Frequent contributor Jon Marthaler has written about virtually every sport in the Twin Cities, and fills in on Saturdays for the RandBall blog on 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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Posts about Europe

Nuclear Wessel: What to look for in the Premier League

Posted by: Jon Marthaler Updated: April 18, 2014 - 11:01 AM

Dana Wessel produces the K-TWIN Morning Show on 96.3 K-TWIN Monday-Friday 5:30am-10:00am. The show is hosted by Eric Perkins and Rena Sarigianopoulos of KARE 11. He's our Premier League expert. Dana?

The title is very much undecided after last Sunday’s "title match" between Liverpool and Manchester City, and if the results of Wednesday are any indication, we won’t know who will lift the trophy, get relegated, or finish fourth until the final Sunday of the season.

Speaking of that Sunday, there are a few housekeeping items I want to get to before we preview this weekend’s crucial matches:

1. All 10 matches will be televised on the NBC family of networks on Sunday, May 11th at 9:00am. As is the custom in the Premier League, to not give away any advantage, all 10 matches kick off at the exact same time. You better get to a bar that has 10 TVs and a sick cable package, buy nine extra TVs for your living room and return them (big box retailers are so desperate for happy customers that they’d allow it. Give the dude at Best Buy 50 bucks and he’d probably let you rent them from him, just for the morning), or start exercising your flipping thumb right now.

2. Sunday, May 11th is also Mother’s Day, ya hooligans. Don’t let your excitement over the final day cause you to forget about the woman that gave you life, so that you can be excited over ultimately-trivial things like 11 dudes in matching costumes running around kicking a ball. If you and your mother don’t live near each other, don’t use soccer as an excuse not to call her. If you are planning on seeing her, don’t get caught up at the pub and be late.

That said, maaaaaybe mix in a few extra phone calls and visits between now and May 11th so your mother might maybe potentially be cool with pushing back Mother’s Day brunch until 11am when the matches are over. Frame it that you want to let her sleep in on her big day! Just a thought.

Now that I am on the short-list for the Worst Son of the Year Award, I’d just like to say mom, I love you, and I'll happily skip the Chelsea match to spend the morning with you. But wouldn’t it be nice to sleep in on your big day?!?

No. 1: Chelsea vs Sunderland at Stamford Bridge
When: Saturday at 11:30am on NBC Sports Network
Last year: Ugly game between these two last April at the Bridge. They exchanged a pair of own goals before Branislav Ivanovic (the dude on Chelsea I’d most want on my side in a bar fight) found a winner in the 55th.

Chelsea are one of two teams, along with Liverpool, that control their own destiny with four matches to go. Thanks to City coughing up two points to Sunderland, Chelsea’s opponent Saturday, the Blues can now win their final four matches and raise their third PL trophy under Jose Mourinho and fourth overall.

This is easier said than done, especially with a scheduled trip to Anfield next Sunday, but it is quite a position to be in. Speaking of Anfield, Jose will be sure the men aren’t looking forward to next Sunday while overlooking a Sunderland team playing for their Premier League lives - and playing with confidence, too. Oh, and they also can’t be looking ahead to next Tuesday, either, when they’ll be playing in the semi-finals of Champions League.

There are six, potentially seven matches left to go in this season, and a double is still on the table for the Blues. The wins haven’t been beautiful, but nobody remembers that once a trophy is lifted. Jose has them playing with confidence and his classic "us-against-the-world" mentality.

I am always confident in my favorite team, but I am also - understandably - very nervous. I carry around a brown paper bag to hyperventilate into wherever I go and I always make sure I am within 50 feet of somebody trained in CPR. Having your favorite team, regardless of the league or sport, on the brink of something huge is stressful, nerve-wracking and ratchets up the anxiety to an 11, but I wouldn’t have it any other way, regardless of how the next month plays out.

