MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) - It might feel like a little more than a regular season match when Minnesota United hits the road to face Chicago Fire Saturday night.
It’ll be the first time the Loons will see former captain Francisco Calvo, who was traded to Chicago last Friday after a tumultuous stretch with Minnesota. Calvo, reportedly in a Spanish interview after his first game with Chicago, had harsh words for Loons’ coach Adrian Heath.
“He threw me in the trash like I was a rookie,” Calvo said.
Calvo had one goal, 11 shots, five shots on goal and no assists in seven games and more than 600 minutes with Minnesota United this season before being dealt. The Loons got $400,000 in allocation money in exchange.
He didn’t do himself any favors with a red card in a 4-3 loss at Toronto FC. He was suspended for the next game, a 0-0 draw, against the L.A. Galaxy and was further kept out of the lineup in the 1-0 win over D.C. United on April 28.
At practice Tuesday, Heath defended his decision to keep Calvo out of the lineup and acknowledged he wasn’t happy with the Loons after the trade.
“I don’t know if he’s speaking to us at the moment, reading the papers this morning,” Heath said. “Every decision that we make, we make for the benefit of this group. That was that decision as well.”
Heath added, “It is what it is, he’s obviously disappointed. I don’t make any decisions on individuals, this is for the benefit of the group. That decision was made for the benefit of this group.”
When Loons’ players were asked about Calvo ahead of Saturday’s game, they acknowledged the business side of MLS. They also know they need to be ready to play against a former teammate who was a three-year captain for Minnesota and will probably play with a little added fire.
“We know he’s looking forward for that game, so we have to be ready for him,” midfielder Miguel Ibarra said.
What it shouldn’t take away from is that Minnesota United has played solid soccer of late. The Loons are unbeaten in their last three games at 1-0-2, and have yet to lose at their new home, Allianz Field.
After playing New York City FC to a 3-3 tie in an emotional opener, they battled to a scoreless tie against the L.A. Galaxy. The Loons got their first three full points at Allianz Field in a 1-0 win over D.C. United, and played to a 1-1 draw last Saturday against Seattle Sounders FC.
Heath was happy with his team’s effort against Seattle. The Loons out-shot Sounders FC 12-7, had a 6-1 advantage in shots on target and had a 28-13 advantage in crosses.
That said, they wanted three points instead of one.
“I think the fact that they weren’t happy with the result at the end of the game speaks volumes. We lose that game last year for sure, so it was a very positive day for us,” Heath said.
The Loons enter Saturday night’s match sixth in the Western Conference at 4-3-3, with 15 points. They’re four points out of the third spot in the conference, and the top seven teams in each league advance to the postseason.
Minnesota United is most pleased lately with its defensive effort. Since the 4-3 loss at Toronto, the Loons have allowed just one goal in their last 240-plus minutes. They also have a positive goal differential, with 19 scored on the season to 16 allowed.
They’re tightening up on defense, and it’s translating to success all over the field. Last year, it wasn’t uncommon to have an opponent score at least three goals in a game. It happened 13 times. This season? It’s happened three times in 10 games.
“For us as a group it was kind of embarrassing honestly to give up that many goals on that consistent of a basis,” defender Eric Miller said. “So I think to just switch our mentality around and prove everyone wrong that we have good players that can defend well and can keep other teams off the score sheet has been a major focal point.”
They’re keeping the ball out of their own net lately, and it’s keeping them in every game.
After Saturday’s game at Chicago, the Loons come back home for their next three games. Minnesota United is playing like a different group this season, one that knows it could contend for the playoffs.
“I think I’ve seen that all season. It’s a different group, different mentality and we have to keep building on that,” Heath said.