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Brooks Johnson column: Optimism key for American soccer fans

Brooks Johnson

I really want you to like soccer.

I’m sorry all these teams aren’t doing a good job making my case.

The United States Men’s National Team has passed laughingstock on its way to sob story recently by failing to qualify for next year’s World Cup. Minnesota United stumbled through its inaugural Major League Soccer season, which wrapped up with, surprise, a loss in San Jose last week.

Oh well.

The great thing about the World Cup is it happens every four years, that teams that don’t deserve to be there don’t get to be there, and those teams will do everything in their power to make it next time.

The great thing about a, let’s face it, miserable season from Minnesota’s MLS franchise is that we have set the bar very low to do much, much better in the years to come. The Loons, at 10-18-6, ended up with the fourth-fewest points in a 22-team league.

I’ve learned you have to be a part-time optimist to rally around soccer in America, at least if you want to cheer for American teams.

For the national team, it will be the first missed World Cup since 1986. Iceland will be going, because that island of 330,000 produces better soccer players and managers than we do. Oh well. Let’s get those Americans playing in top leagues overseas and rebuild the organization — coach Bruce Arena is gone, though we’re still waiting on U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati to step aside. Four years is a long time to make things right.

Minnesota United was never expected to make the playoffs, though the start of the season seemed to signal an even worse fate. I was at the snow-coated home opener and watched the ball hit the back of our net again and again and again as fellow expansion team Atlanta United set expectations even lower with a 6-1 drubbing.

Problems on the field started with problems recruiting. There was Vadim Demidov, the utterly incapable Norwegian we signed for $550,000 to play three games. Also not worth the money was the eternally overrated and inconsistent Kevin Molino, who I hope did not earn a spot on next year’s roster. Coach Adrian Heath deserves another year, then the door behind him if he doesn’t get some signs of life out of whoever it is that takes the field next March and beyond.

I saw losses, wins and draws from all sides of TCF Bank Stadium this year. I hollered and sang from the supporters section; I waved my scarf at corner kicks (and keep it hanging up at work); I saw as much promise as heartbreak. Oh well. There’s plenty to look forward to — a new stadium in 2019, new players, and, with any luck, a TV deal that gets the rest of the state in on the action.

Oh, and local boys Duluth FC? Well they topped the National Premier Soccer League North Conference this year. So we’ve got that going for us. Which is nice.

Brooks Johnson is a business reporter for the News Tribune. He can be reached at bjohnson@duluthnews.com or (218) 723-5329.