Are you someone who views the glass as half full? If so, this article probably is not for you. Are you someone who likes to make lemons when life gives you lemonade? Then I am here to tell you not to freak out about Minnesota United FC’s coming season. . .well, at least not yet. We likely will have a full season preview as the opener nears. This is for those who think the season will be the absolute worst.
I am going to break the team down position by position and tell you why you should or shouldn’t #PANIC (I will be working on the assumption that Josh Gatt will be joining the team). I have been on the side of #PANIC this entire offseason, but I am now slowly coming around. Here’s why:
Admittedly, this is not the ideal position to start with. . .
Right now, I see the depth chart looking like John Alvbåge as the starter, Patrick McLain backing him up, and rookie Alec Ferrell as the third option getting experience. I have no confidence in this group right now. The way I see it is a group of two backup goalkeepers and one promising rookie.
I think Alec Ferrell has a huge upside. He had 22 shutouts in his college career. He seems to have all the tools to compete at the MLS level, but he is a rookie. There is no indication that he will be great this season. I think United made a good choice in bringing in some older keepers to give Ferrell some time to adjust from the college game. He is my hope for the future.
Now, Alvbåge and McLain are a different story.
John Alvbåge was the 2015 goalkeeper of the Year in Sweden, but a 34-year-old keeper who has only been capped four times for his country does not give me a ton of confidence. We have some reason to hope, though! His name is Jimmy Nielsen. He was the 2004 Danish Goalkeeper of the Year, but also went to Sporting Kansas City without much fanfare and ended up being named the 2012 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year. Maybe Alvbåge can follow in his footsteps and be named the 2018 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year. . .Granted, he stays longer than this summer.
McLain is a 28-year-old from Eau Claire who has a total of 64 league starts for multiple teams around the country. He is a local(ish) product who should be a decent backup. I have no strong feelings either way on him.
Francisco Calvo is a great player. He is arguably the biggest name that Minnesota United has signed so far, and he seems to be a mainstay for the Costa Rican National Team. He was likely courted by many MLS teams, so I really cannot be pessimisstic about him. . .But I can be about the rest of the defense!
Vadim Demidov is probably going to be the captain. It looked like he was wearing the armband in the first preseason match against Vancouver. The problem is that I just plain don’t feel comfortable with a backline of Demidov, Calvo, Justin Davis, and Kevin Venegas. Calvo seems to love to press forward on offense (which, we longtime Loons fans remember Davis and Venegas loving to do) meaning it will put a lot of pressure on the rest of the line.
Davis and Venegas were great players in the NASL, but will that translate? Without a ton of pressure to perform, I think yes. But for an expansion team, I worry about the full-back positions. There could be a lot of pressure on Davis and Venegas. Hopefully, they can rise to the occasion.
The depth at full-back and center-back is what worries me the most.
Jermaine Taylor and Joe Greenspan have the MLS experience, but I have never been impressed with either player. I think Greenspan has some good potential (not to mention, the great picture it will create if he at 6’6” is standing next to Calvo at 5’11”), but he has yet to set the league on fire with his play.
Brent Kallman and the likely addition of Ish Jome can help, but I think it will take a while before they can transition to an MLS level of play.
Hey! Now we are getting to the position on the pitch where I start to become cautiously optimistic. But, let’s tear it apart, shall we?
I think the two rookies, Tanner Thompson and Thomas de Villardi, could be solid players in this league. Like Alec Ferrell, however, Thompson and de Villardi are only rookies. We think both Thompson and de Villardi could end up being steals, but that could be a couple seasons away.
Really, my reason to be cautiously optimistic comes from Finnish International, Rasmus Schüller, and Expansion Draft pick, Mohammed Saeid.
Schüller looks like he has the raw ability to compete at the highest level, and I think he will have a chip on his shoulder after leaving Sweden. (Watch his welcome video here.) I think he is a piece to build around in the midfield for the years to come, but he may not be a gamechanger right away.
Saeid does come with a chip on his shoulder. He will push for as much playing time as he can get, and I think that he will be an amazing CM for the Loons for the years to come. He did not appear to expect to be left unprotected for the Expansion Draft, and it is not sitting well with him. Let’s hope he channels that.
I built you all up, now to tear it down. The worry I have is the midfield depth (anyone else sensing a theme?). Bernardo Añor, Collin Martin, Collen Warner, and Ibson do not make me feel great. All of them are solid players, but none are likely to be stars. Ibson was a great Loon, but I did not think he would be making the transition to Major League Soccer. Añor was on loan with the Loons last season and has the MLS experience, but was also a surprise addition. The two Collins(ens) both could end up being solid additions, but not exactly superstars.
This is the one area that I honestly cannot try and temper my excitement. I will try, but then I remember that Miguel Ibarra and Christian Ramirez are home and I smile. (For those curious, the players that play a more winger or attacking mid role, will be included in this category.)
Abu Danladi has an awesome backstory and was the #1 overall pick. His ceiling is crazy high, but he has some competition for playing time up top. Femi Hollinger-Janzen is super inspirational and had a very good rookie season with the New England Revolution. Both Femi and Danladi will be pushing Ramirez for his (likely) starting role.
Batman and Superman. Miguel Ibarra and Christian Ramirez were the two players that seemingly everyone wanted to make the journey to MLS. These two players also have had no MLS experience. I have no expectations that Ramirez will continue to be the prolific scorer he was in the NASL, but I also do not have any reason for him not to be. Personally, I had hoped that Ibarra would sign with Portland before he left for Club León. I think MNUFC fans need to temper their expectations for the former NASL Golden Ball winner and Golden Boot winner (respectively), but hey, they have nothing to prove in my opinion.
I was outspoken about the trade for Kevin Molino:
@alexschief I have no problem with Molino. I think the price was too high. But, that's why I don't run the team— Nate Siems (@NateSiems) January 26, 2017
I still feel that way, but he is a talented player. Combining him with Johan Venegas, Bashkim Kadrii, and Josh Gatt? That is a loaded attacking front. So, while I still think the price was a tad high on the Trinidadian playmaker, Molino will have a lot of options to either pass to during the game or keep from taking his starting position.
I am including Josh Gatt with the wingers as that is what is he known for playing, but Matthew Doyle from MLSSoccer.com thinks he could be converted to right-back, which would be an interesting move.
Only took 12 hours for @KHeneage & I to talk ourselves into Josh Gatt as MNUFC's starting right back this year. I feel like Jurgen!— Matthew Doyle (@MLSAnalyst) February 11, 2017
So there we go, fellow pessimists! It is a season preview for those of us that are jaded. I hope you took this the way it was supposed to be taken. A look at the roster through whatever the opposite of rose-colored glasses are, but also understanding that the team has come together pretty well, so far.
Did you hate/slightly hate/enjoy this Debbie Downer preview? If so, let us know below!