Feature by Adam Smith
Updated Thursday, 17th July 2008
A healthy crowd of 7,154 (double the normal league attendance) turned out on a warm summer's evening to watch Burnley beat Minnesota Thunder 2-0 at the National Sports Center (NSC) in Blaine, MN.
The Clarets started the game well, and looked particularly strong down the left hand side with Christian Kalvenes, Robbie Blake and Chris McCann linking up well together. On tonight's evidence Kalvenes looks a decent signing, with tidy and efficient play throughout the match, a willingness to get forward, and a couple of decent crosses.
We also got our first look at big Kevin McDonald, playing in centre midfield. He moves and turns surprisingly quickly for a big lad, showed a strong tackle, and made several good touches. But there was also a certain "rawness" to his play - a few misplaced passes and losses of possession - that remind us to have realistic expectations of a 19 year old still learning his trade. He's not yet the finished article.
After a lively opening, which saw Wade Elliott shoot narrowly over on 8 minutes after being played through by Martin Paterson, the pace of the game dropped noticeably, and Burnley seemed content to play with 10 men behind the ball and Paterson in a lone striker's role.
Minnesota began to create the better chances and were extremely unlucky in the 29th minute when Brian Jensen clattered a clean-through Jeremiah Bass for one of the most blatant penalties I've ever seen in my life. In fact at half-time we bumped into a whole party of English referees (here to officiate in the thousand-team USA Cup youth tournament currently being held at the NSC) who were incredulous at the decision not to award a penalty. Although to be fair they were also convinced that Burnley deserved a penalty for a handball that we never saw.
Interestingly there was not a word of complaint from the Minnesota Thunder players about the referee's decision, and not a single howl of protest from the stands. The whole atmosphere of the game was very different to an English fixture, with a lot of families and children in attendance. There was a special "singing section" in the main stand which brought to mind the recent controversy over whether to allow a drummer at Turf Moor. The Thunder fans had about five drummers, plus a host of cowbells, trumpets and the like. They entertained us with everything from Latin rhythms to a clip-clop beat that had the English folk singing the "Steptoe and Son" theme tune.
Personally I enjoyed the atmosphere created by the singing section, although some of their pre-prepared songs didn't quite hit the mark, like "Blackburn Rejects" and "Boring, boring, Burnley", the latter visibly raising the eyebrows of our manager!
As the second half got underway the mild-mannered Wade Elliott (who had a quiet game by his own standards) picked up a booking after a heated altercation with Thunder midfielder Ricardo Sanchez.
Burnley continued to play a 4-5-1 formation with Martin Paterson in the isolated striker's role. Talking with Pato after the game he said he enjoys playing 4-5-1 and is particularly excited about the chance to feed off the creativity of Robbie Blake. But it just didn't seem to work well tonight, and those who attended the Railhawks game said the same thing. Although Paterson has clearly got pace to burn and ran his socks off, he received very little in the way of quality service and all too often found himself stranded 20 to 30 yards ahead of the next nearest Burnley player, and surrounded by four Minnesota defenders.
With the introduction of Ade Akinbiyi in the 67th minute, the Clarets shifted to a more conventional 4-4-2 formation. This seemed to coincide with an improvement in our attacking play, although this could also have been related to the rapid drop in temperature after nightfall. Post-game Clarke Carlisle told us that the conditions had been much better than in Carolina where the players were literally struggling to breathe in the hot and humid atmosphere.
Burnley took the lead in the 79th minute through a straightforward set piece, a well taken corner from Mahon headed in by an unchallenged Chris McCann who was my personal choice for man-of-the-match.
Second-half Thunder substitute Stephen deRoux had already caught the eye with several clever runs from his left back position, and almost straight away from the restart he went very close with a powerful shot that beat Jensen, but hit the side netting.
Numerous late substitutions included young Alex MacDonald who made a few confident touches, and Adam Kay who showed some glimpses of having a genuine passing ability. In stoppage time Alex MacDonald was released by an excellent quick throw from Brian Jensen. In contrast to a lot of Burnley's play MacDonald took a simple and direct approach, and made an effective run straight at the heart of the Thunder defence. His low shot was well saved by the mohican-headed Platter, but Jay Rodriguez followed up for a simple tap-in.
Although we were happy to take the victory (which spared my blushes at work having been talking about this game for past several weeks) in all honesty the 2-0 scoreline flattered Burnley. Minnesota Thunder gave us a good game, and we could not have complained about a draw or a narrow defeat.
But let's not read too much into our pre-season performances. Speaking with Owen Coyle before the game he made it abundantly clear that the goal of the pre-season schedule is not to win games, it is to prepare his team for our August 9th fixture at Sheffield Wednesday. For example, the team had already undertaken a full training session that afternoon in searing heat - not something you would do if winning the evening fixture were your aim.
After the match both teams, coaching staffs and a number of supporters headed for Brit's Pub in downtown Minneapolis, where the hospitality extended into the early hours of the next morning. It's clear that the USA trip has been more than a dream-come-true for exiled Burnley supporters such as myself, and the others that travelled in to Minnesota from all four corners of the USA. It's been a valuable bonding experience for the team, who've had access to some first class training facilities. The two fixtures have been genuinely competitive, too.
But perhaps most of all this has been a wonderful exercise in friend-making, The name of Burnley Football Club has been exposed to many thousands of passionate people, and who knows what benefits that may bring in the future? The media relations and off-the-field conduct of our players and officials, were outstanding, a real credit to the name of Burnley Football Club in every way. I would like to make special mention of Darren Bentley, Owen Coyle and the owners and staff of Brit's pub. Thanks for a very memorable day lads, you made me proud to be a Claret. Come back soon.
Minnesota Thunder: Platter, Greenfield, Arango, Friedland, Moran, Gonzalez, Altman, Bass, Sanchez, Tarley, Moojen, Subs: Wieler, van Oekel, Kallman, Taylor, deRoux, Zeus, O'Brien, Gibson, Barron, Smith, O'Brien, Paye, Marcina, Pederson.
Burnley: Brian Jensen, Graham Alexander (Stephen Jordan 61), Clarke Carlisle (Michael Duff 61), Steven Caldwell, Christian Kalvenes (Adam Kay 78), Kevin McDonald (Alex MacDonald 83), Joey Gudjonsson (Alan Mahon 61), Chris McCann, Wade Elliott (Steve Jones 61), Robbie Blake (Ade Akinbiyi 67), Martin Paterson (Jay Rodriguez 78).