Minnesota United FC’s first victory of the spring season did not elicit much public display of emotion. Defensive partners Tiago Calvano and Cristiano Dias hugged while other slapped hands.
Perhaps it was timing. The 1-0 victory against previously undefeated Atlanta on Saturday at the National Sports Center Stadium in Blaine came in the fifth game. A sluggish start was not expected for a team projected to rank among the North American Soccer League’s elite.
Still, coach Manny Lagos and players, speaking in measured tones, said any victory is worthwhile for a success-starved Minnesota team (1-1-3).
“Your first win of the year and it comes five games into the season — there’s certainly some angst about trying to get it,” Lagos said.
Miguel Ibarra connected with Pablo Campos for the game’s only goal, scored with two minutes remaining in the first half to the delight of the announced sellout crowd of 9,058 fans. Campos leads the team with two goals this season, both on Ibarra assists.
“We knew they were undefeated,” Ibarra said. “Our mentality was just, ‘Get the win.’ ”
Saturday’s match saw the first starts this season for Kalif Alhassan and Jamie Watson. As a substitute last week, Watson scored the tying goal late against Edmonton.
“We needed a little bit extra tonight on both sides of the ball,” Lagos said. “Some guys who wanted some key minutes did well.”
Watson nearly connected with Campos for a second-half goal against Atlanta (1-1-4), but the header missed the target.
Notable for his absence from the starting lineup was forward Christian Ramirez, who led the NASL with 20 goals last season but has managed just one this spring.
Ramirez replaced Campos in the 76th minute. Both tactical and psychological factors weighed into the decision not to start Ramirez.
“I think tonight is great for him because it reminds him there are a lot of little things you can do to contribute while he gets his confidence hopefully going to put it in the back of the net,” said Lagos, who lauded Ramirez for playing with energy and making plays defensively.
Ramirez, who combined with Ibarra to dominate games last season, watched as the reigning NASL most valuable player showcased his talents. Ibarra’s work close to the Atlanta goal led to a tap-in for Campos, a goal that ended Silverbacks goalkeeper Steward Ceus’ two-match shutout streak.
“I thought Miguel had a complete game,” Lagos said. “He was dangerous for almost 90 minutes. His energy and effort around the field got guys excited.”