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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United has basically no chance of winning the fall championship, but still has three games remaining on the schedule. In past years, the jockeying for NASL playoff spots and playoff position would be in full swing; in other sports, even the teams at the bottom of the league might be able to think about where their draft position might be.
The current NASL setup offers no such help for fans of teams who are out of the running. United is left just to play out the string, but captain Aaron Pitchkolan insists that this doesn't mean that his team isn't taking the rest of the year seriously. "If you look at it that way, you’ll find a lot of guys without jobs the next season," he said. "It’s a professional environment; it’s very competitive, and you’re always playing for your job."
This isn't to say that tempers aren't rising in the United camp. Pitchkolan and Pablo Campos exchanged some heated words at the end of Thursday's training session, regarding the latter's perceived exertion at the end of practice, and afterwards head coach Manny Lagos pulled the two of them aside, along with defender Connor Tobin, for a long conversation.
Said Lagos, "I just think that we have a legacy of good soccer here over the years. The reality is, we didn’t quite get it done this year. So this is a big three games for the club, for a lot of individual players, and for our fans, to show that we’re going to start working on an identity and the future of the club right now for next year. It’s not going to be easy, because there are a lot of personalities and things to get sorted out."
Pitchkolan echoed the manager. "It’s not a lost year just because we didn’t make the finals," he said. "You’re always building for something in the future."
It will be interesting to see how Lagos approaches the remainder of the year with his lineups. He's spoken several times of how important it is to put the best lineup on the field to try to win - especially at home, in front of the home fans, to get a few wins and send everyone home for the offseason without a bitter taste in their mouths.
That said, though, he also needs to evaluate talent for 2014 and beyond. That could mean more time for some of the younger players, like Michael Reed or Travis Wall, at the expense of the team's established veterans.
A Ubiparipovic update
Midfielder Sinisa Ubiparipovic, on loan from Montreal, has been dealing with an ankle injury - one that Lagos confirmed will keep him out for the remainder of 2013.
""It’s really bothered him," said the coach. "I think with this situation, being that he can’t really train, he’s going to head home and get some rest and just go on from there."
Ubiparipovic played seven games in the fall, four as a starter and three off the bench, and did not score. His 2013 tenure may be remembered most for the September 8 game against Edmonton, when he came on as a substitute in the 60th minute and was sent off in the 61st minute for kicking Montons midfielder Chris Nurse, a performance that prompted the team's supporters group to change its rating system so that he could be awarded an 0 out of 10.
In other injury news, Campos - who missed last week's game with a hip problem - trained all week, but will be a game-time decision for this afternoon's match.
The game is at 2:30pm, at the National Sports Center in Blaine - but if you can't make it to the north Metro, you can watch the game live on Fox Sports North. If you don't have cable, or just like watching games on the computer, you can still see an internet broadcast at NASL.com/live...Carolina hasn't won a road game in 2013, with five draws and eight losses in thirteen road games in all competitions. They also haven't lost at home. Carolina must be traveling on a rickety team plane, like the Indians did in the movie "Major League"; it's the only explanation for their road woes...David La Vaque's preview box for the game is here.