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's nothing like the team's injury problems in the first half of the season, but for the first time this fall, United will be affected by an injury. Striker Pablo Campos - who has scored five times in the fall season, the same number as the rest of Minnesota's players put together - will miss tonight's game in Atlanta with an unspecified lower-body injury.
Midfielder Sinisa Ubiparipovic has an ankle injury, and also did not make the trip to Atlanta. Central midfielder Floyd Franks returns to the squad, however, after missing out on last week's game against New York with a hamstring problem.
Goalkeeper Matt Van Oekel was limping around at Thursday's practice, and had an ice bag on his ankle / foot - but is in the travel squad. He shrugged off a question about the ankle, so he may well be good to go for the match tonight.
Four strikers - Mike Ambersley, Max Griffin, Nate Polak, and Travis Wall - are in the eighteen-man squad for tonight's game. If Polak plays, it will be his first appearance for the team since 2012, and his first since being diagnosed with a blood clot in his shoulder early in April.
United on TV
Minnesota announced this week that their final two home games will be televised. Fox Sports North will show the team's 2:30 match against Carolina on October 19, and the 6pm game against Fort Lauderdale the following week will be shown on KSTC.
It's been awhile, but these won't be the first Thunder / Stars / United games on live cable TV. According to United play-by-play announcer Chris Lidholm, the old Thunder had a few games that were broadcast on Midwest Sports Channel around 2000 or 2001, with Wally Shaver doing play-by-play and Lidholm as the sideline reporter.
The various teams have also had many games on North Metro TV (Blaine public access, basically), and online broadcasts have become more and more common as the years have worn on, but still - this will be the widest television availability that Minnesota pro soccer has had for a long, long time.
Thin between the pipes
With Daryl Sattler out for the year with a torn labrum in his hip, and practice keeper Peter McKeown out with a broken ankle, United is a little short for goalkeepers in training right now. Thursday, with Van Oekel limping around, Mitch Hildebrandt was left as as the last man standing.
It almost became a problem in the final drill, when the team worked on finishing chances. Hildebrandt stopped a rocketed close-range shot with his nose, but had to continue - to the cheers and encouragement of the rest of the squad - as the team's only available keeper.
It brought up an interesting question - who would be Minnesota's emergency keeper? It could come up if, somehow, both of the two goalies that are usually in the game-day squad are injured - or if the starter is injured following the team using all three subs.
Apparently, defender Brian Kallman is first in line - followed by anybody else who grew up playing basketball, football, baseball, and all of the rest of our hand-skill sports. "It'd be one of the Americans for sure," said Kevin Friedland.
Following training, with a number of players sticking around to work on long-range shooting, Friedland grabbed an exhausted Hildebrandt's gloves, and stepped in himself. It's a job that the defender / assistant coach / jersey maker / front-office executive hasn't filled before for United - maybe the only one left that he hasn't done.
It's United's final trip to Atlanta this year; the game begins at 6:30pm Central. You can see it, as always, at NASL.com/live.
The Silverbacks, with 13 points, are in sixth place - but already have their spot in the Soccer Bowl wrapped up, as spring champions. The championship will be played November 9 in Atlanta... Striker Ruben Luna, who left the team over the summer to pursue a few opportunities in France, is back with the Silverbacks. Luna has played for the team five times since the beginning of September, scoring once - and missing two penalties.... David La Vaque's gameday preview from today's paper is here.