MLS Notebook: In the Land of 35,000 Loons

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by JACK BELL

The team with the best damn logo in sports may be the worst damn team in Major League Soccer. But hey, for expansion Minnesota United yielding 11 goals in two games is beside the point.

On Sunday in Minneapolis, the club played its first home game in the snow and cold — the temperature at kickoff was 19 degrees, the coldest game in league history, surpassing by one degree the temperature at the start of the frigid MLS Cup game between Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake in December 2013.

logo“It’s what it is here, who we are, what we deal with,” said Bruce McGuire, 54, a Minnesota soccer aficionado whose pedigree stretches back to the Kicks of the old NASL. He is also a founder of the Dark Clouds supporters group and has run duNord, a daily collection of “soccer news, opinions, little thoughts and feelings” about the game for the past 12 years.

For his years of dedication and early purchase of season-tickets to games at TFC Bank Stadium on the campus of the University of Minnesota (where he works in community outreach), McGuire gained entry to the Itasca Society, an elite club for fans. Membership is limited to 11,842 — the actual number of lakes in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Go figure in a place that gave us “Fargo.” In a nod to McGuire’s long dedication to all things Minnesota soccer, he was granted the honor of tossing the coin before the kickoff against Atlanta United.

“I got a call from the club last week and they said they couldn’t think of a better person to toss the coin first,” McGuire said. “It was incredible. Fantastic. I was standing on sideline with all the players and officials, and the players they brought back who had an impact on Minnesota soccer history.

“It was snowing and cold, but there was no one batting an eye. A member of the Itasca Society will toss the coin at every game this year. It was so humbling. I felt like I was doing it for all my friends and all the fans. This was for them, I was their representative on the field.”

17192250_1358588734197512_2379232829254570287_oThat field was covered in snow as the more than 35,000 fans shivered in the stands. Back in December, McGuire was onsite a day after MLS Cup when the Loons broke ground on their new stadium in St. Paul, the state capital, with club, city and league officials on hand. The temperature was minus-7.

“There was a howling wind whipping around in an empty lot,” McGuire said. “It was insane but we were laughing. Commissioner [Don] Garber made a mention of the weather and then I told him the opener is on March 12 and I said ‘my God, if it snows it will be perfect.’ He gave me a look like you’re a nutjob. And of course I am.”

The match between the Uniteds capped a weekend of a half-dozen games played in chilly temperatures (one game, New England vs. Orlando City, was postpone because of “extreme” cold!) from 28 degrees in the Bronx to 33 in Kansas City.

Did someone say “European calendar”?

Early Optimism in Houston

The Houston Dynamo were one of the worst teams in MLS last year, surpassed (if that’s the right word, by Chicago). It’s early in the 2017 season, but the Dynamo are off to a fast start with two wins in two games.

A big reason has been the play of Cubo Torres, 24, who has scored in each of Houston’s victories. The goal by the young Mexican in the 3-1 win over Columbus has been nominated for goal of the week, that after Torres was named to the league’s team of the week.

Torres is back in Houston after spending time on loan back in Mexico with Cruz Azul — and the Dynamo could not be happier. His 24 goals are No. 1 on the list of Mexican-born players in MLS, which includes his time at Chivas USA in 2013 and 2014 (22 in 44 games).

Champions League of the Americas?

It’s another Champions League week in North America and in Europe.

So it seemed like a good time for World Soccer magazine to feature an article by the veteran journalist Tim Vickery in which he is bullish on the prospect of a Champions League of America. The scheme is being pushed by Riccardo Silva, the international media entrepreneur who also owns Miami FC of the North American Soccer League.

In Vickery’s view, the logistical challenges may be daunting, but the tournament among far-flung teams from North and South America would lend some additional legitimacy to MLS while also throwing a lifeline to struggling club teams across South America that are hemorrhaging money and players.

“But for all the logistical obstacles, there are grounds to believe that some might be willing to go the extra miles to make such a project work.

“The synergies are clear. To the north, there is Major League Soccer – consolidated and growing (in no small part due to South American talent) but lacking the credibility that only tradition can supply.

“To the south, there is tradition in spades. But none of the momentum that the MLS enjoys. South American club football is in a bad way.”

This week alone, the Vancouver Whitecaps face three games — they played at San Jose last weekend (losing goalkeeper David Ousted to a red card), in Monterrey, Mexico against Liga MX champion Tigres in the first lege of a CONCACAF Champions League semifinal series on Tuesday night, then it’s back to British Columbia to prepare for Saturday afternoon’s game against visiting Toronto.

So just think about those midweek jaunts to Buenos Aires or Rio de Janeiro.

Absolute Zero

Four teams, two in each conference, have yet to score a goal. Three (D.C. United, Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake) have played two games, while New England has only played once.

Sporting has played two scoreless draw while RSL and D.C. each have a loss and a draw.

RSL’s drought has been particularly extreme: It has scored only two goals in its past eight regular-season matches. The club is 0-6-4 in its last 10 games, if you include the first-round playoff last year. RSL’s last win came last Aug. 26.

Notes

The Red Bulls, who travel to Seattle for a Sunday night match, have won two games — both on own goals. … NYCFC’s David Villa, who scored twice against D.C. United, now has 11 multiple-goal games in his three seasons in MLS. … Sebastian Giovinco, last year’s league MVP, has not scored in two chilly games and could miss the match at Vancouver with a leg contusion. … Atlanta’s dynamic duo of Josef Martínez and Miguel Almíron has combined for 5 of the expansion club’s 7 goals. … The Galaxy’s Giovanni dos Santos, who was injured in Sunday’s loss to Portland (the first time Los Angeles has lost back-to-back home games), will miss Mexico’s coming World Cup qualifiers (March 24 vs. Costa Rica and March 28 at Trinidad and Tobago).