Some athletes make it a point to tune out doubters and critics; Minnesota United FC seem to hear no other form of analysis about them.
Half of the crew of MLSsoccer.com's Extratime picked them to advance to the Knockout Stage of the MLS is Back Tournament. Columbus Crew SC's Caleb Porter said their head coach Adrian Heath was "sandbagging" his own team and called MNUFC "the best team we’ve played so far this season." Earlier in the evening ESPN's Taylor Twellman called them one of the best two or three teams in the league.
The Loons nonetheless maintained their defiant posture towards the outside world after their penalty-kick shootout win over Columbus on Tuesday, a result that sends them into the MLS is Back quarterfinals.
“It's a really a united group and the camaraderie and the togetherness within the group is there for all to see. They'll take each game as it comes but they're not silly, they read stuff,” said Heath, who declared that “everybody's crowned [the Crew] champions already” after his team’s final group-stage match.
“People think I do it deliberately, but I didn't read or hear or see anything before the game that suggested we had a chance. But the most important people thought we had a chance, and the most important people are the players and our staff. I said to them before the game: If we play well, we're capable of winning the game. And we're capable of winning again at the weekend. But the actual belief is still growing. And I think there's more to come.”
Left back Chase Gasper netted the final PK to clinch Minnesota’s advancement and took a tone of vindication in his live television interview on ESPN shortly afterwards.
“Just a culmination of this whole tournament, but this game epitomizes it. Every guy on the field giving it their all, not just the starting XI, every sub that came in,” said the Maryland native. “Every guy on this team is fighting to the death, fighting until their legs give out and I couldn't be more proud to be on this team, with this staff, players, everyone. I think with all the hard work, with all the effort we put in, I think we deserved it. They scored one late and it gave them a lot of momentum, but don't count out the Loons.”
When asked if he and his teammates felt disrespected, goalkeeper Tyler Miller offered a slightly different take, albeit with a similar mentality.
Minnesota United neutralized Darlington Nagbe and advanced at MLS is Back | Top Tier
“I don’t think so. We don't really care what anybody else thinks about our team. We're confident in ourselves. We have our own inner confidence that we thrive off, and it really doesn't matter what anybody else thinks about us,” he said.
“We do know that every team out there has their special players. And I think that we also have our special players, maybe they're not as big of names. So maybe that's where we get kind of lost in the mix,” he noted later in the press conference. “But I think that tonight and constantly we've proved that you don't need to have special names if you have a strong team … We may not have the huge superstars on our team, but we have a really strong camaraderie, which I think is something that's very, very special. And I'm really happy to be part of it.”