and re-insert Brian Kallman in the lineup at right back, but that's not what happened; Venegas retained his place at right back, and central defender Cristiano Dias stepped in at left back.
To his credit, Dias played well. He's much more comfortable with the ball at his feet than you'd expect from a central defender, and he combined well with winger Lucas Rodriguez down the left-hand side. The ball moved noticeably more quickly between Minnesota attackers when Dias got forward, so kudos to him.
Lagos has a decision to make. Davis is healthy and practicing again, I'm told, so does he regain his place - or does missing one game mean that he'll be on the bench for an extended period, as with Kallman?
4. Who replaces Pablo Campos up front? Campos scored twice against San Antonio, two powerful, classically-Campos goals. But he's suspended for Saturday, stemming from the aforementioned postgame altercation, and so United is faced with a choice - actually, a number of choices.
Against San Antonio, Campos and Mike Ambersley played up front as a two-man attack, the first time this fall that Minnesota chose to go with two traditional strikers instead of one center forward and two wings. It worked well - I thought Ambersley did very well in his first start for the team. But with Campos out, does United trust Max Griffin enough to play him up front with Ambersley? Or do they go back to the three-forwards look, with two wingers and Griffin - or someone else, maybe Travis Wall - in place of Campos?
Tomorrow, Minnesota will start to get some answers - along, with no doubt, a few questions. Edmonton comes to town without a road victory all year, but the Montons - as the du Nord Futbol Show podcast calls them - are just one point behind Minnesota in the standings.