The 2018 MLS season is almost upon us. Things feel so much different than last year at this time. That inaugural-season buzz is gone, but we now have an air of improvement floating through our vents. Things are going to be better this time around.
But how do we define “better”? What are we looking to see this season? What will determine whether Minnesota United’s 2018 season is a success or a failure?
In simple terms, the Loons need to rack up more points than last season. The club finished on 36 last season, which equated out to just a hair more than one per match. Better would certainly mean more points, but would 37 be sufficient improvement? Would 45? The San Jose Earthquakes needed 46 to slide into the last playoff spot, but the Portland Timbers finished atop the Western Conference with only 53. Where in that span should the Loons land?
For me, 48 points is the high bar. That number was enough for the playoffs in each of the last two seasons (though Los Angeles Football Club will be pushing for the postseason right off the bat in their debut season). It’s unlikely that anything less than 45 will earn the club a playoff spot, and anything less than 40 would be much the same as last season. Perhaps the easiest way to state this would be that Minnesota United should fall in one of the playoff places, or come awfully close to it.
I think that most every fan can agree that there should be less scoring on United’s defensive end of the pitch. Not breaking the record of 70 in a season, set last year, would be ideal, to say the least. San Jose let in 60 last year and still made the playoffs and actually scored fewer than the Loons did. It’d be fair to say that conceding less than 55 would show improvement, less than 50 would show remarkable improvement.
But the beautiful game is about more than numbers. There were plenty of haphazard moments last year that didn’t result in goals but should still be avoided. There was also a fair amount of inconsistency in players’ performances that should be cleaned up. While it is impossible for the same eleven players to start every match, it’d be nice to see the same core playing game in and game out. And when backups come in or rotation has to happen, hopefully the transitions will be seamless this time around.
While a big signing doesn’t necessarily equal success, one does show committment and desire. The news of a bid for young Colombian attacker Nicolas Benedetti is exciting and it’d be nice to see more of that, maybe with a deal at the end. The chances of one coming in during the remainder of the offseason appear to be getting smaller by the day, but there always is the summer window, when foreign teams are more likely to be willing to part with a player. So let’s set a goal of signing a Designated Player—or someone at DP-level—during the season.
And what will determine whether we remember the 2018 campaign as a successor a failure? For me, the bottom line is the playoffs—Minnesota should finish top six in the west or come extremely close to it.
But what will happen if things don’t go well this season? Some people will lose faith—as some already have—but the team has preached Adrian Heath’s three-year plan from the start and they deserve the opportunity to follow through on their promise. That isn’t to say that another sub-par season will fly this year though. Improvement is imperative an we as fans shouldn’t settle for regression or more of the same. Let’s hope we don’t have to have a conversation on holding the team accountable this seaon.
What needs to happen this season for the Loons? How will you determine whether United succeed or fail in 2018? Explain in the comments section below.