And yet, the loss somehow feels worse than before. Minnesota United started the season losing to the Portland Timbers 5-1 and to Atlanta United (at home, in the snow) 6-1. Shouldn’t I be happy that the team lost 3-2 to the defending Eastern Conference champions? Well, I’m not. I feel like I would have preferred another schlacking at the hands of the Reds than how this team lost.
This is a good sign, though. The team has shown marked improvement through the first months of the season. Even the national media is even starting to pay attention. I don’t give much weight to power rankings, but when ESPN has MNUFC at 17 and Fox Sports bumps the Loons up to 13(!), I am going to take notice.
So, where do we go from here? It’s tough to decide. On the one hand, I want the team to go all-in this summer and make a run for the playoffs. It would be great to see the Loons make the national pundits eat their words when they become the first expansion team to make the playoffs in a long time. But on the other hand, why not just enjoy the improvement and continue building for the future methodically?
The team’s salaries were released as is tradition in MLS and certain numbers stood out more than others. The team used Targeted Allocation Money on three players, Francisco Calvo, Rasmus Schuller, and ...Vadim Demidov. Which makes sense. When looking at the salaries, specifically Demidov sticks out head and shoulders above the rest. The Loons had a ton of TAM and GAM money to play around with, but if the rumors are true and Demi leaves this summer, that money is gone. (Not to mention the $650,000 that was traded for Kevin Molino and Patrick McLain, but I am done griping about that trade as Kevin Molino looks every bit worth it.)
Francisco Calvo looks like he could be a starting CB in this league for many years to come and a piece to build around. However, Demidov and Schuller have not lived up to any of the hype that followed them overseas. Maybe we, as new MLS fans, are to blame for the hype as much as the team is, but it does not make me feel better about the team using any of the available money this summer.
That being said...
This team has some work to do and some money to spend. Why should they just rest on their laurels? The current starting XI appears to be getting the job done, but there has to be one or two players that could push us over the edge, right?
The defense needs work still. Loons loanee Joe Greenspan was named to the USL Team of the Week, so that is encouraging. His agreement allows for him to be recalled to the Twin Cities when needed, and I would not be surprised to see him feature in some US Open Cup games. But, one extra defender does not a backline make.
With many European seasons winding down, relegation battles are occurring. I am not advocating raiding these poor, unfortunate clubs, but they are places to look. While going to the European leagues did not work wonderfully to start the season (see Demidov), there is no reason to avoid it completely this summer. I am sure that there are possible backline targets all over Europe that could provide some nice depth and starting competition for Calvo and Brent Kallman.
Let’s not get too greedy. Everyone wants the flashy signing. Everyone wants to see a player with name recognition like Bastian Schweinsteiger come to their club.
But Bastian is going to cost the Chicago Fire $4.5 million this season. Sure, MNUFC has all three of their Designated Player slots open, but do we want a 32-year-old midfielder that has been riding the bench for a European club all season?
I say we look to the model that Atlanta United used if the team decides to continue to add pieces. Who have been their best players? Miguel Almiron and (before injury) Josef Martinez. They are both DPs and are both 23. Signing big name DPs may look good on paper, but Atlanta signed DPs that are young and can contribute for years into the future. Real Salt Lake made a similar move when signing Jefferson Savarino.
I give MNUFC credit for recently sending Amos Magee to Chile on a scouting trip (as reported by Andy Greder of the Pioneer Press), but will they open the pocket books? Miguel Almiron has a salary of $2.2 million, but cost Atlanta another $8 million in transfer fees. MNUFC spent the money on Demidov, Schuller, and Calvo, but the success rate so far makes me think that the pocket books stay closed (at least for the time being.
So, does the team spend on a flashy DP? Does the team spend any of the TAM or GAM that they have left for this season? Or does the team just use This isn’t a bad thing. We should be asking the team where they plan to go next. It means that we recognize the improvement, and we want to see it continue. But we are still an expansion side. Only so much pressure can be put on the team to improve this early.
But hey, why not ask where to go from here?