Francisco Calvo grew his role as the team captain in his second season with the club while balancing his role with the Costa Rica national team in a World Cup year. His leadership in the backline helped organize a squad that had to constantly adapt to stay competitive through injuries, formation changes and new additions during the season.
The 26-year-old defender helped the club get off to a promising start in 2018, getting a pair of wins in the first three games. However, injuries and international call-ups made it difficult for the team to carry that momentum through the first part of the year. The addition of Designated Player Darwin Quintero and a long tenure at home in late April and May gave Calvo the opportunity to rally his side to climb back up the standings.
The team quickly began to pick up points heading into the summer, but their leader would have to leave the squad to represent his home country on the biggest stage in the sport.
Calvo became the first MNUFC player to see the field in a World Cup game when Costa Rica traveled to Russia in June. He featured in two of Costa Rica’s three group stage games, starting in the 1-0 loss to Serbia and coming on as a substitute in a 2-0 defeat against Brazil. Unfortunately, the Ticos were eliminated in the group stage, unable to recapture the magic of their Quarterfinal run in 2014.
When Calvo returned to Minnesota in late June, Head Coach Adrian Heath used the occasion to switch the formation, moving from the familiar 4-2-3-1 to a more versatile 3-5-2. This shifted Calvo out towards the left in the back line, an area he usually features in with his national team. While still acting as a centerback, he locked down the defensive third for the Loons, and helped the team build quickly from the back to generate scoring chances on the counterattack.
“I am really used to that formation with the Costa Rica national team and some teams I have played with three in the back,” said Calvo following his first game in the new setup. “I like it.”
The change led to the best run of form for both Calvo and MNUFC since coming to MLS.
He wasted no time making an impact, getting his first assist of the year in his first game back with the team on July 4. A well-timed lob pass caught the Toronto FC defenders off-guard and found Miguel Ibarra with plenty of space to dribble and score the second of four goals for MNUFC that day.
He got two more helpers in his next appearance as the Loons held off Real Salt Lake for a 3-2 win at home. Once again Calvo played a lofted ball deep into RSL territory, this time finding Darwin Quintero, who laid the ball off for Ibson to open the scoring. He found Quintero once again while driving the Loon’s counterattack, leading to a signature chip-shot goal from the Colombian.
Calvo’s excellent club form along with featuring in the World Cup led to another milestone for the MNUFC man as he became the first MLS All-Star in club history. He, along with Quintero, joined the best players in the league to take on Italian giants Juventus. Calvo was among the starters in Atlanta, and played 32 minutes as the All-Stars drew 1-1 with the Juve before falling 5-3 in a penalty shootout.
He ended the year on a high note by scoring a pair of goals against Columbus Crew SC in the season finale. After falling behind by two goals following a rain delay, Calvo took it upon himself to get his team back in the game. He settled a free kick in the box with his chest, turned and blasted a shot into the roof of the net to cut the deficit in half. He got his brace minutes later by pouncing on a loose ball in front of the Crew SC net and poking the ball past the goalkeeper to tie the game. Though the home side would go on to win, it was an inspiring performance by the captain to rally his side late in the game.
Through a season of major milestones, Francisco Calvo proved that he is a crucial part of Minnesota’s formula for success in 2018. He played in every game that the Loons earned points, and provided strong leadership both on and off the pitch. As the team moves into its new home, Allianz Field, it will once again look to Calvo to guide it in a historic year for soccer in Minnesota.