No. 2: Norwich vs Liverpool at Carrow Road
When: Saturday at 6:00am on NBC Sports Network
Last year: Norwich fans didn’t exactly frame their ticket stubs after this one last year at Carrow Road. Liverpool was up 2-0 at half, 4-0 in the 57th and ended up winning 5-2. Liverpool fans will be hoping for something similar Sunday. Chelsea, City and Norwich (and, I suppose, Liverpool-hating Manchester United fans) will not be.

Nothing like waking up at 6am on a Sunday for 1 vs 17! The Canaries' loss to Fulham has them on life support now, desperate to stay out of the drop zone. The league leaders coming to town isn’t going to do much to help that. Or maybe it is just what they need to give them a shot of confidence. Or maybe I am just a delusional Chelsea fan trying to talk myself into the notion that Norwich can somehow get a point Sunday.

In all honesty, I am fine with Liverpool winning. That showdown at Anfield would be one for the ages. I am stressed out already just typing about it. The big matches, the big moments are what make sports so special, and this would be one of the biggest matches I've seen.

Liverpool are all but guaranteed to roll here. Maybe Norwich can nick one early, and get the crowd behind them, but even that seems unlikely. Sounds like Daniel Sturridge and his 23 goals will miss the trip this weekend, and manager Brendan Rodgers was quiet about whether or not he’d be ready to face his old club a week from Sunday. It shouldn’t matter Saturday against Norwich, but it would definitely be a big blow against Chelsea.  

No. 3: Everton vs Manchester United at Goodison Park
When: Sunday at 10:10am on NBC Sports Network
Last year: Everton won this fixture a year ago 1-0 when Fellaini scored in the 57th minute. If that happens this season, the other team will win. That is because Fellaini now plays for Manchester United, you see.

Ah, yes. One final opportunity to laugh at David Moyes before we forget about Manchester United until next season, since their remaining matches are about as meaningful as a generic ‘happy birthday’ Facebook post to somebody you stopped talking to years ago.

This match would have been a lot more sexy had Everton not messed the bed against Crystal Palace on Wednesday. How pesky are Palace, by the way? Without a doubt the most annoying team to play. Oh, and guess what place they are. Don’t look it up. Off the top of your head guess what place they are in. I'll wait.

11th! 11th! How did that happen? Tony Pulis absolutely deserves to be manager of the year after taking over for Ian Holloway last fall. I would have bet my Starter Jacket collection that Palace would have been dead in the water by March. Not really sure where I am going with this, but ya know, good for them.

Back to Everton and my man Timmy Howard, who had his 116th clean sheet last weekend (Wednesday would’ve been a good time for his 117th, but lets not be picky) and signed a contract extension through 2018. What a story they have been this year. Moyes bails. Takes Fellaini with him. Now the mighty Manchester United are looking up at the Toffees.

Everton still have an outside chance of finishing in the top four, but the Palace loss may very well be the bullet they put in their own foot. They need Arsenal to slip up at least once, and they still have to play a Manchester City side desperate to get back in the title race.

But no Toffee player or fan should hang their head. In a season with little to no expectations, they were one of the best storylines all season. Qualifying for the Europe League, would be a huge consolation for this side and it would be great to see them and Timmy Howard playing some European football next season.

Alright, that’ll do ‘er for this week. Enjoy the matches this weekend and remember to tip your servers at your local soccer establishment.

Nuclear Wessel: What to watch in English soccer this weekend

Posted by: Jon Marthaler Updated: April 12, 2014 - 10:23 AM

Dana Wessel produces the K-TWIN Morning Show on 96.3 K-TWIN Monday-Friday 5:30am-10:00am. The show is hosted by Eric Perkins and Rena Sarigianopoulos of KARE 11. He usually writes our guide to the weekend in English soccer on Fridays, but sometimes we forget to post it until Saturdays. Dana?

Welcome back to Nuclear Wessel, where we never riot after semi-final victories* and always save our cellys for when the trophy is secured.

*I’m such a fraud for taking a shot. I would have been leading the charge if it happened a few years ago -- and I don’t even like Gopher hockey.

