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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You have to go all the way back to May of 2012 to find Minnesota's last two-game winning streak (excepting, of course, the first two rounds of last year's playoffs). That said, it's worth remembering that May 2012 was the culmination of a fairly epic run for the team that was then called the Stars; from September 2011 to the start of June 2012, Minnesota went seventeen matches in all competitions without losing.
Needing results to squeak into the 2011 playoffs, the Stars won two of their final three and drew the other - then beat Tampa Bay, Carolina (over two legs) and Fort Lauderdale (over two legs) to win the 2011 league title. They then started 2012 with a nine-game unbeaten run in the league, while also advancing to the fourth round of the US Open Cup, knocking out Real Salt Lake in the process.
In one week, though, they lost at San Jose in the Cup, then got drilled 5-1 at Carolina in the league, and since then, inconsistency has been persistent for the team. It knocked them down to a sixth-place finish last year, and to a sixth-place finish this spring, and unless they can start a new streak this fall, it'll do the same to them once again.
Defender Aaron Pitchkolan can't quite put his finger on the problem - but did note that Minnesota is hardly the only team suffering through it. "With the season as it is, it’s kind of weird, taking a long season and splitting it up into two," he said. "You’re not going to have a whole lot of continuity with anything. I think the whole league has kind of struggled with that."
Currently, three points separates first place and seventh place in the NASL standings, with only San Antonio off the pace. Said the defender, "You see in years past there’s a little bit more separation. This year I think everyone’s kind of feeling it out, and I think with so few games - twelve, fourteen games in a season - it’s just kind of basically a sprint. There’s no marathon here."
"I think it's a big deal, it's something we're very cognizant of," said head coach Manny Lagos. "A little bit of it is we haven’t been as dominant at home as we should be this year. I don’t want to say we’ve dropped points at home, because every game has been different and there has been adversity."
Lagos referred to the team's 1-1 tie with Edmonton last week as another disappointment. "I think it’s another example of a game we probably should have won, even down a man, and we couldn’t quite do it," he said. "Certainly that’s something where we’re trying to get better and trying to figure out a way to get mentally more consistent from game to game. That’s been difficult. That’s been a challenge. I think there have been some nice moments of soccer - both in the play and the attitude - but it hasn’t been consistent enough to put us on top of the table."
The fall NASL season has eight games to go, and with United just two points out of first, the fall title is there for the taking. It'll take more than one-game winning streaks and two-game unbeaten runs, though; it'll take something like what Minnesota unleashed in late 2011 and early 2012. Whatever mentality the team had then, they need to get back for this year's stretch run, or a disappointing finish awaits.
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