The 2018 MLS season is just around the corner, with there being only 31 days until Minnesota United FC kick off their MLS campaign. Minnesota sticks with the same six members of their technical staff from 2017 to take charge again in 2018. Head coach Adrian Heath and Sporting Director Manny Lagos lead that charge this year, accompanied by assistant coaches Ian Fuller and Mark Watson along with director of player personnel Amos Magee and head of fitness and sports science director Jarryd Phillips.
Minnesota United finished 9th in the Western conference in their debut season, ahead of the Colorado Rapids and the Los Angeles Galaxy. A gaping hole in the Loon’s defense haunted them frequently in 2017, conceding a league high and league record, 70 goals being allowed.
Recapping 2017 and moving forward to 2018 gives MNUFC fans and MNUFC personnel a lot to look forward to, but there are definite spots on the starting roster that need improvement. Moving forward in 2018, head coach Adrian Heath has indicated that the club is indeed looking to add a “DP” level player to the squad. DP players around the league that might sound familiar to are players like Sebastian Giovinco, Nicolas Lodeiro, Diego Valeri and most notably, New York City FC’s David Villa. These players can be game changers for a team and can have an instant impact on the level of play a team provides. Recently, Minnesota United has been linked to Colombian playmaker, Nicolas Benedetti. Benedetti is a 20-year-old attacking midfielder that plays for Deportivo Cali in Colombia. Benedetti would classify as a DP style player, with his transfer fee being somewhere between the ranks of 5-7 million, as reported by freelance MNUFC writer, Jeff Reuter.
A player like Christian Ramirez, who was most recently in the headlines for his call-up to the January USMNT camp, is a player that you build your franchise around. Ramirez is a natural goal scorer and has proven so in the past four years of his career, becoming the most proficient scorer in American soccer across all levels of play. Supporting him up top this season will be wingers Kevin Molino and Ethan Finlay, who have both proven throughout their MLS careers to be starting caliber players. Having a front three of that caliber with a midfield that can possess and control the ball will be high on the priority list for the Loons this season, although we may see two strikers featured up top at times with Danladi and Ramirez being paired. There are worrisome problems with the current players that occupy the midfield for the loons though. Finnish international Rasmus Schuller returns from his loan to bolster our midfield and provide strength through the middle, while Brazilian central midfielder Ibson is 34 years old this upcoming season. His partner Sam Cronin missed the last 10 games of the 2017 season with concussion problems, meaning that there could be issues in this part of the field. Collin Martin and Collen Warner are both players who can occupy those roles, but neither of the two is seen as starting caliber by the technical staff of MNUFC. Sam Nicholson and Miguel Ibarra play on the left side of the field, and both were featured heavily throughout the season. Ibarra started 20 games to Nicholson’s 12 during the season, but Nicholson didn’t arrive until the summer transfer window. Both occupy roles of importance, but it is yet to be seen if Heath is keen on either of them starting in 2018. There is also the arrival of Cameroonian international Frantz Pangop to worry about. In a midfield summary, we have a player who is 34 years old, and we do not know how his legs will hold up for the season and we have a player with severe concussion history. Those two players are accompanied by Schuller, who we have yet to see a lot of for the Loons while both Nicholson and Ibarra had less impactful 2017 seasons then they had hoped for. Leading the back line in 2018 will be familiar faces as well. Francisco Calvo, Brent Kallman and Michael Boxall will all be competing for the two center back positions, although it is noted we could see Calvo feature at outside back, the position he plays for the Costa Rica national team. One fullback position is for surely locked up, with Jerome Thiesson occupying it. The other fullback position won’t be so easy to figure out until we advance more into preseason.
On January 19th, Minnesota United participated in the 2018 MLS super draft, where they selected the four following players: Wyatt Omsberg, Mason Toye, Xavier Gomez and Carter Manley. Omsberg plays in central defense whereas Manley features as a fullback, and Toye is listed as a forward. Gomez was the only midfielder selected in the draft by the Loons, where he will play centrally. In addition to selecting those four players, the loons managed to acquire goalie Matt Lampson from the Chicago Fire in the draft as well. The 28-year-old keeper has loads of experience and will give Bobby Shuttleworth a challenge for the starting spot come March 3rd. Prior to the draft, the loons made a few player-transactions as well. The Loons welcomed new faces, Tyrone Mears, Harrison Heath (son of head coach Adrian Heath) and Cameroonian International Frantz Pangop. Pangop has yet to join the team, as he is still on international duty with his home country. It is also notablethat MNUFC has reached an agreement with another Cameroon international as well. An announcement on that player could be happening any day now.
With the addition of those 6 new players, we could see Lampson competing for a starting spot in net, while Manley and Mears will challenge Marc Burch for the remaining fullback spot. Omsberg could feature for the Loons come summertime, as captain Francisco Calvo will be heading to the World Cup to lead his Ticos towards victory. So, out of all the players we have named, and all the details that have surrounded our team… who is excess on our roster? Who is poised for a breakout year? What players are the face of MNUFC? Lets finally break this all down in simplistic terms.
Up top we will undoubtedly see Christian Ramirez start, with a possibility of Abu Danladi pairing up top with him as well. Beneath the striker position we will see wingers Kevin Molino and Ethan Finlay, with a #10 spot that is likely to still be filled (with the possibility of Nico Benedetti occupying it, if a deal is completed between the clubs). There is a possibility that if the position is not filled, Kevin Molino would play the 10 and we would likely see Miguel Ibarra playing left wing. Beneath the 10 spot will be Rasmus Schuller, and Ibson or Sam Cronin. Two more midfielders could be featured as well if the team switches to a 4-4-2, but it is all dependent on the formation chosen and whether we see two strikers featured up top. Featuring on the back line will be Francisco Calvo and either Brent Kallman or Michael Boxall in the middle with Jerry Thiesson and either Tyrone Mears or Marc Burch in the other fullback position. Between the sticks will be a hard-fought battle, but I predict that Matt Lampson will win the starting position, as Shuttleworth still has distribution problems with the ball. The likely subs we will see this year will also be dependent on whether Adrian Heath will play with two strikers up top. My best bet would be that we see Ibarra, Nicholson, Martin, Pangop and Toye featured in the second half this year, on a substitution appearance level.
Winger Jose Leiton, Midfielder Harrison Heath, and midfielder Collen Warner will all struggle for minutes this upcoming season, and it would be no surprise to see those players along with a 2018 super draft pick or two loaned out during the 2018 season. The team sheet is competitive in positioning this year and there is a slim shot that those players will make too many appearances in 2018. Even though the Loons are still in need of more starting-caliber players, the current roster they have will put up a fight for that 6th playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Now we can talk silly-season! Who will be the breakout players of 2018 for the Loons? I predict that Finnish international, Rasmus Schuller will become the rock of our midfield and that winger Miguel Ibarra will reclaim his former USMNT form and lock up a starting spot for the Loons. Along with those two players, it would be no surprise to me if Collin Martin doubled his game time from 2017 as well. Accompanying those predictions will also be my prediction that Christian Ramirez will be the top scorer in the Western Conference and be named to the MLS All-Star game. 2017 is over, and we are now in 2018. It`s a whole new year Loons fans, and there is A LOT to be excited about.
What are your thoughts on this upcoming season? How do you feel going into 2018? We would love to hear from you! Reply in the comments section, send us Gifs(please) or reply to us on Twitter @EPLuribusLoonum.