NEW YORK – That old standard Minnesota stereotype, while usually a positive characteristic of Northerners, might actually be derailing Minnesota United’s season.
“We’re just a little bit too nice, too easy to play on the road,” midfielder Sam Cronin said after United’s 3-1 loss at New York City CF on Thursday. “We’ve just got to be a bit tougher and have a willingness to grind a little bit more than we have been. We just have to be better and be stronger.”
The Loons (5-10-3, ninth in the Western conference) have just three days to toughen up before their next match, a 6 p.m. faceoff with the Columbus Crew SC (8-9-1, fifth in the Eastern conference) on Tuesday at TCF Bank Stadium.
But that bolstering faces a roadblock, in the form of a very rundown squad.
Seven of United’s 26 players are injured, and none is guaranteed to come back in time for Tuesday. On top of that, team captain Francisco Calvo and midfielder Johan Venegas, both starters, left for national team duty with Costa Rica on Friday. They will likely be gone as long their country lasts in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, which runs July 7-26.
The most worrying position is center back, with usual starters Brent Kallman, who has a knee injury, and Calvo both possibly out. Backups Vadim Demidov and Joe Greenspan are also dealing with injuries, leaving Jermaine Taylor, who played in Kallman’s stead Thursday, as the last man standing.
Holding midfielder Sam Cronin could be an emergency option, but he played through a dislocated shoulder after an awkward landing Thursday.
“It’s going to be tough,” Taylor said of not knowing who his center back partner will be for Tuesday. “I leave everything to the coaching staff. It’s their decision and their adjustment for that.’’
The lack of manpower was a problem for coach Adrian Heath in the New York City loss, when United scored first early, only to let in three unanswered goals. The Loons are winless in nine games on the road (0-7-2).
“We haven’t got enough depth to change things around. Because, trust me, if I could, I would,” Heath said. “I can’t keep watching this. It’s driving me crazy.”
Heath has said he doesn’t “get enough” out of his players on the road and that those guys are “kidding themselves if they think they’re trying as hard as they can,” so it’s probably a small consolation that United has this last home match before a 10-day respite. The Loons then start a five-match home stand with a friendly against Mexican club Atlas on July 15 before returning to league play July 19 against Houston.
And on July 10, the Major League Soccer secondary transfer window opens, meaning United will likely bring in several new players to strengthen the squad.
“Certainly for me, the gap, the break can’t come soon enough,” Heath said. “We need to get one or two more people in building to put people under more pressure at the starting positions.”