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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It would be pretty easy for Minnesota to look past today's game against San Antonio. The Scorpions are last in the league by some distance, and have given up 18 goals, six more than the next-worst team in the league. They've fired their coach, their captain got suspended for most of the year after the postgame fracas that followed United's trip to Texas a few weeks ago, and in four road games this fall, they have managed just one point.
That said, this is the same San Antonio team that won its last five games of the spring, going from the bottom of the league to just missing out on the championship. And last week, the Scorpions got their first win of the fall, beating Carolina 2-1 at home.
United head coach Manny Lagos brushed off suggestions that his team might not have their minds on today's game. "We’re so far into the season right now, and we know where we are in the table, and the importance of each of our remaining games," he said. "San Antonio is very dangerous. They’re a good team. They’ve had some unlucky results and they had an unlucky start to the second half of the season, but they certainly have played really well the last couple of weeks and have taken four points out of six."
The highlight for the Scorpions has been their two forwards; Hans Denissen leads the league with 12 goals in 2013, and Polish striker Tomasz Zahorski came in during the summer and has scored six times in eight matches in the fall. The two might be the most dangerous striker pairing in the NASL at the moment.
Lagos knows the key to the game is stopping those two. "If you watch their last couple of games, including the game where we beat them down there, they have a relationship which is very dangerous and is free-flowing," he said. "Particularly with the kind of confidence they have right now, we have to be aware of it as we approach the game."
Time for another playoff run?
Kevin Friedland reminded me earlier in the week that Minnesota is on a three-year streak of making late-season runs to get into the playoffs. Each of the last three years, Minnesota strung together results in the late stages of the year - something that Brian Kallman, who was here for it all, couldn't quite explain. He advanced a few theories - gelling as a team and the weather chief among them - before getting down to the most plausible explanation: "Maybe it’s just the last part of the season and it kind of clicks in everyone’s mind that if we don’t get in gear then we’re not going to be playing in the finals," he said. "We have to look at these last six games as our playoffs so that we’re able to play in the finals."
Kallman, the Minnesota native who has been with the club since 2006, is optimistic about the team's chances. I think we have all the ingredients to make a run for sure. "This is the deepest team that Minnesota’s ever had in my seven years here," he said. "There are guys that are sitting on the bench right now that have played overseas and in MLS and all of that. The quality of the players is a lot higher than it has been."
Another keeper down
Daryl Sattler had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip over the summer, and now, another United keeper is laid up. Peter McKeown, who has functioned this year in sort of a fourth-string, practice-keeper, part-time-equipment-manager role, broke his ankle in training last week. Starter Matt Van Oekel and backup Mitch Hildebrandt are still healthy, so United is not yet facing a keeper crisis - but this may go some way to explaining why Miguel Ibarra donned the gloves after training last week.