After rough start, first clean sheet shows Loons are turning things around

MINNEAPOLIS — The Loons are able to tread calmer waters these days.

After conceding 11 goals in their first two matches and spending five of their first seven MLS games on the road, Minnesota United turned in a 1-0 home win against Colorado Rapids. With seven points in their last four games (2-1-1), Minnesota are just one point out of the playoff picture through eight games.

“I wish we were this close with one game to go in the season,” head coach Adrian Heath joked to the media after seeing the updated standings. “We’ve gradually gotten better when you consider the start that we had. We want to keep winning at home. We want to make this a fortress here. Sometimes you get scrappy one-nil wins.”

It was Minnesota’s first time keeping a clean sheet in MLS. In Heath’s mind, this helps relieve some of the pressure on the club.

“I told the defense they’d had a lot of criticism,” Heath said. “The attacking play had gotten a lot of the praise. I thought it was the reverse today. Mark Watson has put a lot of hard work in with them over the last five weeks. Bobby Shuttleworth has gotten settled in, and he did some good stuff when we needed him.”

One of the anchors of the backline was native Minnesotan Brent Kallman. Kallman won four aerial duels and made two clearances before being subbed off in the second half. He picked up a calf contusion and didn’t want to risk conceding a goal due to being slowed down.

“It feels alright right now because it’s numb,” Kallman told, referring to a hip flexor he’s been dealing with. “I was gonna play through it, but then I got a shin contusion. Last year, I had a game at Carolina where i took a contusion. It slowed me down and I missed a play that led to a goal. I didn’t want to do that again.”

Ultimately, it was winger Miguel Ibarra who provided the game-winning goal, on a diving header in the box. A fan favorite dating back to his NASL days, Ibarra was relieved to get on the score sheet.

“It’s great that we got three points,” the USMNT winger said. “Keeping the shutout and getting three points was important.”

Meanwhile, Heath thinks the header could be the catalyst for a strong run of play for Ibarra.

“I know Miggy’s a crowd favorite around here, and believe me – nothing would give me greater pleasure than that he plays so well that we have to start him every week.”

Minnesota United will play hosts for two more weeks, against San Jose and Sporting Kansas City. These Western Conference match-ups will tell a lot about the long-term fates of the Loons.

“I’m pleased to be where we are,” Heath assessed. “Let’s see where we are at the end of this little homestand.”