When Minnesota United opened Allianz Field last season, the club placed a hunk of Iron Range taconite at the opening of its field-level tunnel. It was recognition of the state’s blue-collar history in mining, and the hope was it would spur traditions.
While not all teammates do it, Loons center back Brent Kallman makes it a point to touch the rock whenever he passes by on his way to or from the dressing room. It’s something the Woodbury native takes seriously because he knows the opportunity can be fleeting.
Kallman was one of seven United players who made the jump from the club’s NASL era to its MLS inception in 2017, and the 30-year-old Minnesotan is the only one of them still on the roster in 2020. But his spot on this year’s team has been precarious and wrought with anger from some supporters.
Last season, Kallman failed a drug test, then admitted to taking a banned substance to help treat a long-lingering hip injury that began to affect his knees. “I caved to the pressure and started taking something,” he acknowledged in an interview in September 2019. “Now I’m paying the consequences for it.”
His 10-game suspension carried over to the first five matches of 2020, and in his first game eligible during the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando, Fla., in July, Kallman didn’t play but drew plenty of attention.
During a moment of silence, Kallman remained standing when every other United club member took a knee in support of Black Lives Matter after George Floyd was killed while he was being forcefully restrained by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in late May. While standing, Kallman wore a T-shirt that read “End Racism”; everyone else on the team wore a BLM shirt designed by a fellow MLS player.
For the first time this week, Kallman shared with the Pioneer Press how he researched the issues and wrestled with his own thoughts, losing sleep in the process, before he made his tough decisions.
“This is definitely not a simple thing,” he said. “There are multiple layers to it.”
One of Kallman’s main hangups was Black Lives Matter’s website saying it wanted to “disrupt the Western prescribed nuclear family structure requirement.” That page, which went on to say it sought “supporting each other as extended families and ‘villages’ that collectively care for one another …” has since been removed.
“That is where I took issue. It wasn’t with the sentiment of Black lives matter or the statement or all that stuff,” Kallman said “I had an issue with the organization (of BLM). I did not want to directly or indirectly support the organization by wearing the shirt.”
But when Kallman was sent to the El Paso Locamotive, a lower-level club in the USL Championship, for what was expected to be the remainder of the 2020 season, some Loons fans said good riddance without allowing Kallman to explain himself. Others sought answers from Kallman, a player supporters watched since his days playing in Blaine.
Meanwhile, Kallman himself wondered if his time playing for his home-state club, which started in 2013, was finished.
But Kallman did return to Minnesota and the Loons, making three starts at center back down the season’s final stretch. Kallman, who had a goal-line clearance against FC Dallas on MLS Decision Day, helped the Loons extend their unbeaten streak to eight games and secure a home game in the MLS Cup Playoffs for a second straight season.
Fourth-seed Minnesota faces fifth-seed Colorado Rapids in a Western Conference quarterfinal match at 6:30 p.m. Sunday at Allianz Field. The game will air on ESPN; no fans will be present in St. Paul due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It was really important moment for me,” Kallman said about stepping up when the team needed him. “It’s been a thing in my career. I haven’t been penciled in as a starter in the beginning of any season in my career in any year besides 2016. … I’m just trying to train well, get into great form and, if I’m called upon, I’m ready to help the team get points. It’s something that I take a lot of pride in.”
But Kallman’s pride was dented when he gave in and took the banned substance. “When I think back on it, it’s definitely a stain on me, for sure,” he said.
Kallman’s hip injury had been diagnosed in 2014, and instead of surgery, the club treated it with physical therapy. The injury would flare up a few times a season, and he took four cortisone and platelet-rich plasma injections over the years, but that was taken off the table in 2017 to not risk his cartilage.
“There was a domino effect,” he said. The right hip injury led to issues in the right quad and right knee, then moved to the left knee during last season.
“It was a really hard time,” Kallman said. “I tried to put my hand up and take accountability for everything, but mentally with these things you try to rationalize to yourself and try to spin things positively. I’ve tried to do that with getting the procedure and the rehab all offseason. This winter of building by body back up. I haven’t had any issues with my knees or anything like that. I feel like I’m back to where I was when I came out of college physically.”
With MLS Defender of the Year Ike Opara effectively out for the season with an unreleased health issue, and others center backs nearing yellow-card suspensions, the Loons recalled Kallman from Texas.
While every other teammate knelt during the pregame pause before each game in the stretch run, Kallman continued to stand. And after the regular-season finale on Nov. 8, Heath was asked if Kallman had addressed the team about his stance on those social issue.
“He has, and I fully support him,” Heath said. “He has his reasons. Brent spoke to his teammates, and he can express himself the way that he feels is right. The one thing is we all know he is a really great guy. He’s a great teammate, and he stands for something different. So, I just think that we have to respect that.
“Last time I looked, we were in a democratic society where people are free to do what they want to do,” Heath continued. “His teammates know what he thinks of them. They know the social issues that he thinks about, so he does it with our support.”
Kallman also explained this week why he has stood during the pregame moments of silence.
“It was a really confusing time for me. I was very conflicted because … some of the rhetoric and anger and vitriol that was being thrown at law enforcement and generalized toward law enforcement, it didn’t sit well with me,” he said. “One of my dear friends is a police officer in the Minneapolis area, and there was stuff that I was seeing around the city, and one thing a couple of miles away from my apartment, in big spray-painted words (said): Shoot cops on site. It was up for months. … When I saw stuff like that, it really didn’t sit well with me.
“I understand and completely agree that unjustified use of force and police brutality is something that we have to work on 100 percent,” Kallman said. “Racism is something that is not OK. We shouldn’t be dealing with this in 2020, but here we are. We need to do everything we can to root it out of society.”
Kallman, however, does have one regret. While he talked about his decision with his teammates, he did it after he stood before the MLS is Back Tournament Round of 16 knockout match against Columbus.
Kallman called the team together the next day during their regeneration session at the hotel pool in Orlando. He emphasized he “100 percent” supports his teammates standing up for what they believe is right, and he hoped they could give him the same respect.
“I laid out exactly why I was doing what I was doing,” Kallman said. “From there, everything went back to kind of how it was. Really good relationships with all my teammates. It doesn’t matter race, religion, sexual orientation. Everything went back to being how it was. They were very understanding.”