Minnesota United’s 2-1 victory at the New York Red Bulls last Saturday does more than bring them home from five consecutive road games to start the season with nine precious points.
It gives coach Adrian Heath options, including one to not change a thing even if star Darwin Quintero is ready to play again Saturday in the Allianz Field debut against New York City F.C. Without Quintero and winger Miguel Ibarra, Heath adjusted his lineup and formation — unveiling a 3-4-3 scheme — and the Loons secured their third road victory this season. Quintero returned to training Monday after he hurt his groin in the team’s first practice at new Allianz Field last week. Ibarra ran lightly on his own indoors in Blaine and is not expected to start when United opens its new $250 million stadium.
“I think what it does is it gives me the opportunity to keep the same lineup,” Heath said. “As I’ve always said — and I got told this when I was 16 years of age — the manager picks the team, the players drop themselves. That’s what happens. Sometimes it’s through injuries and sometimes it’s from lack of form. But when people come and perform like they do, it gives me an opportunity to keep the same lineup.”
Even if Quintero is healthy and ready to play?
“Even with that,” Heath said.
Last Saturday, Heath inserted veteran defender Brent Kallman into a new three-man back line with Ike Opara and Michael Boxall. He moved outside backs Romain Metanire and Francisco Calvo into wing spots alongside midfielder Jan Gregus and Ozzie Alonso, and started striker Abu Danladi with Angelo Rodriguez and Ethan Finlay up front.
“The one thing the weekend gave us, it really was a team performance,” Heath said. “Everybody stuck to the game plan. Everybody worked incredibly hard to do what was right. Obviously, I have a decision to make at the end of the week.”
Ibarra likely won’t be one. He said he stretched his hamstring during the first half at New England two weekends ago and it progressively bothered him through training last week. Heath said he thought he noticed something unusual in Ibarra’s gait before then.
He first played for the franchise in 2012 and has long awaited playing the first game at Allianz Field.
“Definitely, but it’s a long season,” he said. “If I can’t go and we need to rest it more, that’s what I have to do.”
Ibarra dealt with a similar hamstring injury when he played in Mexico before he returned to United in 2017.
“Now knowing the history I had back then, I didn’t know what to do with it,” he said. “I’ll be a little bit smarter about it, taking it day by day and see how it progresses. Just be smart about it, making sure it doesn’t get worse. I’d rather miss one, two games than miss probably four or six weeks.”
He watched from home Saturday as his teammates won on the road for the third time, after winning just once there a year ago. Heath said he, his staff and players had talked about achieving goals in those first five games. They’ve already played nearly a third of their 17 road games.
“We spoke about seven points,” Heath said. “I would have taken seven, but if we get nine that would be really good when you consider where we’ve been. It’s a good start, but now it’s not going to count for anything if we don’t take advantage of it.”
About that weather
United opens Allianz Field Saturday. Weather forecasters are calling for 6 inches of snow or more by Thursday. Two years ago, snow fell throughout the Loons’ MLS home opener at TCF Bank Stadium.
When asked if he’s prepared to shovel, Heath said, “I honestly thought we were done with it, but it doesn’t look like it. I’m sure everybody will help out. It’s where we live. Let’s get on with it.”