Minnesota United FC has seen plenty of success over the past two seasons. The Loons won the 2014 NASL spring championship and had the league’s best record over the full season, and a home victory Saturday night potentially could give them the lead in both the overall standings and the chase for the fall-season title.
Unfortunately for Minnesota, though, the game is against the New York Cosmos, and if there’s anything we’ve learned since the Cosmos joined the NASL midway through 2013, it’s that when Minnesota plays New York, something goes terribly wrong for the Loons.
United’s seven-match history with New York includes zero wins. It took the Loons four tries to even score a goal against New York; the first three matches were shockingly similar, with Minnesota playing terribly and the Cosmos scoring a late winner. The four matches since haven’t gone any better: In three of them, the Loons have taken the lead and lost it. In the other, Minnesota striker Christian Ramirez missed a penalty late in the game and the teams drew 0-0.
Ramirez admitted that the penalty miss still weighs on his mind, especially since United would have clinched the fall-season championship with a win that night. “Me, personally, I feel like I owe New York one for last year at home,” he said.
The talent level between the two teams isn’t that different, despite New York signing such long-tenured European stars as Marcos Senna and Raúl. But Minnesota appears to have some sort of mental block about the Cosmos that leads to nerves and mistakes, especially late in the game. The Loons never have scored later than the eighth minute of a game against New York; meanwhile, the Cosmos have scored a second-half goal in six of the seven matches, with the majority of those goals coming in the final 20 minutes of the game.
For Ramirez, it’s that elusive second goal that’s proved the difference. “[Assistant] Coach Carl [Craig] has really dug into our heads about getting the second goal,” he said. “I think we have a 75 percent win rate when we score two goals in a game, so he’s really been digging that into our heads, that we score two goals and not let off the gas. When we go up 1-0, we need to treat it like it’s 0-0 or even like we’re down a goal, so that we maintain that sense of urgency.”
The path to NASL glory runs directly through New York, the league’s marquee team over the past two seasons. If Minnesota is going to lift another trophy, the Loons have to get over the Cosmos Curse and find a way to beat New York.
• It’s been somewhat shocking to see Chelsea’s difficult start to the Premier League season. Heading into this weekend’s game against Arsenal, Chelsea is 17th in the league, already 11 points back of league leader Manchester City. Chelsea beat Maccabi Tel Aviv 4-0 in their midweek Champions League game, which should help its confidence level, but the team’s floundering start in England has led to increasing criticism for manager José Mourinho. It’s a little hard to see why it’d be the manager’s fault that several players — notably midfielder Cesc Fàbregas — look to be on the decline. That said, Mourinho is in the third year of his current Chelsea tenure, and with the difficulties, it’s worth remembering that his previous stint with Chelsea and his time with Real Madrid both ended following acrimonious third seasons.
• Los Angeles FC, which will join MLS in 2018, announced this week that it was adopting its LAFC placeholder name as the club’s official name. It’s part of the newest trend in MLS naming, which has seen the past five announced clubs — including Orlando City, New York City FC, Minnesota United and Atlanta United — going with traditional English names, rather than American-style nicknames or Europeanized names (such as Real Salt Lake). That said, LAFC’s hope that fans would create their own organic nickname for the squad might be unfounded. Toronto FC, which began play in 2007, still doesn’t have a better nickname than “the Reds,” for the color of its jerseys.
• This is the opening week of Big Ten play for the Gophers women’s soccer team, and the team kicked things off with a 2-1 win at Ohio State on Thursday night. Head coach Stefanie Golan was concerned about her team’s offense coming into the season, but after some struggles in the nonconference season, things appear to be turning around. For one, the Gophers scored nine goals against Nebraska-Omaha last week; for another, scoring two regulation goals in a Big Ten road game is something that they didn’t accomplish all of last season. Sunday’s game at No. 4 Penn State will be a difficult test but a good benchmark of how far the team has come.
WEEKEND WATCH GUIDE
Bundesliga: Bayern Munich at SV Darmstadt, 8:30 a.m. Saturday, Fox Sports 1. Darmstadt is the best underdog story going, even in the remarkably egalitarian Bundesliga. The club had gone 33 years without playing in the top league, and as recently as 2013 was in the third division, fighting relegation to the fourth. Two successive promotions have the team up to the big time, and it’s performed admirably, earning three draws and a win in four games. A visit from European powerhouse Bayern Munich, though, may be a tall order for the underdogs.
NASL: New York at Minnesota, 7 p.m. Saturday, Ch. 45. United’s latest effort to break through against the Cosmos comes at an important juncture of the season. Minnesota finishes the year with five of its last seven games at home, where it has lost just once all season. That said, the Loons have won only five of 10 games at the National Sports Center; in the other matches they’ve taken the lead, only to give it back late in the game. If they’re to clinch the fall season, those wobbles at the end of home games must be corrected.
Bundesliga: Bayer Leverkusen at Borussia Dortmund, 10:30 a.m. Sunday, Fox Sports 2. Dortmund is off to the best start in the history of the Bundesliga, with four wins in four matches and 15 goals scored against just three allowed. On the other side, Bayer Leverkusen won 4-1 over BATE Borisov in their midweek Champions League meeting, with new arrival Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez scoring one goal and setting up another. Dortmund’s flying start means that every game is a trap game; it already may be looking forward to an Oct. 4 trip to Bayern Munich.
MLS: New York at Portland, 4 p.m. Sunday, ESPN. New York’s loss Wednesday to New England, in a performance that head coach Jesse Marsch called “one of our worst of the year,” also moved the Red Bulls off the top of the Eastern Conference standings. Portland, meanwhile, is struggling to keep pace in the West, in part because it is again having trouble scoring goals this season. The Timbers’ 29 tallies in 28 games rank ahead of only the punchless Colorado Rapids.