VANCOUVER – New Minnesota United starting goalkeeper Vito Mannone has a history with the second day in March.
He was born on it, 31 years ago Saturday. On his 26th birthday, he played the most memorable game of his career.
His Premier League Sunderland team played Manchester City in England’s 2014 Football League Cup final before an announced 84,697 fans — including more 30,000 of his team’s own supporters — at London’s Wembley Stadium, losing 2-1. Mannone put the Black Cats there by beating Manchester United in the semifinal with two saves in the penalty shootout.
“Big games usually come along on my birthday,” he said. “Playing Man City at Wembley was a great honor. It was a nice one, despite not winning.”
Mannone’s 31st birthday took him to Vancouver’s B.C. Place stadium and his first MLS regular-season game. Now 14 years after leaving Italy to sign with English power Arsenal at age 17, Mannone now is one of United’s elder statesmen.
“It seems like a long time ago, but some days it feels like yesterday,” Mannone said. “It’s a good feeling, looking back. The career brought me here, to this day and this is a big one, the season opener.”
After getting his first MLS victory, Mannone tweeted, “Best birthday present I could get on my MLS debut.”
United started the same 11 coach Adrian Heath settled upon in preseason with striker Angelo Rodriguez (groin) still not quite ready to start. He came on in the 82nd minute. Rookie and second-round pick Hassani Dotson entered in second-half injury time, becoming the only draft pick not selected in the first round to play for the Loons.
“He has earned his debut, his little cameo at the end,” Heath said. “He worked really hard in preseason. We think this will be the first of many.”
Heath considered United’s preseason a success for a simple reason: His team entered Saturday’s season opener mostly healthy, with Rodriguez held out of the starting lineup and fellow striker Abu Danladi (ankle) kept out for one more week.
“It was a good preseason,” Heath said. “You’re trying to work on things, but the most important thing is at end of the six weeks everybody is physically ready.”
• The Loons sent Dayne St. Clair, Collin Martin, Carter Manley and Wyatt Omsberg to their United Soccer League Division III affiliate in Madison, Wis., to play two preseason games in four days. “The last thing we wanted was for them to have six weeks of hard work, no game for three or four weeks and then go backwards again,” Heath said.
• The Loons acquired 18-year-old Tanzanian midfield prospect Ally Hamis Ng’Anzi from the Czech Republic’s third division and will loan him to Madison for the season.
• United trained both Thursday and Friday at B.C. Place to get accustomed to the indoor stadium’s artificial turf, of which no soccer player is a fan.
• The Whitecaps are celebrating the 40th anniversary season of their 1979 NASL championship.