Exciting times ahead this weekend. Arsenal have a chance to make a cup final. Everton have a chance to leapfrog Arsenal for fourth. Liverpool and City are basically playing for a title. And the only team from England left in the Champions League is just desperately trying to rack up points and hoping the two top dogs slip up. Enough horseplay! Let's do this thing!

No. 1: Arsenal vs Wigan Athletic at Wembley Stadium in the FA Cup semifinals
When: Saturday at 11:07AM on Fox Sports 2 (Seriously)*
Last year: I don’t know the last time these two met in the FA Cup and that seems like something that would be more trouble than it’s worth to look up. I'll just take an educated guess: 1873 and Arsenal lost 9-0.

What a weird, weird weekend for Arsenal. They have the opportunity to make an FA Cup Final and come one step closer to ending their 8 year, 10 month and 20 day trophy drought (state courtesy of bookmark it).

*How Arsenal is it that their big match at Wembley is only on Fox Sports 2? A channel very few people get and even fewer get it in HD.

But, no good thing can happen to Arsenal lately without the other shoe ready to drop. Everton can leapfrog them for the fourth and final Champions League spot by beating soon-to-be-relegated Sunderland.

It is almost inevitable, isn’t it? Arsenal will finally put some silverware in the new Emirates trophy cabinet but will end up in Europa next year. And then what does this all mean for Arsene Wenger? Is he out if he delivers a trophy but not Champions League? Is he out if they qualify for Champions League but fail to win the softest last four in the FA Cup in years? These are strange times in North London. Leading the league and winning their Champions League group seem like accomplishments from so, so long ago.

Of course, they could win Saturday, Everton could dump points, and the Gunners could run the table in a very soft final five matches and finally grab some glory. But have they done anything the last month (or the last few years, for that matter) that make you think that is at all realistic?

But honestly, I hope it all works out*.  I am actually starting to feel bad for Arsenal fans**. It would be good to finally see them win a trophy***.

* I don’t.
** I’m not.
*** It wouldn’t.

No. 2: Liverpool vs Manchester City at Anfield
When: Sunday at 7:37AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: A fun 2-2 draw the last time out at Anfield between these two. Liverpool took the lead twice and City found two equalizers. Hopefully there will be more fireworks this time out.

Well, lookee what we got here! About as close as you can get to a title match in the Premier League as you can get. Either team can control their own destiny, with four matches to go for Liverpool, and six to go for Manchester City. It’s that simple. Win on Sunday and take care of business the rest of the way and you’ll be lifting a trophy and having a parade on double-decker buses.

A draw means this crazy season will likely continue all the way up until the final day. And Chelsea will be given new life (assuming they win against Swansea). City got a big boost with the news Sergio Aguero will make his return at Anfield after being out a month with a hamstring injury. That is massive news not only for Sunday but for City’s run-up the rest of the way.

Although Anfield has been a fortress for Liverpool this season, that hasn’t been the case against City in their last five visits. The big club from Manchester (Ha! See what I did there?) has only lost one of their last five at Liverpool. Everyone is expecting this one to be an absolute goal-fest, and I hope they’re right. This one has potential to be an absolute classic. Matches of this magnitude this late in the season don’t come around very often. Set the alarm and get to the pub.

No. 3: Swansea at vs Chelsea at Liberty Stadium
When: Sunday at 10:07 on NBC Sports Network
Last year: Chelsea let all three points slip away last season at Swansea by allowing an 88th minute equalizer to end the match 1-1. Victor Moses got the goal for the Blues.

Too bad they can’t flip these Sunday matches around and have Chelsea/Swansea go first before the big showdown at Anfield. Such is life.

Chelsea are obviously feeling pretty good about themselves after the comeback against Paris-St. Germain midweek. I won’t gush too much about it, I promise, but it was one of those moments where you realize why you love sports so much in the first place.

But as great as that day was, Chelsea only have themselves to blame for their current league predicament. Three of their last five matches, they beat Spurs, Arsenal and Stoke by a combined 13-0. The other two matches in that stretch they lost to Crystal Palace and Aston Villa by a combined score of 2-0. If Chelsea get even three points from that stretch and they are still in the conversation.

