Minnesota United coach Adrian Heath was defiant, his gaze narrowing as he steadied himself for the fight.
His Loons were set to make their Major League Soccer debut in Portland, and the veteran coach took exception to predictions that almost unanimously placed Minnesota at the bottom of the Western Conference. Some league observers even floated the idea that MNUFC could go down as the worst expansion team in MLS history.
“Well, let’s see,” the Englishman said, his tone darkening.
What some might call a roster built on the cheap, Heath saw pragmatic caution with flexibility for the future. What others might call inexperienced he viewed as a team full of players with something to prove – ones with chips on their shoulders for whom doubters would provide only fuel for the fire, guys like Heath himself.
Two games in – and with the necessary caveat that there is a long way still to go in Minnesota’s inaugural season – it’s fair to begin to question what exactly Heath was looking at.
One week after getting blasted 5-1 by the Portland Timbers, Minnesota somehow fared even worse in its home opener at snowy TCF Bank Stadium on Sunday. That it was Atlanta United, the league’s other expansion team, putting six goals past the hosts only poured a few extra grains of salt into the wound.
Josef Martinez scored a hat trick, Miguel Almiron tallied two goals plus an assist and Jacob Peterson set the final score at 6-1 in stoppage time. Oh, and starting Minnesota goalkeeper John Alvbage reportedly was rushed to the hospital after suffering what looked like a gruesome injury late in the second half.
Hearing that John Alvbage has a broken leg. The goalkeeper is being rushed to a hospital. #MINvATL
— Jeff Rueter (@jeffrueter) March 12, 2017
John Alvbage did walk to the ambulance under his own power. Encouraging sign for the Swede. #MNUFC
— Jeff Rueter (@jeffrueter) March 13, 2017
No other MLS expansion team had ever allowed more than six goals in its first two league matches, and Minnesota nearly doubled that up. Those are the types of benchmarks that Heath was desperately seeking to avoid, and those are the types of statistics that do inevitably get you lumped in with some of the worst teams in league history.
Again, it’s early. If last season proved anything, when the Seattle Sounders started 0-3-0 and didn’t really get going until August before surging all the way to MLS Cup, it’s that any kind of definitive impressions this early in the year are foolhardy.
Heath wasn’t incorrect in pointing to Minnesota’s roster flexibility. All three Designated Player spots are still open, and there is room to maneuver below that top line, as well. So long as the club goes into the process with clear eyes, there’s nothing wrong with building slowly and carefully.
However, unless something changes – and quickly – it’s going to be a long first season in the Twin Cities.
Some other observations from the second weekend of MLS action:
Houston looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun.
And even its first-place status in the West doesn’t stick, when’s the last time that description could reasonably be applied to the Houston Dynamo?
All three members of Houston’s new-look front line – Romell Quioto, Alberth Elis and Erick Torres – scored in the 3-1 home win over Columbus on Saturday, and its that trident of attacking options that inspires such optimism going forward. Speedy Honduran internationals Quioto and Elis were added this offseason, while Torres has been criminally underutilized since signing for Houston in 2015.
Those three all work off each other well, showcasing a chemistry that far outpaces their actual time spent together on the field. If the defense holds up behind them, the Dynamo could be a sleeper to watch out West.
I’m sure the Bedoya-Altidore spat is exactly what Bruce Arena wanted to see.
Alejandro Bedoya got under the skin of Jozy Altidore by telling reporters after the Philadelphia Union’s 2-2 draw with Toronto FC that the fellow U.S. men’s national team veteran “tends to go down easily in the box.” In fairness to Bedoya, Altidore did make the most of the contact that led to his first-half penalty kick.
But Altidore did not take the critique lightly, firing back with a since-deleted tweet that Bedoya has “a lot to say but never to anyone’s face.”
Toronto and Philly don’t play again until mid-August, leaving plenty of time for tempers to cool between now and then. But next week, Altidore and Bedoya should be reunited when Arena calls in his 23-man USMNT roster for World Cup qualifying.
David Villa can still ball.
The reigning MLS Most Valuable Player scored twice and added an assist in New York City FC’s 4-0 home blowout of D.C. United on Sunday.
— New York City FC (@NYCFC) March 12, 2017
Well, that’s one way to punish diving.
Guzman hurled himself to the ground so violently that he injured his own shoulder and had to be substituted.
Goal of the Week
Anibal Godoy, San Jose Earthquakes.
— San Jose Earthquakes (@SJEarthquakes) March 12, 2017
Yes, backup Whitecaps goalkeeper Paolo Tornaghi should have done better on Godoy’s shot from distance, but man, did Godoy get some torque on what held up as the game-winner. The Quakes rallied from two goals down against the 10-man Caps to bag three huge points against a fellow Western Conference foe.
Matt Pentz covers Major League Soccer for FC Yahoo. Follow him on Twitter @mattpentz.