Minnesota United overcome growing pains to grab first MLS point

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – After some early growing pains, Minnesota United FC finally earned its first MLS point in Saturday night’s 2-2 draw with the Colorado Rapids at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.

“Obviously, it was a huge point for us,” said Minnesota head coach Adrian Heath. “To get our first MLS point, to come to a very difficult place – they haven’t lost for over a year here [in the regular season] – and to play in the last 20 minutes down to 10 men. I think the players can be very proud of their performance.”

After conceding 11 goals in their first two matches against Portland and Atlanta, the Loons weathered constant pressure from Colorado in the closing 20 minutes of regulation, plus five minutes of extra time, to grind out the result. This despite being down a man following defender Justin Davis’ red card in the 70th minute following contact with Rapids midfielder Marlon Hairston.

“I honestly thought that our player just went to play the ball, and I think Marlon Hairston actually went to the ball and kicked in,” Heath said. “I was a little bit perplexed. It is what it is, the referee made the decision with the best intentions, but it didn’t help our cause.”

What did pay off for Minnesota were defensive lineup changes against Colorado, with Heath benching Latvian centerback Vadim Demidov in favor of Brent Kallman, who made his MLS debut. Davis made his appearance at left back in lieu of Jermaine Taylor, who started at the position in the Loons’ 6-1 loss to Atlanta United last week. MLS veteran Bobby Shuttleworth also slotted in at goalkeeper for Minnesota, following the deep laceration to the knee suffered by starter John Alvbage in that same match.

“I think [Kallman] can be really proud of his performance,” Heath said. “I think Ibson came on and really gave us something in the second half. He gave us a little bit of composure on the ball and made people play. Obviously, Bobby Shuttleworth has come in and done well.

“There’s been a couple of changes, but I think overall, it’s been a good night’s work for us and something for us to build on.”

Still at the bottom of the standings following the draw, Minnesota still has a long way to climb in the Western Conference table. But the gritty road point — earned against a Rapids side that extended a home regular-season unbeaten streak to 20 matches on Saturday — helped bolster the faith that Heath has stressed throughout the process of acclimating the expansion franchise to MLS.

“As I’ve said before, I’ve got more faith than probably most people in this group,” he said. “Some people thought it was blind faith after the first couple of games, but this group can play football.”