As MNUFC’s inaugural MLS season winds down, I started to reflect back on the season and everything that has transpired this season. One of the thoughts I kept coming back to was how disappointed and unhappy everyone appears to be. Those who read this will probably accuse me of seeing the glass as half-full. Just as I’m sure there will be those who think I am delusional and question what I have been watching this season. But the fact is: I believe this when I say it. Has the season really been that bad? Has it truly been the train wreck many have made it out to be? Let’s take a look shall we.
But what about that dismal record?
I’ll admit 8-15-5 isn’t a good record. There is a reason they are in 9th place in the West. Maybe I am alone in this thinking, but I had zero expectations for them this season. I thought coming into the season there were some intriguing pieces that if they lived up to their potential, the team would have had an outside chance at the playoffs. Otherwise, I just wanted to see competitive games and see whether a core group of players could be identified. Yes, there have been some clunkers this season but even the best MLS teams have clunkers now and then over the course of a 32 game season. Overall though, the games have been competitive week in and week out. Another break here, another break there and they have a couple more wins on the season. Would that change your perception? Would two or three more wins make you feel like this season was a success? They are basically already where every MLS expansion team ends up at the end of their expansion season. Does this mean you can’t be frustrated and wish for better days? Of course not, but to call for people to be fired already is premature in this writer’s opinion.
But what about the lack of Designated Players (DP’s)?
Yawn. I’m tired and over this. Would I love for MNUFC to have a Giovinco, Villa, Dempsey, Schweinsteiger, etc.? Of course I would! Would you honestly be able to look me in the eye and tell me having a DP on the roster this year would have made the Loons a playoff team? Did they miss on a number of players? Absolutely! There is no denying that. Do you have the confidence they wouldn’t have missed on DP signings as well? I’d rather they take their time to find the right DP-level player than rush to sign one just to say they have one. But again, that’s just me.
As I mentioned above, one of the things I wanted to see this season was a core group emerge. I fully believe we have seen that. Calvo, Ramirez, Kallman, Molino, Cronin, Burch, Ibson, Danladi, Shuttleworth and Finlay are a pretty strong core group. Now build from there going forward. Add in the two or three DP’s to that group and all of a sudden you have a strong roster that could contend for the playoffs.
But what about Atlanta?
Look, I get it. What they have done is actually pretty mind boggling. It helps having an owner with more money than you can fill a hardware store up with…see what I did there? It also helps when you are playing in a stadium that was built with NFL and public assistance. Let me ask, would you rather be watching the Loons play at Smallianz on grass or in the cavernous “soccer specific” Sandcrawler (US Bank Stadium)? I know which one I would prefer. Because Atlanta gets to play in their own “soccer specific” version of the Sandcrawler, only theirs is more of a space ship. Who also says what Atlanta has going right now is sustainable? Atlanta is an extremely fickle sports town. Will Mr. Blank keep writing checks if the fans stop showing up? Remember, this is a town that couldn’t sell out Braves playoff games because they got bored with the playoffs. It’s also a town that stopped showing up to Thrashers games to the point they were forced to relocate. Most importantly, in five-ten years, no one will remember Atlanta and Minnesota joined the league at the same time. It will be a footnote; just like it is a footnote the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets joined the NHL in the same season. So I ask, please stop comparing the two franchises. They don’t go hand-in-hand. Appreciate what we have.
But what about the intangibles?
This is where I think things really change the tide and have made the season a success. For those who have followed the franchise for years now, could you have ever dreamed of the day they would be averaging 20,000 fans per game? Was that thought even plausible ten years ago, heck five years ago? But that’s what they have been averaging this season. They are 11th in the league in average attendance. People are tuning in and are excited about the product they are seeing. Two years ago I’d get weird looks when I’d wear Loon apparel. Now, people start singing Wonderwall when they see the Loon. It’s remarkable. I can’t tell you how often I hear, “Go Loons” when I have a Loons shirt or hat on. Co-workers come ask me every Monday how the team did that weekend. People are genuinely excited about this club. Now most importantly, imagine those 20,000 in Smallianz in a little over a year. With the legislatures approval during the course of this season, Smallianz has begun construction. Sure that might not be an on-field victory, but personally I don’t care because that assures us soccer will be here going forward. No more threats of the team folding. No more threats of small crowds not wanting to make the trek to Blaine. We will have a legitimate big-time soccer specific and only soccer specific stadium to call our own. I don’t know about you, but to me that is the biggest victory this franchise could have had this season.
So was the season really that bad? Was it so terrible you’re going to drop your tickets in revolt? Was it so bad you’re going to burn all your Loon gear on your front lawn in protest? Not for me, I had a blast this season and I will forever be thankful I was able to partake in their inaugural MLS season.