Feels just like yesterday we were all counting down the days until MNUFC officially kicked off as an MLS franchise. Now here it is 4 months later and the Loons have reached the halfway point of the season. They currently sit with 18 points, 4 points below the redline. As expected there have been ups and downs as the season has played out to this point. Moments where you stop and think, they’re not half bad. Then other moments where you feel like you just watched a car crash occur. There will probably be more moments of each as the season continues.
In this edition of the EPL Rountable, we discuss 5 player related questions regarding the first half of the season. Join in the conversation by answering the five questions in the comment section.
Here are the 5 questions:
2: Most Surprising
3: Biggest Letdown (though we could all choose Demidov)
4: Most Improved/Impressive
5: One to Watch (for the remainder of the season)
1: Bobby Shuttleworth, the guy has come up with so many game-saving saves, it’s impossible to keep track
2: Ibson, there were some doubts over whether he should be in the MLS squad, but he’s come around to be a leader.
3: Rasmus Schuller, he was a player with a very exciting upside when he arrived, but with injuries and poor performances, he’s been disappointing.
4: Kevin Venegas, after that 5-2 loss to New England, I thought he should never see the field again, but he has been decent in the last couple of games.
5: Francisco Calvo, I think he is starting to use his “sweeper” ability and go forward more each week. He can score goals, I think we’ll see him do more of that in the second half.
1: I think a case could be made for a couple players but to me the guy who has shown that he can hit the ground running and lead this team from the front has been Christian Ramirez. He's not the most well-rounded dynamic player but he's netted goals at a better rate than many expected and will only improve as the talent behind him improves.
2: Bobby Shuttleworth? Not only as a fan-favorite personality but as a solid shot-stopper who's had some excellent individual plays when called upon. Again, not an elite player but someone who may have exceeded expectations to become pretty reliable between the posts.
3: Demidov. An unfortunate no-brainer.
4: The offensive cohesion. Not every game is as fluid and potent as we'd like, but now and then we get glimpses of just how fun this squad can be when everyone's on the same page. Additions and upgrades are certainly needed in the next year as not everyone is consistently up to par, but when the guys are having fun and on the same wavelength this group can score on any defense in the league.
5: Abu Danladi. The first overall pick is always the one to watch but as he matures and his reading of the game matches his physical ability, we could be looking at a pretty outstanding young player.
1: Christian Ramirez. The only player even worth mentioning in the same breath as Superman is Bobby Shuttleworth. Ramirez's nine goals is tied for fifth in the league, which is a fantastic amount when you consider the periods of time this team has gone without being threatening offensively.
2: The most surprising player has to be Ibson. After not playing a single minute in the first two games, he's become one of the key contributors to the team. His smooth passing and vision have helped this team tremendously as he's been able to help get the ball from the defense and distribute it to the attackers.
3: The Scandinavian signings. Not much more needs to be said.
4: Abu Danladi. Both of his goals this season have been game winners, but the rookie has really impressed me with his willingness to play out of position for this team. He failed to score in his first seven appearances but he's been fantastic as of late, scoring two goals and notching two assists in his last 340 minutes played.
5: My one to watch for the rest of the season is Joe Greenspan. With Francisco Calvo headed off to the Gold Cup, Greenspan should get opportunities to play once he passes the league's concussion protocol. The 6'6" centerback was fantastic on his loan spell to Pittsburgh earlier this season, and looked capable in the team's Open Cup loss to SKC before he was injured.
1: Kevin Molino. Though he doesn’t make the highlight reel every single week, he has made highlight worthy plays plenty of times this season. In my opinion, he is the most individually skilled player on this team and is a consistent contributor to explosive plays.
2: Jerry! Jerome Thiesson was just another question mark coming into the season. An import from overseas, it was up to Jerome to prove how he would perform in MLS. Could he rise to the occasion like Ibson or would he flounder like a few of the club’s other internationals? Thankfully, it was the former. He has been rock solid on the back line and is a fantastic person to boot. I’m looking forward to nabbing a Thiesson jersey in the near future.
3: Yep, Demi. Moving on.
4: One word … Ibson! It’s been fantastically fun watching Ibson pull a Benjamin Button this season. Sure, he’s no spring chicken but his midfield play has been spry and energetic on the regular. I doubted the decision to bring Ibson up to MLS as anything more than a locker room leader. Glad to be wrong.
5: Johan Venegas is at an inflection point with the team right now. After some early turmoil with the press and club management, he is once again regularly starting on matchday. That said, his service, particularly to Christian Ramirez, is not what it could be or even should be. We need a stronger presence in the midfield. If that’s going to be Johan, he needs to step up his vision and start focusing on linking plays that either distribute out wide more quickly or send a dagger into the opponents box for Ramirez. Keep an eye on Johan.
1: Bobby Shuttleworth - Just imagine how bad this team would be without him
2: Brent Kallman - He came off the bench and seemingly out of nowhere to help lead the defensive effort of the Loons
3: Vadim Demidov - If you don't know why you're not a fan of this team....
4: Again Bobby Shuttleworth - A guy we picked up on a trade for the backup position has cemented his spot as starting keeper and in my view one of the best in the league. Kind of reminds me of another guy brought in for a certain hockey team....
5: Christian Ramirez - Highest Scoring American in MLS, I would love to see him go after the Golden Boot and get a USMNT callup
1: I’m going to go outside the box and say Kallman. He may have single-handedly saved the team from Grant Wahl’s prediction coming true with his steady and reliable play. If he wouldn’t have come in and been as consistent and reliable when he did, this season may have been horror show of epic proportions.
2: Bobby Shuttleworth. I knew next to nothing about him except for the fact New England didn’t think he was up the task any longer. Yet, he has been a revelation and has grown into a crowd favorite.
3: Johan Venegas. He is simply not the player he was made out to be.
4: Most improved is Ibson. He seemed so bored last season, but he is fully engaged this season and has had some moments of absolute brilliance.
5: Christian Ramirez. He came into the season with questions of whether he could score at this level. Now halfway through the season, he is on pace to score 15-20 goals. I want to see if he can hit the 20 goal mark.
What say you friends? How would you answer the five questions?