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How can we learn from our mistakes heading into 2019?

What’s next for the Loons? Where do we go from here? Jacob Schneider gives his thoughts on the 2018 season and more.

Bolton Wanderers v Stoke City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

As we reach the end of 2018, we are now able to reflect on our second season as a club in Major League Soccer. So, without further ado - Jacob’s 2018 wrap up.

Improvement for Minnesota United needs to come in every shape and form if we’re being serious. Our defense has let in a combined record of 141 goals in two seasons, and in case you didn’t know, that’s not good. Consistency with lineups has to be better, as well as every position on the field minus one or two players.

I’m going to go over this past season, and highlight a few things that went wrong and a few things that went good. This is going to be a lot of reading, so pour yourself a drink and sit back and enjoy. Lastly, i’ll admit that there is a Minnesota coach who needs to be fired, but I’ll leave that article to our friends at @canishoopus.

Adrian Heath however, he’s an interesting study. He has had two bad seasons, and there is really no obvious reason as to why he still has a job if we’re being honest. As I said above, a record of 21-38-9 in two seasons is not great. If we look at our expansion compatriots, Atlanta United FC, they just won MLS Cup in their second season. They also added the most expensive player to enter this league over the summer through Ezequiel Barco. They’ve also averaged over 70,000 fans a game in attendance; an incredible feat. All in all, they’ve done pretty good for only being a second-year team; they’ve exceeded every expectation asked of them.

Minnesota is a different case. We haven’t met expectations, I can think of maybe one or two instances where I genuinely thought that things were coming together. Those two instances both came in 2018, during the month of July and then right at the beginning of the season when Kevin Molino was on fire during the month of March. Of course, things happen and injuries occur, but come on guys... It’s time to get serious.

2019 is Make or Break for Adrian Heath

Let me tell you why you should hold your criticism though

There’s a lot to be talked about in terms of whether or not Adrian Heath should still be the head coach going into 2019, but the Loons General Manager Chris Wright still has reason to believe.

“What I’ve tried to be is very patient and very understanding of all the circumstances around this year, and so when I say I give everybody a passing grade, knowing the different moving parts, that’s where I get to with both Manny and Adrian and say that it’s been OK given our circumstances,” said Wright. “But no more excuses. Third year, going into what is a very important year for us, we’re going to get the injured guys back healthy, we’re going to sign some players in the next window, we’ve already signed three players… and so I think that the trajectory that we’re on is really solid. Only time will tell, but that’s why I gave everybody a passing grade.”

We’ve heard over and over again about the “three-year plan” that the club has, and with Allianz Field opening its doors this coming season, there could be something special happening in Minnesota. So, let’s go a little in-depth into why you should all still have faith not only in the club, but also Adrian Heath and Chris Wright. However, before we do that, I want you to reread Wright’s quotes and let them sink in; don’t just skim them. Put yourself in his shoes and absorb what he has to say.

Evaluating this team is difficult for many different reasons, but none more so than the fact that we don’t know how to scout foreign talent. We simply cannot keep adding player after player in one window and see them cut the next window. It not only shows immaturity, but also shows how unprepared we truly were entering MLS. We have loaned in 6 players, and not ONE has earned themselves a permanent transfer. Not one. We’ve had 55 players rostered since our MLS journey began, and we currently sit with 19 players on our roster. That means that THIRTY SIX players did not pan-out. You can think on that however you want, but in my eyes, I simply come up with the word “yikes.”

Can we blame Adrian Heath for that? Yeah, sure we can. Should we? Probably not. All over social media I see people bashing Heath or including the famed “#HeathOUT” hashtag on their posts. Your frustration is warranted, yes, but to aim it at Heath? I think you’re misplacing your anger and finding a target to throw it at. He’s an easy target, he’s an easy guy to blame for the faults and mistakes over the past two years.

However, let’s consider this: Do we think that Adrian Heath gets every player he wants? Did Adrian want his two best (debatable) players to go down with season-ending injuries in the first month of the season? Did we want Sam Cronin, debatably the best player of 2017, to (what we can assume) suffer career ending traumatic brain injuries?

They were freak accidents, I get that, but going into a season without your three best players is a nightmare for any coach in any sport. It also deters team morale and completely changes your game plan; in a sense, you have to rethink your strategy for an entire season.

We can also note that frequent injuries to key players kept happening throughout the whole season, with the most prominent example in my eyes being Abu Danladi. Nobody expected Abu to fall off the edge like he did in 2018. Runner-up to rookie of the year in 2017, to practically being a ghost in 2018 wasn’t something anybody expected to happen.

Let’s hold up for a second now. There are a lot of words and numbers that you just read, and some of them may not make sense. So, let’s clarify my thought process in simple terms:

  1. Adrian Heath deserves some of the blame, yes, but your frustration and anger towards him is unwarranted. There are a lot more factors in play than you realize, and there are also plenty of more members on the technical staff that deserve just as much blame,
  2. Three of our most important players were out of 2018 with season-ending injuries
  3. Wright gave Heath three years. There is a plan, so have faith in it.

