New season. New faces. But familiar problems still plague Minnesota United FC.
United kicked off the fall portion of the North American Soccer League season with a 1-0 loss to spring-season champion Atlanta on Saturday at the National Sports Center in Blaine. An announced crowd of 5,884 saw the home team fall behind in the first half and fail to convert several chances for the equalizer. Atlanta, which clinched the spring-season championship with a 3-0 victory in Blaine last month, dug in for a greater challenge in the rematch.
“The first thing that we told the guys is, ‘It doesn’t have to be pretty. We are not here to entertain the fans; that is their job,’ ” Atlanta Silverbacks coach Brian Haynes said.
Haynes got his wish as the Silverbacks scored first. Mike Randolph beat goalkeeper Matt Van Oekel in the 22nd minute not long after a corner kick, a sign United’s problems defending set pieces have not been solved.
“We worked so hard this week to be solid,” United coach Manny Lagos said. “The reality is, we still have to figure out a way to not have that stress happen during a game.”
Lagos did see improvement from the midfield. Calum Mallace and Sinisa Ubiarparipovic, midfielders on loan from Montreal of Major League Soccer, each showed an ability to react fast in tight spots and advance the ball.
Both Mallace and Ubiarparipovic can be recalled to Montreal by Aug. 8, but if either is still with United on that date, they will remain so for the rest of the fall season. Forward Pablo Campos hopes to have them for the long haul.
“They are talented players that can hold the ball and give the right pass,” he said.
Said Lagos: “There was creativity, production and imagination that we haven’t had in a while.”
Ubiarparipovic started Minnesota’s best scoring chance of the first half with deft footwork to maintain possession before passing to Miguel Ibarra. The ball next went wide to Brian Kallman, who booted it toward the Atlanta goal where Campos just missed heading past diving Silverbacks goalkeeper Joe Nasco.
Minnesota applied additional pressure throughout the final 15 minutes.
“It wasn’t an easy to game to win,” Haynes said.
Kallman wore the captain’s armband. He drew a straight red card and got ejected just before the end of regulation and could face further discipline from the NASL.