United soccer coach Manny Lagos found perspective driving to Blaine for his team’s first training session after a loss this season.
United fell out of first place with a 1-0 loss on Monday at defending North American Soccer League champion New York. But a home game on Saturday against the league’s new No. 1 team, Fort Lauderdale, makes a quick physical and emotional recovery important.
“We didn’t play that well and we only lost 1-0,” Lagos said of the New York game. “On the road. In a desperate game for them. That tells me something.”
Turns out his players beat Lagos to the punch. Five players in the lineup that night were older than 30 and some of those veterans spoke up leaving New York. The message from such players as Tiago Calvano, Cristiano Dias and Juliano Vicentini: Don’t let the season’s first loss carry over into future games.
“We have great leadership, and they helped us young guys get over it,” forward and NASL rookie Christian Ramirez said. “I think we’ll have a bite to our step on Saturday.”
Both Minnesota and Fort Lauderdale have a 4-1-0 record and are tied atop the NASL standings with 12 points. But the Strikers are in first place based on the first tiebreaker, goal differential. Fort Lauderdale’s 13 goals scored are five more than second-place United.
Fort Lauderdale, the league’s worst team last spring, changed its fortunes by scoring with balance — eight different players have scored at least once — and precision. Half of the Strikers’ 26 shots on goal have found their mark.
Four players scored last week, including Martin Nuñez and Fafa Picault, each with their team-leading third goals of the season.
Minnesota’s defense will be further tested as Kevin Venegas remains sidelined with a broken jaw suffered in training last week.
Brian Kallman filled in for Venegas at New York. The retooled back line saw its continuity affected, Lagos said, but “for the most part played well. Too many guys had an off night to really assess it completely.”
While Lagos praised Fort Lauderdale for having “some nice weapons and firing well offensively,” his own offense lacked ball movement and an ability to create chances against New York.
There are several improvements to make on a short week but players are determined.
“We get a chance to fight for the first position and we’re carrying that feeling that we could have done better against the Cosmos,” Dias said. “That winning feeling is pretty good. So when you lose you want to get that back as soon as possible.”