Minnesota United is preparing this week for a difficult road trip to Toronto FC – a club that reached the MLS finals in 2016 and has several big-name players. MNUFC goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth, midfielder Miguel Ibarra and Head Coach Adrian Heath spoke with reporters following training Tuesday night, below is what they had to say:
Goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth
On the broken nose:
Nose is alright, getting better. You know, good result for us and obviously a clean sheet, so that's a good step going forward and hopefully we can keep doing that.
On matching up with Toronto:
Just getting back to work. They're one of the best teams in the league and they score a lot of goals. Tough to play at home, good environment. We're just going over the things we didn't do so well and take the positives and looking forward.
On the confidence in the team from the start:
I think that came a lot from the coaching staff. Adrian had a lot of faith in the guys that we had and we have good players here. The first two results were obviously not good enough but we know if we stayed on the path and kept moving forward that eventually we were going to pull it together because it's a new group of players. I think that's starting to show in the last little bit here.
On whether the players are beginning to play with belief:
Yeah, it's a new group of players. It's always going to be a learning process. Guys gotta get comfortable. Throughout my career, I know I've played with players for six, seven years. This has only been months, but it's starting to come now. There's a long way to go, we're only ten games in, but I think we're starting to get that feeling that we can definitely compete here.
Midfielder Miguel Ibarra
On building momentum over the last few matches:
I think our confidence went up defensively. We've been working on that a lot. We said we got to stop letting goals in and the goals will come. We just have to prepare ourselves to defend better and make sure they don't score on us. Once we do that, our goals are going to come and we'll get three points and we'll get Ws.
On his personal confidence level:
It's been a long time since I finished a 90-minute game and now just finishing that game is going to boost my confidence up. I'm getting back to form again and connecting again with Christian and connecting with Abu on his first MLS goal is amazing. I'm just happy we got the three points.
On Abu Danladi:
Abu is a great player, a great guy. He always works hard. We told him, it's his first start, just make runs, just keep working. It paid off this game and he got his first MLS goal and I'm pretty sure there's more to come.
On recovering from his first full 90:
I was actually telling Christian [Ramirez] today I couldn't move. It's probably a year or a little bit more since I played a 90-minute game, so now it's kind of painful.
On coming back to MNUFC:
I was here four years and I left and now coming back to Minnesota, them being in MLS and being part of it is amazing. It's a dream come true. I always wanted to play in MLS, especially now with Christian. I mean, we've worked really hard to get to where we're at now and it's paying off. We've just got to continue to keep working and hope we make playoffs and make a run.
Head Coach Adrian Heath
On progression recently:
I was really pleased for everyone connected with the club because we've had a couple of horror shows on national TV and it's never nice, but I think we showed everyone that we're getting better, that we deserve to be in this league and that we're going to be competitive. Still a long way from where we want to be, but we are getting better which is the most important thing.
On how to prepare for a team like Toronto:
We have to stay focused on what we know has given us some relative success. The good practice Monday to Friday, believing in what we're doing, holding each other accountable to what we're trying to achieve. As long as we do that and we keep seeing that progression, I'll be pleased. But we've still got a long way to go.
On what he attributes the defensive improvement to:
I think individually they're playing better, collectively certainly they're playing better. I think the six in front of the back four are doing a better job to protect them as well. We expect everybody to attack these days and we expect everybody to defend. I think it certainly starts from the front. Abu and Christian were magnificent. Their work rate to try and stop their deep-lying midfield player — I know it sounds a bit technical — but it was very important for us to stop Ilie [Sanchez] dictating the pace of the game. I thought they did a great job of that.
On dealing with the physical costs of travel:
You try and prepare the best you can, trying to get there early enough. The logistics of trying to train are probably one of the worst parts. Like if we want to train at Toronto's training ground at the weekend, it's probably an hour and ten minutes in the car. It's not ideal, so you don't end up going to the training. It's not ideal for all the teams, but it is what it is. We all do it. We know it's coming, get on with it. Don't use it as an excuse, because that's all it is. We knew before the season started where we were going on the road.
On Bobby Shuttleworth and goalkeepers:
They're a different breed, the goalkeepers. Most of them are nuts. They're not the same as everybody else. The nature of the job — they have to put their face and their body on the line every single time the ball comes in the penalty area. He had a big cut a few weeks ago, he's obviously smashed his nose in a few places this weekend, but he's getting a mask fitted and the thought of not playing is probably not entered his head. We fully expect him to be available for the weekend. I thought he had a terrific performance given the circumstances. It's never easy when your nose is throbbing and there's blood coming out of it while you're trying to perform.
They're all nuts, trust me. I've been in this a long, long time and I've not met many of them who I think are sane. It's an occupational hazard for them guys. They have to do it. Bobby's what, 29 now? He's probably got another two or three of them to come by the time he's done.
On Abu Danladi:
I'm delighted for him because of all the work he's put in. He has trained so well the last few weeks. What he has to understand is now it's a start. He had his first start, he got a goal. He can't rest on his laurels, he has to make sure he maintains the intensity of his training and hopefully stays in the side and keeps getting better. This game has a cruel way of putting you back down to where you came from if you take things for granted.
On veterans helping Abu Danladi:
I think certainly the likes of Sam Cronin and Burchy, people who've played 4 or 500 league games in the MLS, they've probably seen loads of people come in and make an impact and then it fizzles out. We have to make sure we guard against that. I don't think it's going to happen but we'll be doing everything we possibly can to keep his feet on the ground, keep him working, I think the most important thing for him is he realizes the areas he's got to work on. If he does, he's got a big future.
On dealing with short turnover between matches like Toronto is dealing with:
You try and prepare as best you can, all the stuff that's in your control: the travel arrangements, time you eat, after games, what you start to do to prepare to get yourself ready, and also I think it depends on the depth of your squad. Toronto went away and put four or five reserves and won in Seattle at the weekend. That's what happens when you're eight and nine years into MLS. Each year, your squad gets a little bit deeper, so that would help. You just try and make sure that everything you can physically do to make things as easy as possible that you do. But with the travel distances now and trying to work around airports, it's not easy. But it's something that we're aware of. Everybody's going to go through it at some stage. I think we're in Vancouver on a Wednesday and in Montreal on a Saturday later in the year, so there you go: both sides of Canada. But you can't use it as an excuse.
On the confidence he's had from the beginning in the squad:
I think I used the line that I have a lot of faith and people might have thought it was blind faith in the beginning. But when you work with a group of guys every single day, you know what they're capable of and what they're not. Early on in the season, we were nothing like what I knew we could be. I thought given a fair crack of the whip that somewhere along the line, this group will start to bring it together. But even now, we're still a long way from where I want us to be and where I think this group will eventually end up. It was always going to be a work in progress and where are we now? Three or four months in from the start in January, so hey: I expect it to get better over the next six to eight weeks.
On what's to come from Miguel Ibarra:
It's really difficult when people think that when you've hardly played football for 18 months that you're just going to come back in and it's gonna be like the old days, running around, beating people like he was here for three or four years before he went to Mexico. We all knew this was going to be a process for him to actually get himself up to real match fitness. Because you can train out here six or seven hours a day. It's nothing like the cut and thrust when that whistle blows on a Saturday. He's getting better just for getting more minutes underneath him. More importantly, he got that goal a few weeks ago. I said to you, his confidence is going to skyrocket from there. He's feeling comfortable again. His relationship with the rest of the group is coming along. The fact that he put two great balls in for two goals at the weekend, Team of the Week, the publicity: he'll be better for that. He's still the same. Miguel, I think, there's a lot more to come from him.