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The Carolina Challenge Cup in a wrap

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The Loons final match against Columbus, the players who improved their stock, and what we should be looking forward to based on what we saw.

First and foremost, today`s game against Columbus showed us a lot of what we could end up seeing throughout 2018. Adrian Heath rolled out what could possibly be the starting 11 come next weekend, against San Jose. The Loons kicked off against Columbus, ad here is how the majority of the game went.

The Loons first real opportunity came in the 14th minute, when Christian Ramirez put a shot on frame, only to be a foot or so wide of the post. The following 10 minutes consisted of a fairly decent amount of possession for the, highlighted by a tackle in the box that brought down Molino. The T&T international went down fairly easy, so the no-call decision by the referee was correctly made. Some good movement along the right side of the pitch between Molino and Mears led to a few chances as well, but the movement through the middle wasn`t there to support(This is me hinting at the fact that the Loons need to sign a proper #10). Columbus then took the lead in the 32nd minute through Federico Higuain. The Columbus big man launched a shot at Shuttleworth, who palmed the ball in air, only to see it roll into his own net. The Loons launched a counter following Columbus`s goal, and it led to a beautiful through ball to Finlay from Ramirez, but Wil Trapp bodied the winger so Steffen could collect. In the 36th minute, Columbus took a 2-0 lead, courtesy of Gyasi Zardes. A string of passes from the Crew midfield led to a one time shot from the former LA Galaxy attacker, which ended up in the back of the net. The second Crew goal brought the first half to a close. The Loons had a few chances, but there was no concrete highlight to go on about.

The first 10 minutes of the second half consisted of a constant press of yellow attackers, with the Loons countering once or twice. The 64th minute was the next active situation for the Loons, where Boxall conceded a foul and earned himself a yellow card. The first 25 minutes of the second half consisted of what seemed to be a lack of determination among the Minnesota players. It was notably seen on the live stream that when Columbus countered only certain players sprinted back to try and stop them whereas a few others jogged back while watching. The first part of the second half was not particularly a good look for the Loons. Bobby Shuttleworth then produced a massive save to keep the scoreline at 2-0. Christian Ramirez and Abu Danladi swapped spots, with Ramirez heading to the bench and Danladi coming on in the 73rd minute. Ramirez struggled creating chances up top, with Abubakar all over him throughout the majority of the game. Ramirez was not the one to necessarily blame for the lack of scoring opportunities while he was on the pitch, as there was virtually no support through the middle to help him during those 73 minutes. Nicholson and Warner were also introduced in the 83rd minute, replacing Martin and Nicholson. Nicholson brought on a bit of energy in the last 8 minutes, but the Loons fell short.

The Carolina challenge cup preseason tournament featured a tough test for Minnesota, taking on two of the best in MLS, as well as a top USL side in Charleston. In both the matches against Atlanta and Columbus, we saw fairly similar lineups, which could correlate to a starting day roster. The rookies impressed against the Battery in the Loons first game, bringing a change of pace and creation up top. That second half had the most action for the Loons between the three games, but one also has to take into consideration that Charleston had brought in many reserve players as well. Overall, Loons fans: stop panicking. It is preseason, and well, preseason doesn`t really matter. Sure, the scorlines of all three games were not what we had hoped for, but then again, did we expect more? On a current basis, the roster employed by MNUFC is full of talented and high quality players, but they just don`t cut it based on the standards of other MLS teams. A question one has to ask is: if Atlanta are spending 15 million on 1 player to compete in this league, and the most the Loons have spent is the 650,000 in allocation money to acquire Kevin Molino in January of 2017, how is Minnesota going to stand up to teams that have players of that financial caliber? The Loons front office needs to make a decision on whether of not they want to compete for the playoffs in 2018, because currrently, the rostered 26 are not enough.

On my end, that`s enough complaining about the roster; instead, let`s talk about who impressed this preseason, and who, well, didn`t. We`re going to do this as a three cheers/ three jeers style of analysis.

Tyrone Mears: The English fullback was brought to Minnesota this via the waiver draft. Bringing in an aged fullback didn`t seem to be the answers that the fanbase was hoping for, but he actually had one of the brightest performances of all the Loons. The 5’11 Right-back brought an upgraded stance of pace in comparison to Marc Burch, while connecting fluently with wingers Ethan Finlay and Kevin Molino on counter attacks.

Preseason grade: Cheer!

Ibson: Minnesota united`s rock. Debatebly the best player for the Loons in their inaugural campaign, he showed that even though hes agin, he doesn`t slow down. The former Brasilian international was the heart of the midfield for the Loons during the preseason, with nearly every central attack coming through him. He looks to have locked up a starting role for the Loons again this preseason, and he will inevitably be the perfect mentor for inconing Loon, Luiz Fernando.

Preseason grade: Cheer!

Ethan Finlay: The winger produced a consistent rate of play through his 3 games, and was attributed to most attacking threats. Finlay connected well with fullbacks, Burch and Mears, while still tracking back defensively to help out when needed. The winger hasn`t lost his touch, and Loons fans should be excited to watch this guy again this year; im poising him to be player of the year in 2018.

Preseason grade: Cheer!

Rasmus Schuller: The finnish midfielder returned to the Loons after his loan was completed last season, spending time in his native homeland playing during 2017. The Loons had high hopes for him in 2017, but he didn`t necessarily pan out to what they had hoped for. He returned for this preseason, and he, well returned. Phenomenally. I think Schuller had a fantastic display during his showings in Carolina, and his partnership with Ibson could definitely work out in 2018, if that`s who Heath decides to go with. Schuller is also up for the award of best hair on our roster, but that article is to come at a later date.

Preseason grade: Cheer!

Francisco Calvo: Oh captain, my captain, you are one of two reasons why we didn`t get blown out by Atlanta. The Costa Rican International had tow goal line saves for the Loons in their 1-1 draw against the other, and lesser, United. His defensive awareness was probably the most positive thing for the Loons on the back line during this tournament. Calvo is poised for a big year, as well as looking to shine in Russia during the 2018 world cup. So in other words, Loons fans are committed to supporting Costa Rica during the world cup.

Preseason grade: Cheer!

Matt Lampson: Although he didn`t feature against Columbus, his heroics in the game against Atlanta won the hearts of Loons fans. The newly acquired goalkeeper produced a near perfect performance against Atlanta, and may have won the starting goalkeeper position with that. Lampson came to Minnesota after a stellar season with the Chicago Fire last year, and he brings along with him determination and motivation to win that starting spot.

Preseason grade: Cheer!

Well, that`s it Loons fans. The preseason is over, and opening weekend is 8 days away. Before I continue though, you might be asking yourself, or scrolling back up to double check; “wasn`t he doing three cheers and three jeers?” Well.. I said I was going to do that, but then I figured I could talk positively about 6 players instead. So, back on topic: The Loons kickoff against San Jose in 8 days. Will there be an additional signing this week to bring up the spirits of the MNUFC hopeful? Who will Inchy start against the Earthquakes? It will all be revealed in what feels like no time. Go Loons, Minnesota. Go Loons.

Feel free to respond to us on twitter, in the comments of this article, or just send us gifs. We always love gifs. #COYL