NEW YORK – Following Minnesota United throughout its 10 road matches in all competitions so far without a single victory has been a bit like watching a person progress through the five stages of grief.
The Loons have already experienced denial that there was a problem, anger at disastrous performances and bargaining to make a change. On Thursday in the belly of Yankee Stadium, coach Adrian Heath looked near the depression phase.
"I can't put my finger on why we are so weak, physically and mentally, on the road. Completely different set of people on the road than we are at home," Heath said. "We've got to show a lot more backbone and drive, enthusiasm and desire to want to stop people scoring goals, and we don't at this moment in time."
Despite scoring first for the first time at an opponent's stadium, United eventually fell 3-1 to New York City FC. United (5-10-3 in the Western Conference) is 0-7-2 on the road and has not salvaged a single point away from home since a 2-2 draw at the Houston Dynamo on April 15. And in the five road matches since then, United has scored only three goals and endured three shutouts. New York City, meanwhile, improved to 10-5-3 in the Eastern Conference.
United's first goal was also its last, after midfielder Johan Venegas tried a distance shot on New York City backup goalkeeper Eirik Johansen, who was starting and playing his first match this season with usual starter Sean Johnson on national team duty.
While the untested keeper parried that first attempt, United forward Christian Ramirez was there to crash home the rebound, his 10th goal of the season, in the ninth minute.
New York City equalized shortly before halftime on a goal from defender Alexander Callens in the 38th minute, but the floodgates truly opened in the second half.
Former No. 1 draft pick Jack Harrison flicked a low header past United goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth in the 52nd minute before former World Cup winner David Villa scored in the 63rd.
"The goal from David Villa summed it up perfectly," Heath said. "It's a throw-in, a needless, harmless throw-in on the halfway line. Two second later, it's in the back of our net, and nobody's done enough to stop anybody."
It took Heath and the players a good half-hour in the locker room after the loss for an impromptu team meeting to try to hash out what the problem is away from home.
Forward Christian Ramirez said the meeting was mostly players speaking their minds, which was especially needed from some of the team leaders. But the squad didn't quite reach a concrete solution.
"On the road, it's going to take a little bit more fight," defender Jermaine Taylor said. "You have to grind on the road and fight for each other from minute one to minute 90. And we didn't do much of that [Thursday]."
As for that last stage of acceptance, United isn't quite ready to call it quits for the eight remaining away matches.
"It can't go on anymore on the road," Ramirez said. "We can't be a completely different team on the road compared to how we are at home. This shouldn't be an excuse for how we play on the road."