This was a phenomenal summer on the Twin Cities sports scene. The names of the superstars that arrived here bring wide smiles to fans from the west end of the Green Line (Target Field) to the east (CHS Field):
Nelson Cruz. Napheesa Collier. Chesny Young. And the Houdini of the controller, Michael “BearDaBeast’’ Key.
Cruz turned 39 on July 1 and spearheaded the Twins’ drive toward an unfathomable 300 home runs, 900 runs scored and an AL Central title. Collier was the WNBA’s rookie of year, such a fine draft selection at No. 6 overall that she also won the league’s top executive award for Cheryl Reeve.
Young was the standout third baseman and MVP of the championship sweep for the St. Paul Saints, winners of an independent league title for the time in 15 years.
And as we waited through the white-knuckle, five-game final series of the NBA 2K League in early August, it was BearDaBeast that put up 23 points with six assists to lead T-Wolves Gaming to a 52-35 drubbing of 76er GC in Game 5.
The amazing element was this made T-Wolves Gaming the first expansion team to win a title in a league that dates to 2018.
Meantime, at the midpoint of the Green Line’s Minneapolis-to-St. Paul journey came another summer success at the new soccer stadium, Allianz Field. Minnesota United advanced to the playoffs for the first time in its third season with a 2-1 victory over Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday night.
The Loons allowed 70 and 71 goals in their first two seasons. They gave up No. 41 to KC’s Botond Barath in Wednesday’s seventh minute, then waited until the 70th minute for Osvaldo Alonso to tie it and the 90th for rookie Hassani Dotson to get the winner.
This put United two points in front for second place in the Western Conference.
Staying there in two closing matches would be important, since it could mean a pair of home playoff games – and the Loons have one loss (and five draws) in 16 home MLS games.
The No. 1 contributor to this vastly improved defense came when KC decided to drop noble veteran Ike Opara, and the defender wound up in Minnesota. Loons observers are suggesting that it would be a disservice if Opara were not selected as the MLS defender of the year.
Opara was not alone in transforming the Loons from a sieve to stingy. Romain Metanire, an outside defender from Madagascar, was brought in from French soccer and could join Opara in being named to the MLS Best XI.
Alonso and Jan Gregus were acquired to secure the midfield. The versatile Dotson, a second-round draft choice, could be the rookie of the year — and another rookie, Chase Gasper, has emerged as oft-played defender.
And then there’s goalkeeper Vito Mannone, a veteran on loan from England, with those 11 shutouts, and a couple of terrific saves that saved his mates on Wednesday.
There were only four returnees among Wednesday’s 11 starters: defender Michael Boxall, midfielder Kevin Molino and forwards Darwin Quintero and Mason Toye. And Toye didn’t play much as a rookie in 2018, before emerging in the middle of this year’s schedule.
Heath said then if United wasn’t a playoff team by its third season, he should lose his job.
That’s not going to happen, although he still enthusiastically embraces the “nobody gave us a chance angle,’’ including when mentioning Sunday’s regular-season home finale vs. runaway West leader Los Angeles FC.
Veterans such as Opara, Alonso, Gregus and Metanire have made a Cruz-like difference with the Loons, yet it was intriguing to find Gasper as a starter on defense and Dotson was the first substitution after 60 minutes.
Soccer aficionados talk about the learning curve for a young player as if it’s the advanced calculus of sports.
Considering that, Heath was asked the odds of getting two rookies — Gasper, 15th overall from Maryland, and Dotson, 31st overall from Oregon State — as contributors to the playoff push.
“We have done very well in the draft since the start,’’ Heath said. “All of the kids, they have added something to the group. Chase and Hassani have progressed very well for us.’’
Heath will be another rookie, when it comes to the MLS playoffs. He took Orlando City from a minor league to the MLS as an expansion team in 2015, then was fired 16 games into the 2016 season.
On Wednesday, he made the playoffs with United on a precise timetable. His own. Year 3.