By the end of last Saturday's 2-0 loss to the San Antonio Scorpions, I was wondering whether Minnesota United FC could possibly take any positives from the game - and concluding that they couldn't. This was a San Antonio team that was last in the league, hadn't won this year at home, and had scored fewer goals than any other team in the NASL. The Scorpions scored in the first minute, then in the 91st, and Minnesota had to feel like their swoon was back.
A few thoughts, in no particular order, now that I've had a couple of days to reflect on the game:
1. United will not be happy with their defense - something that is becoming a theme for the team. Both of San Antonio's goals were slightly ridiculous. The first came off a throw-in ten yards into the Scorpions half that somehow managed to bounce past the Minnesota back line. On the second, San Antonio winger Walter Ramirez somehow managed to dance around two defenders and roll a shot inside the far post.
United is tied for last in the league defensively this year, having allowed 13 goals in eight games. Injuries have been a problem - both Kyle Altman and Connor Tobin have missed time - but that doesn't explain everything. Against San Antonio, United played the back four and goalkeeper that they started for most of 2012, and they still gave up two goals and got caught flat-footed a couple of other times.
There are no easy changes to be made; the team has already switched starting goalkeepers, from Daryl Sattler to Matt Van Oekel, without seeing immediate results. One thing is clear, though; for most of the year, Minnesota has needed to score three goals to win, and that's a hard ask.
2. Minnesota actually controlled possession and played some good soccer on Saturday. United had four midfielders out with injury, leading to the team starting a midfield cobbled together with bailing wire and duct tape. But even so, they had the better of the possession, especially in the first half, when San Antonio hardly seemed able to get near the ball.
I've had a number of people ask me about whether depth is a problem for Minnesota, but I'm not sure you can say that, after Saturday - at least in the midfield.
3. United's finishing simply has to get better. Too many crosses are either misdirected, or sail harmlessly through the opposition area. Too many shots miss the net entirely. Over the past few games, Minnesota has done a much better job of getting the ball wide and getting the ball into dangerous areas, but on Saturday, they hardly forced the San Antonio keepers (Pat Hannigan went off injured, forcing Jeremy Vuolo into action midway through the first half) into a save.
It doesn't help that Pablo Campos's scoring touch has deserted him, at least for the moment. In 2012, he scored a goal on more than a quarter of his shots; so far in 2013, he's scored just once in 11 shots at goal. He needs to rediscover that 20-goals-a-year touch.
Saturday's game against Fort Lauderdale at the Metrodome is an absolute must-win for Minnesota if they want to be in the running for the first-half championship. They've been lucky so far with other results, in that a win Saturday could still conceivably put them into first place. They won't get a better opportunity: at home, and against a Strikers team that's currently in last place.
I suppose the problem is that Minnesota's already lost once to Fort Lauderdale this year - and as far as the last-place designation goes, San Antonio was in last place, too, until last week.