NASL’s Minnesota United FC earned its first victory over the 2014 preseason after posting a 3-0 shutout in an international friendly over the host English club Matlock Town FC on Monday evening.
“I thought Matlock was a great club with some great professionals,” said United coach Manny Lagos. “I was happy to see some of our quality and dictate the tempo of the game. I thought Matlock did a great job of putting stress on us early and once we got the ball moving I thought we did a lot better. It was a great confidence building win for the club.”
On a chilly night at Autoworld Arena in Matlock, Derbyshire, Minnesota United opened its English preseason tour with a strong showing over the English side in front of an energetic Matlock fanbase.
This was the first match of United’s 10-day preseason excursion across the Atlantic. Minnesota is the first North American soccer team to stay and train at the home of the English National Team, St. George’s Park in Burton Upon Trent.
The Matlock Town FC Gladiators emerged from the opening whistle with energy, aiming to continue their momentum coming off three straight wins in league play, including a 3-1 win over Ilkeston FC the previous weekend.
Brazilian offseason signing, Juliano Vicentini, wearing flashy white cleats, controlled the middle of the field for large stretches of the opening ten minutes. Vicentini could prove to be a key offseason signing for the upcoming 2014 North American Soccer League (NASL) season, adding confidence and vision through the backbone of the field.
Speedster, Miguel Ibarra, wearing the number 10 jersey this season, was his usual dynamic self, flying up the left wing, showcasing his pace to the English side.
Matlock Town appeared to open the scoring in the 17th minute after a classy flick from the outside boot of a Gladiator forward snuck past United keeper Matt VanOekel, only to be called back after being deemed offside by the linesman. The call saved United from falling behind early, much to the chagrin of the charged home supporters.
Ibarra nearly put his side on top in the 20th minute as he surprisingly found himself on the doorstep of the net with only the goalie to beat, but his mishit bounced harmlessly into the outstretched gloves of the Gladiator’s keeper.
Brazilian striker and 2013 NASL runner-up in goals, Pablo Campos earned a half chance in the 25th minute just outside the 18-yard box, but his shot lacked the necessary venom to beat the keeper. This was the start of a good attacking stretch from Minnesota as it began to settle in under the cold conditions and bumpy field that had seen five games in the last 11 days.
Matlock almost pulled ahead in the 39th minute, as the Gladiator striker earned some space in the box, but his out-swinging left-footed blast was parried away by keeper Matt VanOekel.
Minnesota would strike first in the 42nd minute, when offseason signing Christian Ramirez controlled the ball on the right outer edge of the penalty area and expertly placed a left-footed curler into the lower left corner past the outstretched Matlock keeper, giving United the 1-0 lead just before the half.
“I thought Christian got in a good gap in the offensive third,” remarked Lagos on Ramirez’s strike. “He had a great turn and had one of those nice curling finishes that lets the team know that we have quality. It was an important goal for our confidence.”
Minnesota would enter the locker room at half with a 1-0 lead and heads held high having absorbed the early pressure and energy of the home team.
The second half opened up with several United subs, as coach Lagos continues to use preseason matchups as a barometer for his club’s depth and talent.
2013 defensive stalwart, Cristiano Dias would double United’s lead in the 67th minute with a cracking blast that leveled into the right side netting. United trialist Greg Jordan headed a ball to Minnesota native Brian Kallman, who fired a cross from the right edge of the field that neatly found Dias.
Forward Nate Polak would make the difference 3-0 in the 83rd minute as his shot from distance took an awkward bobble inside the 6-yard box, bouncing over the Gladiator keeper’s gloves.
The match would end as a 3-0 win for United, giving the club a good batch of confidence with two matches left on its English preseason tour. The next match is set for Thursday with the opponent to be announced soon. United finishes its trip Monday, March 17th against English Championship Division opponent Derby County FC.
“I think we are in a good place for what we are trying to build this preseason.” said Lagos on looking forward to the next contests. “We are still really pushing a heavy load for ourselves this week and trying to get fit for the upcoming season. This will give us a bigger belief in the next two games we have slated for this trip.”
The 2014 NASL Spring Season begins for the United on April 12, when they travel to face the San Antonio Scorpions at Toyota Field at 8:30 pm ET.
03.10: Matlock, ENGLAND; Autoworld Arena (A: 358)
MATLOCK TOWN FC (ENG) – MINNESOTA UNITED FC 0:3 (0:1)
Christian RAMIREZ 42’; Cristiano DIAS 67’; Nate POLAK 83’
Matlock Town FC: Jon Kennedy - Adam Yates, Joe Leesley, Martin Foster, David Haggerty, James Lukic, Liam Needham, Corey Gregory, Darryl Thomas, Shaun Tuton, Lavell White.
Subs: Matty Leese - Cecil Nyoni, Matty Wilkinson), Alex Bradshaw, Danny Holland, James Travis
TD: Mark ATKINS
Minnesota United FC: Matt VanOekel - Kevin Venegas, Tiago Calvano, Aaron Pitchkolan, Justin Davis, Juliano Vicenti, Takada Kentaro, Simone Bracalello, Miguel Ibarra, Christian Ramirez, Pablo Campos
Subs: Mitch Hildebrandt - Brent Kallman, Michael Reed, Brian Kallman, Mozzi Gyorio, Cristiano Dias, Nate Polak, Tyler Polak, Greg Jordan, JP Pittman
TD: Manny LAGOS
R: A. PASHLEY (ENG)