March 4, 2017. A date to forget among Minnesota United supporters, players and staff. A devastating 5-1 loss against the Portland Timbers on their MLS debut started the trend of conceding mass amounts of goals during the month of March, as well as the 2017 season as a whole. A team that was dubbed for success based upon their preseason failed to live up to any expectations given to them to start their MLS journey as a group. The team conceded 18 goals in their first four games as well as 1 red card. The first month of games gave head coach Adrian Heath an idea of who was good enough to start on his team, and who was not. Some players never saw the match time again after this string of results, with others making rare bench appearances. What happened to that starting 11, who infamously allowed 3 goals in the final 10 minutes to allow the game to slip out of their hands? Where are they now? Lets travel back in time to see who those players were, and witness the transition of how 1 year can effect a player`s career.
The starting eleven for Matchday 1(as pictured above) consisted of a single friendly face to the #MNUFC faithful, and we`ll start with that player as we go down the list. So, up first, is Justin Davis, and we`ll just follow from there!
Justin Davis: The left fullback was well known among supporters for his infamous leadership and tactical awareness on the left hand side. In total, prior to his MLS debut, he had gathered up a whopping 157 appearances for the Loons. Davis was a fan-favorite during their tenure with the NASL, especially among supporters groups. Davis was known to go and chug a can of beer with the supporters in the groups in the corner of the field after every home match, while signing autographs for the young fans. During the 2017 MLS season Davis managed to get 492 minutes under his belt, while starting 5 matches, earning 1 red card along with 3 substitute appearances that were accompanied by 11 bench appearances. The fullback fell out of favor quickly with manager Adrian Heath, while not even making the bench for the last 13 games of the season. Since the end of the 2017 season, Justin Davis has since signed with USL side Nashville SC. The struggle-some 2017 season does not define what the player brought to The Loons during their time in NASL, and the MNUFC faithful will not forget their former captain.
John Alvbage: John Alvbage, the Instagram legend, the prankster on the pitch and the man with words of motivation for all. Alvbage started between the sticks for the Loons during their MLS debut, and had a fairly strong debut going until, well, the last 10 minutes of the game. Alvbage started three matches for the Loons, conceding 10 goals. The goalkeeper eventually lost his starting spot to now, starter, Bobby Shuttleworth. Alvbage went down with what looked to be a fairly significant knee injury 3 games into the season, and was never able to reclaim the starting spot. The knee injury turned out to be nothing serious, and he was back into training a few weeks after. Alvbage will forever be known to MNUFC fans as a true Instagram legend, with his hilarious stories and posts that brought amusement to this large community of supporters. The goalkeeper moved back to Sweden in June of 2017 after his loan here ended, and has since been loaned out twice and is currently playing for Omonia Nicosia of the 1st tier of soccer on the Island of Cyprus.
Bashkim Kadrii: The Danish winger joined the Loons roster prior to their 2017 season coming on loan from FC Copenhagen, a 1st tier Danish side. The player returned to his parent club in Denmark at the end of 2017, where he was then loaned out to, and is currently with, Randers FC, who are currently in 13th place in the Danish Superliga. The winger was supposed to compete for minutes with Kevin Molino and Miguel Ibarra, but he only managed a mere 11 appearance for the Loons during the season; five starts and six substitute appearances. The winger didn't manage to have much of an impact for the Loons during the season, with the Dane never making the scoresheet. The 26 year old winger has had 1 international cap for Denmark, which was in 2011, but has since fallen off the scope of his national team. Hopefully Kadrii can revive his career in Denmark, and we will see his name highlighting a team again someday.
Johan Venegas: The Costa Rican international started 12 games for the Loons over the course of 2017, while making 9 substitute appearances as well. He scored two goals and managed five assists throughout the course of the spring and fall seasons. The attacking midfielder/center forward struggles throughout the course of the season to produce what was expected of him. It was noted at times that it did not seem as if Venegas was giving full effort on the pitch, and that he wasn't playing to his best potential. The player is still rostered by MNUFC, but has since been loaned out to his native country, playing for Saprissa of the Primera Division Clausura. The midfielder has started 10 matches for Saprissa this season, totaling 5 yellow cards, 2 goals and 1 assist. Venegas needed starting minutes to have a shot at making the world cup roster for Costa Rica this summer, so his loan makes complete sense for both sides. We wish Johan the best of luck this season and we hope to see him in Russia come June.
Jermaine Taylor: Jermaine Taylor was an interesting acquisition for the Loons. I will fully admit that I expected Taylor to have that starting spot for the majority of the season prior to 2017, but that was not the case. The Jamaican international has 99 caps for his country, and had previously played for both the Portland Timbers and the Houston Dynamo. The defender started 6 games for Minnesota in 2017, while making 8 substitute appearances as well. Taylor lost his starting spot to Brent Kallman, who is a friendly face to Loons fans from the NASL. Taylor left in the middle of the summer for national team duty with his country, playing in the gold Cup for Jamaica. The CB started 11 matches for his country during the tournament, including a close 2-1 loss against The United States in the final. His performance during the tournament earned him a spot on the tournament best XI. Many thought this would lead to morre playing time for the Cb, but it was actually the opposite. The CB only made the team sheet for 6 of the last 13 games, making 4 appearances during that time. Following the 2017 season, the CB was let go and is currently a free agent. The defender may not step on an MLS field again, but we wish him the best of luck wherever he ends up.
