A pair of leads at home. A first-half lead on the road. Nothing Minnesota United FC did fazed Ottawa, which rallied to win both times the teams met the past two weeks.
Midfielder Jamie Watson, who scored for the Loons in both games, said a common thread emerged. When Ottawa scored, Minnesota’s confidence began circling the drain.
“That’s where we let ourselves down,” Watson said. “We have to get the mentality that once we give up a goal, we’ve got to go back to what we built up for all week in terms of the game plan.”
“Don’t switch off” became the team’s mantra any time a goal was scored in intrasquad games this week. The hope was creating a better mind-set for Saturday’s match against Jacksonville at home.
“A bump in the road shouldn’t have you questioning yourself,” coach Carl Craig said.
Minnesota’s three-game losing streak, a first since 2013, makes for a precarious playoff perch. The Loons hold the fourth and final spot in the combined North American Soccer League standings, just one point ahead of both Tampa Bay and Miami FC and three ahead of Carolina. Victories are worth three points and draws earn one point.
Minnesota, which has won just once on the road all season, must keep pace as one of the league best home teams. The Loons, 9-3-1 in Blaine, need three points Saturday.
“If we’re not winning on the road, we have to win at home,” defender Kevin Venegas said. “Especially at the end of the season when we need the points. I’m not going to say we’re going to be a desperate side on Saturday, but I definitely think the team is starting to understand we need to tighten things up.”
National team call-ups
Defender Damion Lowe (Jamaica) and backup goalkeeper Steward Ceus (Haiti) received national team call-ups for the 2017 Caribbean Cup and will each miss two NASL matches next week.
A native of Kingston, Lowe joined Minnesota on loan from the Seattle Sounders at the beginning of the season and has become a regular on the back line.
Ceus represented Haiti at the World Cup qualifying in September, starting in Haiti’s 1-0 loss to Costa Rica.
Both national teams play on Wednesday and Oct. 11. Lowe and Ceus will leave after Saturday’s game and miss games at Tampa Bay and Puerto Rico.
“It’s a massive honor, but it’s not what we need right now,” Craig said.
A ‘terrible spectator’
A knee injury forced Venegas to miss eight matches and view the action from the stands. A self-described “terrible spectator”, Venegas nevertheless gained fresh perspective.
“You see the angles, spacing and decisionmaking in a totally different way from what you see on the field,” said Venegas, who has returned to the starting lineup. “So you get a little more comfortable, almost, when you go back out because you know you have more time than you might have thought before.”
After his goal at Ottawa last week, Watson grabbed a ball, put it under his jersey and kissed the manufactured bump as a tribute to his wife, Caley. The couple is expecting their second child, a baby boy, in March.