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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He's played only seven games for Minnesota, but already, one fan has started a drive to clone midfielder Calum Mallace.
If it was possible, it wouldn't be a bad idea, as the 23-year-old brings qualities that Minnesota desperately needed. Among United's midfielders, he's the most adept at both defending and attacking, helping to mute chances from the other side and turning that defense into offensive pressure for Minnesota.
"I’ve enjoyed playing that box-to-box midfielder type of role," said Mallace. "I enjoy getting back, making tackles, and helping defensively. You can score all the goals in the world, but if you keep conceding at the back, that’s the end of the game. It’s always good to get back and help defensively, and then I feel like for me to get forward, I’ve got the engine to go all day long up and down."
Don't let the red hair and the Scottish birthplace fool you; Mallace is just about as Minnesotan as they come. His family moved to the state at a young age, and he starred for Henry Sibley High School and the Woodbury Predators club team before playing in college at Marquette University. His club coach, Don Gramenz, was an eleven-year Minnesota Thunder veteran, and a former Thunder coach; his brother Craig is a Thunder alum as well.
Officially, he's on loan to Minnesota from Montreal. In reality, Minnesota's just been nice enough to loan him to the Impact.
About the only thing that's been missing from Mallace's game this fall has been tallies on the scoresheet. He's shown a willingness to shoot, and a willingness to get forward, but he's yet to score - and he's frustrated about it, too.
"They’re not going in the back of the net," he said. "Shooting from distance is something that I need to work on, to test the goalkeeper from distance, but it’s also good to create chances and play those balls in behind the defense and get those forwards in those holes as well. I take responsibility for not getting any goals so far this year, but we’ve still got some games left, I’ll see if I can put some in."
It's a position that Minnesota hasn't had too many goals from. Michael Reed scored once from a central midfield spot, and Aaron Pitchkolan - since moved to center back - scored early in the season from a corner, but that's been it from goals from central midfielders. Effectively, that's only one goal from someone other than a striker or a winger in the attack.
Heck, defenders Cristiano Dias, Brian Kallman, and Connor Tobin have combined for four.
Mallace says the team doesn't have any sort of bias towards playing the ball wide; it's more about attacking a team from the available angles. "We have Lucas [Rodriguez] and Miguel [Ibarra] who are both fast players that like to combine down the outside, so there’s nothing wrong with going there," he said. "We’ve got myself and Floyd [Franks] and Michael Reed and different players who can play in the middle where we can keep it in there as well, so I think we’re dynamic in that we don’t always have to go wide or in the middle. We can do both and I think that’s good."
Edmonton, this week's opponent, certainly won't be broken down without a fight. The Eddies have yet to allow more than one goal in a game at home; they are a defense-first kind of team.
Mallace, however, is feeling at least a little optimistic. "We’re going to have to press them from all different angles," he said. "And maybe I can hit one in from distance as well."