But coulda-woulda-shoulda aside, Chelsea are on the outside looking in of the title picture. They will need help to get back in the mix. Also, I don’t think anybody would blame them if they had their sights set squarely on their Champions League semi-final clash with Atletico Madrid and the Trophy With Big Ears. Regardless of what happens, this season has to be considered a success for Chelsea and Jose Mourinho. Top four with a shot at the title and last four in Champions League with a puncher’s chance of winning the big one. Remember, Jose has done this much without a proper striker. Imagine what happens if he gets one over the summer?

Alright, that’ll do it for this week. I hope you all are as excited as I am for this weekend’s slate. Just a few weeks left before we say goodbye to the Premier League and turn our attention to a little event called the World Cup. Great time to love the beautiful game. Enjoy it.

Nuclear Wessel: Your Premier League viewing guide

Posted by: Jon Marthaler Updated: March 28, 2014 - 10:29 AM

Dana Wessel produces the K-TWIN Morning Show on 96.3 K-TWIN Monday-Friday 5:30am-10:00am. The show is hosted by Eric Perkins and Rena Sarigianopoulos of KARE 11. His team might win the Premier League title, and he is both excited and nervous. Dana?

We will know the winner of the Premier League in fewer than 50 days. Seven matches to go. Everything still to be decided.

This is the fun part although it sort of sucks because West Brom, Cardiff, Sunderland, Crystal Palace and Fulham are tanking for draft picks. Hahaha, oh, wait. No, they aren’t. That is why this is the greatest league in the world. There is more at stake for the teams at the bottom than there is for some of the teams at the top. Nobody is laying down, and every match is intense.

Chelsea are still tops of the league, but for how long? Arsenal are in the top four, but for how long? There have been a lot of intriguing developments since we last got cozy and chatted like this, so how about we light this candle?

Game 1: Manchester United vs Aston Villa at Old Trafford
When: Saturday at 7:45AM on NBC Sports Network

Bahahhaha. I am just kidding. Watching this match is guaranteed by science to make you a dumber, less popular human.

Game 1: Crystal Palace vs Chelsea at Selhurst Park
When: Saturday at 10:00AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: These two last played a Premier League match at Crystal Palace in 2004. Chelsea got all of the allotted points thanks to goals from Drogba (awww) and Tiago.

Chelsea are good enough to win the league, but now must pay for past sins. City control their own destiny, and Chelsea just have to sit and hope they slip up. It is kind of like one of those 1980s movies where the hot girl promises she’ll go to the dance with the main character as long as Big Jock Stud guy doesn’t ask her. All he, and Chelsea, can do is wait and hope.

That emphatic...wait, that word has probably been used 10,000 times in other articles written about that match, so let's try something different... that VIGOROUS (sure) victory over Arsenal last Saturday was one for the ages. The most amazing thing was the talker after the match. It wasn’t about how great Chelsea were, it was how expected this was from Arsenal. I’d hate to root for a club where losing 6-0 to one of your chief rivals while in a title race is met with a, “Yeah, well, what else did you expect?” Sad. Disappointment and Arsenal go together like lamb and tuna fish at this point. Or spaghetti and meatballs if you’re more comfortable with that analogy.

Chelsea have to essentially remain perfect the rest of the way, after getting no help from a worthless Manchester United side in United's midweek capitulation to City. Teams like Palace can’t be overlooked, or Chelsea will find themselves looking up to both Liverpool and City in the standings. Also, Chelsea has two midweek matches against PSG in the Champions League, adding even more stress.

The only London team to win the Champions League is certainly up against it but this is where they have thrived in the past few years. Plus, Jose LOVES playing up the "nobody believes in us" angle.

Game 2:  Arsenal vs Manchester City at the Emirates Stadium
When: Saturday at 12:30M on NBC Sports Network
Last year: City blanked the Gunners on their own ground last season 2-rip. Goals by Milner and Dzeko in the first half ended this one early.

