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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In no particular order, a few thoughts from Minnesota's 1-1 draw with Edmonton on Saturday:
1. It's been three months - really - since Minnesota won a home game in the league. Moreover, they've yet to win a game at NSC Stadium this year; the last time they won at home was June 8 against Fort Lauderdale, in the Metrodome. Since then, they've lost to Atlanta twice, and tied with Tampa Bay and Edmonton.
Throw in the team's home loss to Des Moines in the US Open Cup, and Minnesota has just two wins in ten home games this year, to go with four ties and four losses. United looked to have a built-in advantage in the fall's title race, with four of their last six games at home, but right now that's looking to be more of a hindrance than a help.
2. Miguel Ibarra's crossing has improved enormously. For the second straight week, an Ibarra cross led to a Minnesota goal - this time, from a short corner. Ibarra played a perfect ball in, one that drew Montons netminder Lance Parker out of his goal but evaded the keeper's punch, setting Cristiano Dias up perfectly for the header that gave Minnesota a 1-0 lead. The winger has always been one of the fastest in the league, but he spent much of the spring searching for that final ball that would give United a chance to score; two weeks in a row, he's found it.
3. Sinisa Ubiparipovic might have just set the bar for worst-ever performance for a Minnesota player. He came on as a substitute, played one minute, and was sent off. I'm not sure why he decided that he needed to kick Edmonton's Chris Nurse in the chest after he'd been fouled; perhaps Nurse said awful things about his family in the split-second it took for the pair to fall to the ground. Regardless, it was a moment of genuine madness, right in front of the referee, who didn't hesitate for a second in showing Ubiparipovic the red card.
The last United player who earned a red card, Brian Kallman, hasn't seen the field since. We'll see what fate befalls Ubiparipovic.
4. Chalk up another mark on the "goals allowed at critical times" tote board. This time, the smoke hadn't even cleared from the celebratory flares before Minnesota had given away its 1-0 lead. Dias was beaten down Edmonton's right-hand side almost immediately from the kickoff by Antonio Rago, and the other three Minnesota defenders got caught in no-man's land between attackers, and suddenly nobody was marking anybody and Corey Hertzog was booting the ball into the back of the net.
5. It'll be interesting to watch the attendance trends for the remainder of the fall. Minnesota drew just 3,874 people on Saturday, their smallest crowd of the season. Their first three regular-season games at the NSC drew three of their five largest attendances of the year, all over 5,600 - but with fall comes other distractions, like school for kids, and Saturday college football for casual fans. It's also only going to get chillier in September and October; not everyone enjoys a cold day or evening out.
6. Every team is still in the race to win the fall championship. Despite earning just eight points in six matches, Minnesota is only two points behind the three-way Tampa-Carolina-Fort Lauderdale tie at the top of the league. In fact, three points is all that separates first place and seventh place in the NASL. Even lowly San Antonio, which earned its first points of the fall with a draw at Fort Lauderdale on Saturday, is not necessarily out of the running, with eight games remaining. Parity was the story of the spring; so too in the fall.
United, then, could become the league leaders with a good run of results - but that's something they haven't managed at all this season. Their longest winning streak is one match; their longest unbeaten streak is two matches. You have to go back to May 2012 to find Minnesota's last two-game winning streak in the regular season.
This time last year, Minnesota was limping through a run of four consecutive draws, treading water and just barely staying in the sixth and final playoff position. That's not going to work this year. The fall title is all that matters, and United can't get there with draws and the occasional victory.