Welcome to a special Q&A feature with our sister blog The Mane Land. They cover Orlando City as part of the SBN family and, as you may guess, have some pretty extensive experience with Adrian Heath, Mark Watson, and Kevin Molino.
This week’s Q&A was a treat and - particularly on the second question - revealed some interesting perspective from the Orlando faithful. Enjoy!
E Pluribus: One of the biggest concerns with Adrian when he was hired was how he would address (or fail to address) the back line. Do his tweaks to the back line look like he learned from his time in Orlando or is it just a lucky break that so many NASL guys worked out?
Mane Land: Inchy is, first and foremost, an offensive-minded guy. He has a man he trusts in charge of the defense and that same guy was at Orlando with him. What seems to be the case is that he’s not always the best judge of defensive talent. I don’t know how closely he shops for the groceries with the club’s GM, but it was pretty apparent that Demidov was a huge swing and a miss for you guys, much like David Mateos and Sean St. Ledger were here. I’d include Seb Hines to that list but honestly I don’t think we’ve even seen what a Seb Hines with healthy knees looks like, so I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
What is clear is that Heath saw what everyone else saw – that the situation in Minnesota was untenable. To his credit, he benched the team’s highest paid player and sought help in the club’s biggest problem area sooner rather than later, with the additions of Burch and Cronin. Heath has always been more of a goal-scorer whisperer than a defensive-minded coach but it was tough watching his team flounder and it’s nice to see he’s gotten the Loons into position to be competitive every night.
E Pluribus: Minnesota has yet to sign a DP. With one of the most high profile DPs in the league on your roster, any advice you’d pass on to the Loons as they look to sign one in the coming months?
Mane Land: Get yourself an Alessandrini, Lodeiro, or Almirón. While a star player with a big dollar sign can sell tickets and merchandise and create a buzz – all of which are good things – there is no substitute for quality players that can help both immediately and for years to come. It’s difficult to find a Giovinco. It’s far easier to find an aging player who wants one more paycheck to keep playing pro soccer. But MLS is too physical a toll for most aging stars. Look how quickly Lampard and Gerrard flamed out of the league and Pirlo isn’t far behind them. Kaká is still operating at a high level when healthy, at least for about an hour a night, and it looks like Bastian Schweinsteiger has been reborn in Chicago, but this is a new MLS, where you want to find those gems who can step in and succeed both immediately and in the future.
E Pluribus: What’cha got for the final score Saturday?
Mane Land: A month ago I’d have said 3-1 or 3-2 to Orlando City. But the Lions have struggled in May and the Loons have righted the ship a bit. With a midweek meeting with D.C. looming, I’m not sure how Jason Kreis will rotate the squad. I see this one as a 2-2 draw.
We also fielded a few questions from the Mane Land guys and sent our thoughts back. If you’re curious to see what the opposition is wondering this week as they prep for their trip to Minnesota, read on.
Mane Land: Minnesota United started the year as if it would be a historically bad expansion club and has turned things around to where the Loons are not the pushover they were early in the year. What changed and how did the Loons turn it around?
E Pluribus: I don’t want to be too hyperbolic about the early days of our season but suffice it to say that the “this is fine” meme is not actually a meme at all but an actual picture from inside the E Pluribus Loonum headquarters during Week 3. So, what changed? Thankfully, a whole bunch of stuff, beginning with the back line. While not solely responsible for those blowout losses early in the year, our defense was in a really terrible spot. Though Heath gave some slack to the back four, reality eventually caught up with him and he sat Vadim Demidov (the highest paid player on our squad and the defender most responsible for several ugly goals) and Jermaine Taylor (he looked outmatched almost every time he went one-on-one). The rise of Brent Kallman, one of the guys we brought up from NASL, and the signings of Marc Burch and Sam Cronin from Colorado vastly improved our resiliency on the defensive side of the ball. Those changes gave our attacking corps time to put pressure on the opposing net, a critical change that eventually led to our first MLS win.
Mane Land: Obviously we have some fondness for Kevin Molino in Orlando. How important has the Trinidadian been to Minnesota this season and how do MNUFC fans regard the former OCSC midfielder? (Also, can we please have him back?)
E Pluribus: It didn’t take long for Molino to become one of the brightest stars on the team. Particularly in the early days when our team was just trying to stop the bleeding, Molino’s physicality and technical skill showed that he was the best player in a Minnesota uniform. Even now, with an improved defense and a front four that is low key lethal, Molino is still the engine that drives much of our attack. Whether he’s beating multiple defenders out wide before delivering a cross into the box or burying a goal himself, Molino is easily one of the best - if not the best - signing this year. And no, you cannot have him back.
Mane Land: Where do you see Saturday’s match being won or lost? What has to happen for each team to come away with the points?
E Pluribus: From Minnesota’s perspective, this very much feels like a week to get back to the basics. Each of the past two weeks, we have conceded an own goal that was equal parts embarrassing and damaging to the end result. Sure, any team would blush in the face of a self-inflicted wound but when that own goal ends up costing you a draw, it stings exponentially worse. We certainly have the firepower to put multiple goals in the back of the net but it remains to be seen if we will marshal consistent service to the forwards to give them a chance. Our defense, on the other hand, may not be top of the league but don’t think it’ll be a cake walk on our end of the field. Sure, we’ve crumbled and shot ourselves in the foot a few times. But we are also the team that netted two in Denver and beat RSL 4-2. If we can keep a cool head, particularly on set pieces, Minnesota wins this one. If not, Orlando goes home with three points.
Mane Land: Absences / injury / international duty?
E Pluribus: Abu Dunladi: Injured while starting last week, likely out a few weeks to heal.
Mane Land: Starting XI?
E Pluribus: 4-2-3-1: Shuttleworth - Thiesson - Kallman - Calvo - Burch - Cronin - Ibson - Venegas - Molino - Ibarra - Ramirez
Mane Land: Final score?
E Pluribus: Minnesota 2 - Orlando 1
What do you think the final score will be on Saturday night? Sound off below!