Last Saturday, Arsenal visited Chelsea with a chance to come within a point of the league lead, and a match in hand looming midweek against Swansea that could have potentially put them in first. They responded with a 6-0 loss to Chelsea, and a draw against Swansea in which they scored an own goal in second-half stoppage time to gift Swansea a point.

Arsenal are now in a dogfight for fourth place instead of sitting on top of the league. Ouch.

This week, they welcome in the cruising Manchester City, to the stadium they could only manage a single point against Swansea at days earlier. This team is in serious trouble, and are playing with the confidence of the central team of an underdog sports movie in the first half hour of the film. They can still feel good about themselves by winning the FA Cup and fending off Everton and Spurs to finish fourth, but not even the most optimistic Arsenal fan can say they are confident in both happening. Does finishing on the outside of the top four mean curtains for Wenger?

City, on the other hand, are rolling right now. With nine matches left (and currently still in third because they’ve only played 29) it is too early to start stocking up on bubbly, but they know what they have to do at this point. Plus, for a team that wants to win the league, getting knocked out of Champions League was probably the best thing for their title hopes. Rather than having messy midweek games against the likes of Real Madrid or Bayern Munich, City has their sights set solely on regaining the domestic trophy.

On the surface, you have to think City will roll here and Arsenal will continue to crumble. But it is a funny game sometimes. I say the desperate Gunners get at least a point. Their season is going the way of Surge soda right now, and they will be up for this game.

Game 3: Liverpool vs Tottenham at Anfield
When: Sunday at 10:00AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: Liverpool got all three points after a Steven Gerrard penalty put the home side up 3-2. If I remember correctly, the penalty was controversial. Spurs went up a goal twice but Liverpool kept fighting and eventually got their reward.

Tottenham finally get a ray of sunlight in their quest for that top four spot and what do they get? A trip to Anfield! Great timing!

I have been saying it for weeks in this here column: If you don’t think Liverpool can win the title right now, then you probably related to Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels in Dumb and Dumber. They are absolutely dealing right now, and playing with a sort of confidence - and, yeah, I am gonna say it, swagger - that makes City and Chelsea watch on in awe.

It is kind of funny the reaction that supporters of other teams have taken to Liverpool’s huge run of form. United, City, Chelsea, and Arsenal supporters have basically come to the conclusion that if their own team can’t win the title, they want anybody but Liverpool to lift the trophy. I hate to be one of those NFL meatheads with a shirt that says "My two favorite teams are Chelsea and whoever are playing Liverpool derrpppppppp" but it is true. I don’t want Liverpool to win it. Please, anybody but them. I don’t know if it is because I dated a Liverpool fan once and it ended poorly, or because Liverpool have never won the Premier League and that's kind of funny, or because their supporters are the leaders of the "Chelsea have no history" movement*. Probably a combination of the three.

*By the way, I love when someone around my age gives me the "Chelsea have no history line." Chelsea are creating history by lifting more trophies in the past three years than Liverpool have won in the last 20. Even better, I am alive for this, unlike all the history they love talking about. It is sad. They are like the young Packer fans that brag about Super Bowls I and II. Anyway. Moving on.

Credit where credit is due: Liverpool are playing incredible football and, I must admit, it is pretty to watch. They have a pair of 20-goal scorers for the first time since the 1960s, and look virtually indestructible. With a pair of matches at home against City and Chelsea, it is all there for them.

I think they make easy work of Spurs on Sunday. If anybody catches Arsenal for fourth place it won’t be them. It will be Everton. Timmy Howard in Champions League? How cool would that be.

This Spurs side lacks much conviction and spine. They don’t win big matches, and that isn’t going to change on Sunday.

Alright, kids. That will do it for this week. Remember to tip your bartenders at your favorite soccer pub. We need them more than they need us. Until next time, keep your oranges sliced and your juice boxes on ice.

Nuclear Wessel: What to watch in the Premier League

Posted by: Jon Marthaler Updated: March 21, 2014 - 2:04 PM

Dana Wessel produces the K-TWIN Morning Show on 96.3 K-TWIN Monday-Friday 5:30am-10:00am. The show is hosted by Cane Peterson and Eric Perkins/Rena Sarigianopoulos of KARE 11. Dana is our weekly guest here at the blog, and enjoys spreading his Premier League expertise around. Dana?