If we look at matches where we had a healthy team, with first-choice players, we did really well in those games. Like the month of July? Incredible. It was fun, exhilarating and more than anything exciting; that month got blood flowing. But that was also when we had a healthy roster and a striker in Christian Ramirez.

Trading Ramirez is something I’ll never forgive the team for, and that’s not going to change. It genuinely sucked to see him leave – he’s an icon for Minnesota soccer and that will never change. In the long run however, the chunk of change we got for him is going to prove extremely useful. $850,000 is a lot of money and it gives us the ability to upgrade a lot of positions that need upgrading. Now, whether we actually use that money wisely is not up to me. Jan Gregus is a fine addition to the midfield, and from what it looks like, he’ll be a great fit with the team. There is still a lot of money to be played with though – and what we do with it will play a large factor into how the 2019 season goes for us.

Like I mentioned before, Heath absorbs a lot of the blame for what happens with players not panning out and eventually leaving the team. But what about Manny Lagos? Amos Magee? Mark Watson? Ian Fuller? All four are also directly involved in the players. Whether that means scouting, player development, training or even contracts; they all factor in someway somehow. The frustration of past results is 100 percent warranted but is also more than just one person to blame.

2019 can be seen as a “make or break” season for the technical staff of the club, and that makes sense. The team needs to start producing results on the road, because a single road win in two seasons is laughable content. Allianz Field also needs to be a fortress – we can not allow teams to just strut in and take three points out the door.

The term fortress also means clean sheets by the way. Clean sheets.

To make that happen, there is so much to do. A back line of Calvo, Kallman, Boxall and Miller is not good enough anymore. I’m not going to single any one of the four out, because they’re all talented players. However, they do not play well together. They lack the chemistry needed to be competitive against the league’s best. The midfield has to learn to play possession-based soccer; they need to string together consecutive passes together while maintain possession in the offensive third. Angelo Rodriguez must be clinical. Putting up two goals every four to five games in unacceptable. We can’t rely on the athleticism of Darwin Quintero and Miguel Ibarra to rescue us every single game. Having Molino and Finlay back is great, but they’re also coming off long-term injuries. Overall, to be successful throughout the season at home, we need a team that plays together, passes together and creates success on the pitch.

The team needs to figure out how to create space in the attacking third, while allowing Miguel Ibarra, Darwin Quintero, Kevin Molino and Romario Ibarra to draw off and play the traditional wing role. The past two seasons, it has felt as if our wingers have been playing out of position to cover for mistakes made by teammates. That can not happen anymore, we have to start playing as a team and controlling the tempo of the game.

Again, let’s process this.

  1. Every position on this team can be upgraded. We HAVE to upgrade our defense.
  2. We need to start playing more as a team, and focus less on playing selfishly. We need to start being more creative in the attacking third, while maintaining possession while doing so.
  3. Again, for the life of me, upgrade our defense.

Like I previously mentioned, we need to trust in Chris Wright’s vision and plan for this club. However, there is one part that irritates me more than anything: 2018 was not better than 2017. If anything, it was worse or on-par. We finished 2017 with a record of 10-18-6 and finished 2018 with a record of 11-20-3 - where’s the improvement?

Now you can look at that and say “that’s just the record, the improvement was on the field” and that’s fine, you can say that. However, think about this: none of that matters. Whether or not you score three goals and lose by a goal, it does not matter. You still lost. A record determines whether or not you make the playoffs, a record determines your seeding, a record determines whether or not your competition thinks you can actually compete with them. A record is everything in this league, simply put. I also want to add this again. Our goal differential was worse in 2018. We conceded 70 goals in 2017, and 71 in 2018. There was virtually no improvement on the field, and that really sucks. In no way am I trying to degrade the players or anything along those lines, but we just need to be better.

The addition of Quintero revolutionized our attack, but one player isn’t enough anymore. There’s so much to say, but I’m trying to not be repetitive either. So, i’m going to end this here on a few closing notes.

  1. Happy New Year guys, you made 2018 incredible for us and we will do everything in our power to make sure you stick with us. Thanks for loving our content.
  2. 2019 is a big year for this club and this blog. Allianz field is opening up in April, and we are stoked.
  3. Give Adrian Heath until the summer window. Start 2019 off with a little love for this club, because it’s not all his fault. I still think he could be in Minnesota for quite a long time, so start embracing his coaching style.
  4. There are a few more signings along the way, and you should be excited. 2019 is a new year, and it gives us the opportunity to finally get a squad together that can compete.
  5. Lastly, if you want to hear perspectives on anything before preseason kicks off, I’m happy to write about it - just shoot me a dm on twitter.

Happy New Year, Minnesota. Stay Loony.