Preseason is in full swing for Minnesota United. The Loons are spending time in Florida and South Carolina to prepare for their 2018 campaign which will begin on March 3rd away to the San Jose Earthquakes.
Almost the entire starting lineup was yet to be decided last year, but there are still some positions up in the air this year. Three key battles may very well be decided during preseason matches.
If Bobby Shuttleworth hadn’t been in goal for Minnesota last season, the Loons would have let in far more than the 70 goals that they did. Shuttleworth risked the well-being of his face to make some stellar saves to work his way into fans’ hearts. But he may not be the man to don the goalkeeper shirt on opening day.
Matt Lampson was acquired from the Chicago Fire during the MLS SuperDraft. He started 24 games for the Chicago Fire, who qualified for the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Shuttleworth has more experience than Lampson, but there are some concerns with more complicated aspects of his game, like passing and distribution. Either keeper can start at the MLS-level, so it will come down to their preseason performances to determine who gets the opening day start.
The Edge: I give Shuttleworth the edge for now, simply because of how he performed last season, but he doesn’t have it by much.
Captain Francisco Calvo is a clear starter at centerback, but it’s a little less transparent as to who will accompany him. Minnesotan Brent Kallman stepped into the role last year, but Kiwi international Michael Boxall arrived in the summer and received a fair amount of minutes as well.
Kallman is more of an offensive weapon, but Boxall brings more experience to the table. Both will get chances to start when Calvo is on international duty with Costa Rica (though Boxall may also miss time to play for New Zealand).
Calvo played at left back on occasion last season, which brings Marc Burch into the equation. Burch must beat out Boxall and Kallman--even though they play different positions--to remain part of the starting XI at left back.
The Edge: I think Adrian Heath likes having Burch at fullback, so unless he has more injury problems, he’ll play. I also think he values Boxall’s experience, and so the Kiwi has the edge for now, though Kallman will still get time as well.
So. Many. Options. It first must be said that if Nicolas Benedetti is truly signed, he will likely play in the number 10, or central attacking midefielder, role. If not, Heath’s past decisions would indicate that Kevin Molino takes that spot. Molino is a Trinidad and Tobago international who, if starting as a winger, usually plays on the right side. Ethan Finlay, who has appeared for the United States Mens National Team is also a right-side player. On the left, there’s NASL-carryover Miguel Ibarra, who struggled to find his form at times last year. Sam Nicholson, who arrived from his native Scotland in the summer, struggled to get fit and as a result didn’t get as many minutes as he hoped for. Then there’s Frantz Pangop, the Cameroon international who just joined the team in Florida on Saturday. Also in the mix is Jose Leiton, who is on loan. Rookie of the Year runner-up Abu Danladi could get a look in this region of the field, as did Rasmus Schuller once last year.
Finlay brought an undeniable energy to the team when he arrived, fighting every second he was on the pitch, which can’t be said about Molino, who developed a habit of losing the ball as the season progressed.
Ibarra was spotty and seemed to fit best as an impact substitue. Nicholson is still a fairly unknown quanitity, but he started to look decent towards the end of the season as he got in shape. Pangop is unproven in MLS, but certainly deserves a chance. The same goes for Leiton, who surely hoped for more from his loan.
The Edge: If Benedetti doesn’t arrive, Molino is in as the 10. He’ll otherwise be stuck as a sub behind Finlay and Benedetti. I think Nicholson will win out on the left wing, but Pangop is a real threat.
Who do you think has the edge in these battles? Hit the comments to discuss.