With confidence, belief, and heart, Minnesota United has the opportunity to move beyond the “just glad to be here” stage this year and actually make the statement: “We belong here.” But what does belonging look like? How many wins would make this season a success? Can success be determined by wins at all? Of course it can. That’s the whole point. But in order to create a culture of winning in the land of the Loons, there is one thing that absolutely has to happen: Minnesota must gain and maintain the mindset of a winner.
The ingraining of a passionate, winning mindset into the DNA of MNUFC is the most important result the team can hope to accomplish this season. Regardless of their record at the end of the year, if they fight a full 90 minutes every match, from now until Decision Day, Minnesota United will earn the respect of their opponents and gain confidence heading into next season. The key is to sustain unmatched resolve. It is only a matter of time before the results follow.
As Olympic gold medalist Wilma Rudolph once said, “Winning is great, sure, but if you are really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose. Nobody goes undefeated all the time. If you can pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again, you are going to be a champion someday.”
Minnesota looked like a team that had learned from losing when they played the Colorado Rapids in Commerce City last weekend. Minnesota was the first team to score more than one goal on the Rapids at home since 2015. That is exactly the type of confidence-building performance that the Loons needed.
So much of a winning mindset, of success in general, has to do with a belief and energy that permeates throughout the club. Chemistry within the group, from teammates to coaches and even to the front office, is a major part of what makes a team successful. This does include the fans as well, because the belief of the fans can be tangibly felt on game day by the players on the field.
Earlier this year, coach Adrian Heath told MLSSoccer.com’s Andrew Wiebe, “It’s very hard for people to understand how difficult a process expansion is… There are going to be quite a few big bumps in the road that first year… You hope in the second year you really make inroads, and by the time you get to your third year you’re hoping that you’ve learned all your lessons… For me, it’s having a plan, and sticking to the plan.”
This is the guiding philosophy that led to Minnesota entering the ranks of the MLS after such a long history in the lower divisions. At the heart of all successful clubs is a vision, and the vision of the Loons has been evolving for decades now, with no end in sight. This is great news for such a passionate fan base. The goal, of course, is to win every game, but building an organization that can stand the test of time and compete for years to come is more important than short-term results.
Sporting Director Manny Lagos said, “With our roster building process we have a one-year plan, we have a three-year plan and we have a five-year plan.”
This type of planning is exactly what the Loons need. Besides the 1998 Chicago Fire (the only expansion team to ever win the MLS Cup in their inaugural season), expansions teams have taken at least four years to become the best in MLS. Real Salt Lake entered the league in 2005 and won the Cup in 2009. The Portland Timbers fared even better, entering the league in 2011 and eventually winning the Cup in 2015.
The Timbers’ arch-rivals, the Seattle Sounders, are the current MLS Cup champions and are seen as probably the greatest expansion success story in MLS. The Sounders are a club that formed in 1974, but that did not make its MLS debut until 2009. What makes the Sounders unique is that they have made the playoffs every year since joining the league. Not only that, they have also led the league in attendance in each of those years.
Parity in MLS is both one of the most predictable and unpredictable parts of Major League Soccer. With salary caps and limits on Designated Players, teams can quickly climb the table with only a few small changes to their rosters and tactics. It is fair to say that any team can beat any other team on any day. That is part of what makes MLS so much fun to watch.
In 21 years, 11 different teams have won the MLS Cup. The LA Galaxy is the only true legacy the league has seen since its inception. LA has the most Cup appearances with nine, and the most Cup wins with five, their most recent championship coming in 2014. DC United has won the Cup four times, but has not reached that milestone in over a decade. It is only a matter of time, and heart, until the Loons are fighting for the Cup. Until then, creating a winning culture means developing a winning mindset, and that is exactly what is happening in Minnesota right now.
“The responsibility that I have,” Heath said, “along with the other people working at the club now, is that when the day comes when we’re not here people say, 'What a good foundation they laid for the future.’ We’re trying to do all that now. We’ve got a long way to go, and we know that. But we have an obligation to get it right for the next generation of kids who get brought up in the Twin Cities, to have a club that they’re proud of.”
Next match: @ New England Revolution, Saturday, March 25, 2017, 2:00PM ET