Minnesota United FC forward Christian Ramirez used the word “chippy” to describe the team’s current vibe — a sharp contrast to the soccer hype in the state.
Major League Soccer officials will be in St. Paul on Friday to announce that Minnesota’s expansion team will begin league play in 2017.
The Loons, meanwhile, are mired in a four-match winless stretch and have failed to score in 270 minutes of action, excluding an own goal against Puerto Rico.
Frustration is palpable. Teammates had to get between central defender Tiago Calvano, who often wears the captain arm band during games, and goalkeeper Steward Ceus as tempers flared during practice Tuesday.
“It starts to wear a little bit, but that’s normal,” coach Carl Craig said. “Get it off your chest and get on with it. It’s like your wife or husband. You’re coming back regardless.”
Craig did acknowledge practice arguments are symptoms of a difficult stretch.
“What’s happening right now is certainly not what I expected,” he said. “I don’t think any of us expected us to be in this roller-coaster season. The fact is, we are.”
Of chief concern to Craig is getting a full complement of players back on the field. Minnesota (3-3-2, sixth in the North American Soccer League fall season standings) plays host Tampa Bay (2-4-2, ninth) on Wednesday at the National Sports Center Stadium in Blaine, still reeling from a rash of injuries.
Craig said “the concept of depth was there” at the beginning of the season. “But it’s not just number of or quality of guys, it’s guys at certain positions.”
No personnel loss proved more costly than right outside defender Kevin Venegas. Coming off a season in which he was voted to the NASL’s Best XI team, Venegas’ knee injury left a tough hole to fill. Three teammates, all of them playing out of position, have done their best.
“Everyone has to deal with that kind of thing, but ours is just off the map,” said Craig, who added the overall effect runs deep. “The guys who are not injured are pretty low on gas because they play so often. I think there’s also the possibility of complacency going on when you don’t have guys to push you.”
Ramirez, the league leader with 12 goals, said an inability to field a consistent lineup has hurt the team’s offensive potency.
“We’re in a position where, when we get Viva [Kevin Venegas], Juliano [Vicentini], Ben [Speas], Stefano [Pinho] and Damion [Lowe] back, I don’t feel there’s a team in the league that we can’t beat,” Ramirez said.
On-field struggles loom larger in Craig’s mind than Friday’s MLS announcement event at CHS Field in St. Paul. He will not be in attendance because United plays at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in Jacksonville.
“I think it’s an excellent moment for the club. I don’t think about me self when it comes to this project,” he said. “The project I’m involved with right now is to push this team along and keep them moving.”