If last week’s matches were the Fourth of July fireworks, then this week is the Fifth of July hangover, with one big exception: Top of the table vs third in the table. London vs London. Chelsea vs Arsenal. It is a big one. One of the bigger ones of the year. The rest of the schedule is about as compelling for neutrals as the lecture Ben Stein’s character gave in "Ferris Bueller’s Day Off", but with only seven matches to go and the title and relegation spots very much up for grabs, supporters will be nervously pacing around this weekend while watching their club. (If they are like me, will change jerseys at halftime because of superstition.)

Now onto the matches! I apologize for non-Chelsea/Arsenal fans, but I got very wordy in the preview for the big match on Saturday. Scroll past it if you must, I totally understand.

No. 1: Chelsea vs Arsenal at Stamford Bridge
When: Saturday at 7:45AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: Chelsea beat Arsenal at the Bridge last January by a 2-1 tally. Lampard had one from the spot and Mata had the eventual winner. Walcott got one in the 58th minute but an equalizer wasn’t in the cards for the Gunners.

Go Chelsea! (Editor's note: Go Arsenal!)

No. 2: Cardiff vs Liverpool at Cardiff City Stadium
When: Saturday at 10:00AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: Cardiff hasn’t been in the EPL for a while so these two teams didn’t meet at Cardiff City last year. They did play earlier this season at Anfield, where Liverpool took all three points by a 3-1 tally.

Now gather around and let Nuclear Wessel give you a history lesson. The last time these two teams met at Cardiff City was 1953. Here are some facts about what was happening in the world the last time these two teams played in Cardiff.

  • I Love Lucy was the No. 1 TV show
  • The first Chevrolet Corvette was built
  • Mr Potato head made his debut after creator George Lerner came up with the idea by throwing a baked potato and hitting his cousin Larry in the head
  • Gallon of milk cost 94 cents in a gallon, or 30 cents if you milked the cow yourself at the grocery store
  • Frank Sinatra wrestled Sammy Davis Jr on the roof of Caesars Palace in the main event of Wrestlemania 1
  • Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen, age 4, wrote Born to Run
  • Marilyn Monroe was slammed in the media for tweeting scandalous pictures.
  • Tony, Sam and Frank Dorsa, all brothers, were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for inventing Eggo Waffles in California.

Man! How far we have come! Anyway, where were we?

Oh, yeah, Liverpool/Cardiff. You’ll be watching basketball anyway. Liverpool roll by multiple goals.

No. 1: West Ham vs Manchester United at Boleyn Ground
When: Saturday at 12:30PM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: The eventual champions only managed a point at West Ham a year ago in a 2-2 draw. Robin van Persie got the equalizer in the 77th minute. Not exactly kicking myself for missing this one last season.

What a week for United! Everything is all fine and dandy at Old Trafford! Newborn babies are being named Moyes! What a comeback in Champions League! Onto the quarterfinals!

Ahhhhh, not so much. I don’t mean to be the one to rain on United’s parade... Wait, yes I do. Let’s rain on some parades!

United's comeback from 3-0 down against Olympiakos was a glorious comeback ,and easily the most fascinating match of an otherwise dull Round of 16 in the Champions League. But how do you put yourself in that position to begin with? It was Olympiakos, not Barcelona. And van Persie gets the accolades, but if David de Gea doesn’t make those two saves on the goalline in the waning moments of the first half, then United is the laughingstock of football and David Moyes is filing for unemployment.

The win didn’t do anything but give Moyes, supporters and the United board a sigh of relief.. United got the worst possible draw today for the quarterfinals when they got paired with Bayern Munich, but it didn’t matter; they would have been underdogs to anyone they would have faced.

