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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Greg Jordan scored his first goal for Minnesota, Christian Ramirez added his fifth of the season, and Minnesota United withstood a late Atlanta rally to stay atop the NASL standings with a 2-1 win.
United entered the night with a three-point lead on San Antonio and New York, but the Scorpions and Cosmos both won road games of their own, leaving Minnesota's lead unchanged with one game in the spring left to go. United will clinch the spring title with a win or a draw in Tampa Bay next week; they can also clinch if they lose, but San Antonio fails to beat Fort Lauderdale at home, and New York fails to beat Ottawa at home.
On this night, Atlanta had far better chances than did Minnesota. The Silverbacks had 18 shots to United's six, including several excellent chances, but only Kwadwo Poku could find a way past Mitch Hildebrandt. The Minnesota keeper denied both Poku and Jaime Chavez in the first half, and Poku and Deon McCauley in the second, allowing United to steal the win.
Jordan's goal, in the 53rd minute, came just moments after a sterling Atlanta chance, as McCauley hooked a leaping volley from inside the six-yard box just over the crossbar. United got going quickly from the goal kick, and Jordan flicked Ramirez's cross from the right just inside the far post.
Twenty minutes later, Minnesota had the ball in the net twice inside three minutes. The first, an Aaron Pitchkolan header, was judged to be offside. Ramirez's second, though - a header from a Justin Davis free kick - counted, and United had a 2-0 lead in the 72nd minute.
Poku's blast with five minutes to go made for some nervous moments for Minnesota fans, especially since it coincided with San Antonio scoring at the death in Indy to win 2-1, and New York taking the lead in Fort Lauderdale. United, though, parked all ten players in front of their own goal, and managed to hold on for the win.
Atlanta coach, and FOX soccer analyst Eric Wynalda, was highly critical of Minnesota after the match. Asked why his team lost on the Atlanta broadcast, following the game, he said, "We're not as good at rugby as the opponent."
Wynalda continued in the same vein. "It’s frustrating, because we’re better at soccer than they are," he said. "They don’t really play soccer; what they do is similar to maybe a second division [team] in England, and it worked tonight. Our guys are frustrated, because this isn’t what we signed up for. To play a pretty good style, and have opportunities to win the game… We got a good goal out of Poku, but we’re frustrated, because this sucks."
United head coach Manny Lagos was understandably less negative after his team's win. "It was a battle tonight," he said. "I thought both teams really put it in... The results didn’t go our way, so it comes down to next week."
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