After Glorious Failure, Minnesota United Is Now One With Minnesota Sports

It’s good to care enough to hurt.

Last night in Atlanta, Minnesota United became a truly Minnesotan franchise. It’s got to mean more than an expansion love-in and a celebration of soccer stadia specificity — it’s got to hurt, and Tuesday had that Sisyphean quality that encapsulates everything Minnesota teams try their hand at.

It wasn’t overly pleasant to concede 70 goals in 2017 and then go one bigger with 71 in 2018, but the club still created joy by winning seven home matches in its inaugural season followed by 10 in 2018. This guise was made all the more satisfactory considering the true nature of its form — no disrespect to the man, but probably best embodied by Brent Kallman. The early Loons obviously had their limitations.  

Expectations have rightly grown in Year 3, and MNUFC even has its own #HeathIn and #HeathOut divide, which is surely the barometer of a club with an inkling of something greater. But it’s manifest in a current playoff position and the first major final in the club’s history.  

So they gathered at Dual Citizen Brewing Company, two miles west of Allianz Field and pretty much splitting the distance between Minneapolis and Saint Paul. They came early, passing the time reading Kurt Vonnegut and Daniel Okrent and eating beef barbacoa tacos from a food truck. The gathering had been organized by the True North Elite, vocal belters of “Wonderwall” following every United victory.

A few bearded and beanied men rubbed their faces in worry, but the overall feeling was relatively anxiety free. Don’t they know this is the best pathway into the 2020 CONCACAF Champions League? Why aren’t they feeding off the visual energy of André-Pierre Gignac and Tigres playing across the street from the Dollar Tree?   

Arthur Blank, billionaire and co-founder of The Home Depot, shows up on screen and is jeered. We much prefer giving our money to billionaire Bill McGuire, thank you very much. But I do wonder who would win in a fight between the 76-year-old and 71-year-old. 

Kick-off is met with a chant of “Fuck Atlanta, we’re gonna win the Cup,” but the ESPN+ stream stops twice in the opening six minutes. The stream and sound are optimized just in time to see Vito Mannone seemingly tomahawk one into his own net. 

The goal is met with silence, and the “We Love United, We Do” chorus that arrives shortly sounds more like an insincere apology between a quarreling couple than a hymn of faith. 

Somehow the second Atlanta goal is even worse. 

Romain Métanire doesn’t so much invite Justin Meram to cross as give him a motorcade escort into the area. There’s Pity Martínez sweeping home; there’s Michael Boxall, Ike Opara and Osvaldo Alonso ruing the day they all came together to form a spine.  

Ah hell, here we go again. The grumblings begin. The man sat next to me is reprising his favorite bit of sagacity following every failed Minnesota attack: “What a waste!”   

Is it? Did we make a mistake coming here? Should we have not gotten so serious about this whole thing? Why isn’t Darwin Quintero — the team’s highest-paid player and leading scorer in the Cup with six goals — in the starting lineup? 

“You just pick the team that you think is right,” Heath said after the match. “It’s nothing personal in any of that. You pick the team that you feel looks sharp in training, players who will help you do what we wanted to do tonight. That was what I did. Like I say, nothing personal.”

Nothing personal. Maybe that should be our chant and our mindset when we compare ourselves to Atlanta’s on-field success and penchant for breaking attendance records week after week. 

It’s not an affront, everybody. Let’s enjoy our beautiful badge and two or three more of these True North ales. 

But then the worst thing happens. The second half has only just begun when Métanire sends Kevin Molino scampering free down the right wing. His cutback is delicious and Robin Lod somehow manages to direct his effort in off the far post.

Everything changes. Suddenly the place truly feels how it looks: packed from front to back and standing room only. This isn’t just the Campeones de Campeones de Campeones de la Cup presented by Sierra Mist — this can’t be a waste. There’s genuine feeling here.  

In the 74th minute, Leandro González Pirez, an absolute legend of the shithousery, willfully gets himself sent off. There’s 15 minutes to get it done and Quintero is now on the pitch. LET’S GET IT DONE! 

It doesn’t happen, although of course it comes so damn close to happening.  

It’s over. Boxall is devastated; Opara and Mason Toye are in a crumbled heap; Chase Gasper looks as devastated as a software sales representative can be. 

It’s a memorable hurt, one that finally sees the Loons take their place alongside the Vikings, Twins, Wild and Wolves in killing us softly with tangible hope. Bring on the playoffs. (Or the monumental collapse that results in missing out.)

Videos you might like