The saddest (or depending on your perspective, funniest) thing about United was the news earlier this week that they may be playing midweek friendlies next year to recoup the cash they will be losing from missing out on European play. That's one of the biggest clubs in the world, flying to Japan or the US on a Wednesday to make some cash. What’s next? A garage sale? Will they be charging for autographs at the team store? Maybe Rooney will wash cars outside Old Trafford over the summer.

Regardless, they’ll try to keep the good cheer going this weekend at West Ham. They can still definitely catch Spurs and Everton for the Europa Consolation Prize, which might mean club friendlies but no garage sales next year. And, as a supporter of Chelsea, I can’t crap on an underdog’s chances in Champions League. (For the non-Chelsea historians among you, Chelsea finished sixth in the league, but won the Champions League.) United have a chance against Bayern in the same way that I have a chance of marrying Shakira: since we are both human beings on the same planet and are both currently alive, it technically could happen, but let's not kid ourselves.

The overall point: while I'm sure Wednesday felt great, it was only one feel-good moment. It wasn’t a magic potion that makes Moyes into Sir Alex Ferguson, or makes his players care again. It was just another small victory in a season full of failures.

Has the parade officially been rained out? Awesome.

Enjoy the weekend! Don’t forget about the El Clasico, on Sunday at 3 o’clock or something. (I dunno. I don’t really care. Most overrated match in all of soccer. Watch MLS instead.)

Keep your oranges sliced and your juice boxes on ice. Talk next week.

United closes UK trip with 2-0 loss to Derby County

Posted by: Jon Marthaler Updated: March 17, 2014 - 1:16 PM

Star Tribune special sections editor Paul Duncan is visiting family in the UK, and following Minnesota United's preseason tour of England. He filed this report from United's final game, against second-division side Derby County, who are currently third place and in position to play off for promotion to the Premier League.

Minnesota United lost the final game of its preseason tour 2-0 to a strong Derby County side that included six players from its first-team squad.

It was the best match-up of the trip, and for most of an entertaining game, both sides were equal in terms of fitness and competitiveness - an encouraging sign for the Loons, who are building up to their season, while the Rams are two-thirds of the way through theirs.

It was clear even during the warmup that this was going to be a different test from United’s previous games against Matlock Town and Pro Player Academy; the Derby players were physically a step up from the rest of the opposition. Coached by ex-Manchester City (and Derby) player Paul Stimson, the Rams made sure Minnesota’s first-choice side were kept on their toes for the full 90 minutes. After some early Derby pressure, Minnesota got into its game and started to piece together some quality approach play. Miguel Ibarra in particular was full of running in all areas of the pitch, and forward Christian Ramirez was a constant worry for the Derby defense. At the back, keeper Mitch Hildebrandt made a couple of excellent stops to deny Derby’s physically imposing attack, including one flying save and a brave dive at the feet of Derby’s center forward, a man most of us would not care to encounter on a dark night.

Ramirez got caught offside a couple of times when played into good positions, and if you are lying down, you will be ready to receive the news that Ibarra took a shot on goal, with his left foot. Jamie Watson was in full competitive mode, making sure everyone knew when he objected to a tackle or disagreed with a decision, on one occasion telling the referee in no uncertain terms, “I got the ball first, so [redacted] off”, to laughter from both benches.

On the Minnesota sidelines, the consensus was that the better players were stepping up, and clearly not afraid to play at this level. Team president Nick Rogers turned to me and said, with a mixture of pleasure and pleasant surprise: “We look good!” And they did.

It was only a contested (and potentially offside) 80th minute goal and a 90th-minute tap-in for Derby that separated the two sides. For Minnesota United, there was certainly no shame in defeat, and more positives than negatives can be taken from a match that was all the side could have wanted in preparation for an exciting season to come.

The squad fly home tomorrow. If anyone feels like welcoming them home, their flight lands at 4:30, so be at the far end of the baggage claim hall by 5.

Audio interview with team president Nick Rogers

Duncan caught up with Rogers before the game, and they talked about team bonding, the three players on trial with United, Rogers' visit to Liverpool (the team president's favorite European club), and what the team has built - in terms of relationships and experience - through the trip:



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