NASL's Minnesota United fell 2-0 to Derby County FC, a Championship division opponent, in its final match of the English preseason tour.
Minnesota United traveled overseas to England for a 10-day preseason tour where it was the first North American club to stay at St. George’s Park, the home of the English National Team.
United played three previous matches on the tour, winning the first 3-0 against Matlock Town and dominating Pro Player Academy 8-0. United drew 1-1 with Nike Academy, a squad made up of up-and-coming international youth players seeking professional contracts. United’s final test of the tour came against Championship division opponent Derby County FC.
United deserved a better result than the final scoreline would reflect, playing even with the second division English opponent through the first 80 minutes of the match, until a small breakdown on defense led to a scorcher from Chelsea FC loanee Patrick Bamford, giving Derby the 1-0 lead. The Rams would double their lead in the 90th minute with a tap in goal from Kwame Thomas.
This was the firmest test of the preseason tour for United against a side well into the hunt for promotion to the Premier League next season. Derby County played a mixture of first team and second team players.
“We built up this trip for guys to get to better and gain fitness and confidence,” said United head coach Manny Lagos. “It was a good game for both teams, it was an honest game. It was the first real test of this preseason and it was important for our guys to play well and I think they did, the result just didn’t go our way. Physically, mentally the guys put it in today.”
United came out strong, aiming to maintain possession and get their legs against a side well into their season and clearly match fit. Juliano Vicentini and Tiago Calvano provided composure on the ball through the early stages to give confidence.
United captain Aaron Pitchkolan, playing in a defensive midfield position for the first time this preseason, provided stability just above the defense moving deeper into the attacking third using his height on long balls over the top of the Rams defense.
The first chance of the match came in the 14th minute as Vicentini laced a deep ball from the right center of the pitch that bent over and around the Derby defense finding the head of Pitchkolan who sprung it back inside to the on-rushing Christian Ramirez, whose effort was deflected wide of the goal.
The Rams would get a near chance of their own in the 24th minute, as a Derby forward rifled a low driving shot from outside the 18-yard box that forced a great diving save from United keeper Mitch Hildebrandt.
Derby would get an even better look at the game’s first goal in the 28th minute when a Derby midfielder found space outside the box and stung a volley off the United crossbar.
Minnesota controlled the final ten minutes of the first half utilizing quick and intricate passing through the core of the midfield, never waiting on the ball and always keeping it moving. Minnesota newcomer Jamie Watson combined well with Pitchkolan and left back Justin Davis in the 44th minute with a quick move that culminated in a whipped cross from Davis that the Derby keeper had to parry out for a corner kick.
United entered halftime having played the match even and looked to build and maintain its confidence going into the final 45 minutes.
United forward Christian Ramirez would get the first chance of the second half just 60 seconds in when he struck a ball with his laces from 25 yards out, a good and decisive hit.
Juliano Vicentini struck a perfectly timed volley in the 62nd minute from 30 yards out that dipped into the gloves of the keeper - a smart and powerful shot that kept the Rams honest.
Minnesota was awarded a penalty in the 68th minute as Davis flashed into the Rams’ box and was tripped up after pushing the ball beyond the lunging defender. Minnesota’s newest addition, Jamie Watson, confidently stepped up to take the penalty honors. His strike easily beat the keeper, but couldn’t beat the upright as it pinged off the post. The match remained 0-0, but the miss would prove to be ominous with just 22 minutes to play.
Watson found acres of space along the left wing in the final 20 minutes of the match, being picked out by inch-perfect passes from Vicentini, Kevin Venegas and Davis. Watson proceeded to run at the Ram’s defense pumping in cross after cross looking to break the deadlock.
Derby would steal one with just 10 minutes to play as Bamford, the Chelsea loanee, earned some space on the right edge the box and pressed hard, scorching a shot at a tight angle to the near post beating the outstretched Hildebrandt giving Derby the 1-0 lead.
Derby would find themselves standing at the penalty spot in the 85th minute, but would suffer a similar fate as the Derby man drilled his shot of the crossbar, keeping the score at 1-0.
The Rams would get their final tally in stoppage time as Kwame Thomas poached one at the goalmouth giving Derby the 2-0 brace.
Minnesota would go on to lose 2-0, though the scoreline did not reflect the nature of the game. United looked cool, calm and confident on the ball, especially at the back and in the midfield.
“I was very proud of the defensive work of the back four,” said Lagos on the defensive effort. “We controlled a lot of the tempo and got the ball down and started moving it and creating counterattacks.”
Minnesota returns to the States Tuesday, March 18th to continue its work during the preseason.
Minnesota kicks off its North American Soccer League regular season Saturday, April 12th against the San Antonio Scorpions. United’s home opener at National Sports Center Stadium is set for Saturday, April 26th against FC Edmonton. Tickets for the 2014 season are on sale - for more information call 763.4SOCCER.