Collen Warner: The midfielder was picked by the Loons in the 2017 expansion draft, and he was picked to bring veteran leadership to the loons midfield. The central midfielder made the team sheet for the Loons in all 34 games during 2017, starting 12 matches and being substituted on in 13. He tallied 1 goal and 1 assist for the Loons during 2017, but his contributions were not always noted on the scoresheet. He was a solid substitute in the midfield, and brought on stability in the late 2nd half when needed. Warner is still rostered by the Loons, and will more than likely play the same role in 2018; being a solid late-game substitute who brings stability onto the pitch. The midfielder will have opportunity to fight for a starting spot this season, but will face competition from Sam Cronin and Rasmus Schuller for the second midfield spot alongside Ibson.
Rasmus Schuller: Speaking of Rasmus Schuller, he`s next in line. The central midfielder out of Finland joined the Loons in January of 2017. The midfielder was brought in to compete for minutes with Ibson and Warner, and to bring an explosive attack to the central part of the pitch as well. The midfielder struggled immediately in his first three games as a loon, managing to start all three, but not finish them as he was subbed out in every match. After his sixth game with the Loons, the midfielder picked up a hip injury that landed him on the medical tables for three weeks. During those three weeks, newly acquired United player, Sam Cronin, took over his starting role. From there on out, the rest of the season, Schuller made 2 appearances for the Loons, before landing on the medical table once more, this time with a hamstring injury. In August, the coaching and technical staff of MNUFC decided it was best to send Rasmus on loan back to his native land of Finland, where he was featured in 7 matches for the club. He was not deemed ready to be fit and play until the end of August, and began playing in September. During his loan, he managed a single assist, but as a midfielder, most of what he brings to the team isn't seen on the scoresheet. Rasmus returned from his loan to the Loons in January, and the player feels fit and much more comfortable after learning to adapt to the MLS-playing style. 2018 is poised to be a big year for Schuller, with many deeming him to be starting the season opener against San Jose. We are all rooting for him this season, and we hope he brings his A-game this season, our club will need all of it.
Kevin Molino: Kevin Molino was United`s big acquisition prior to the 2017 season, with the front office coughing up $650,000 in a mixture of TAM/GAM. The winger joined the Loons from Orlando City, where Heath used to coach at. Molino is naturally a left winger, but Heath played him for a majority of the season in the #10 position. The attacker tallied up a season of 7 goals and 9 assists, which looks great on the stat sheet, but I am going to put an emphasis on the stat sheet. Kevin Molino is easily the Loons most talented winger, and yet, he is still played out of position; which baffles me. The comprehensive idea of the Loons not owning a true #10, and filling it with the next best option makes sense; but filling it with someone who truly can not flourish in that position is mind-boggling. Molino had a great 2017 season, starting 30 matches for the Loons, but I think his . Molino truly is one of our best players, and I really do think he can put up numbers in double digits on both sides of the scoresheet, but, he needs to be played in his proper position. Molino enters 2018 with a positive mindset and can only be looking to better himself in 2018. If played in the proper position, I believe the winger can put up a 12 and 12 season; so here is my question to the Loons. Will they sign a true #10, which would allow Molino to flourish on the wing? Or will he stay compressed in the middle of the field for yet again,another season.
Mohammed Saeid: The Swedish midfielder was selected in the 2017 Expansion Draft by Minnesota United, coming from the Columbus Crew. The midfielder started 3 matches for the Loons, and played 90 minutes in two of them. After United`s 4th match of the season, he was packaged with Joshua Gatt in a trade with the Colorado Rapids for midfielder Sam Cronin, and fullback Marc Burch. Saeid then finished his 2017 season with the rapids where he was featured in 29 matches, starting 27 of them. He tallied a goal and 2 assists for Colorado during their season, while also claiming a starting role. Following his 2017 season with the Rapids and MNUFC, Saeid joined Danish side Lyngby BK on a free trasfer. We here at E Pluribus Loonum wish Mohammed the best of luck abroad, and we hope to see his name highlighting the Swedish National team one day.
Francisco Calvo: Captain, oh my Captain. Francisco Calvo`s 2017 season can be described in a single phrase: “without you, we would have conceded 2x as many goals”. The Costa Rican international thrived for the Loons during 2017, and was ultimately their best defender in most games. He took over the Captain role for the Loons after, well, you know who, was benched and didn`t appear wearing the armband, or in a game during the rest of the season. Francisco Calvo had a phenomenal 2017 season for the Loons, and was in competition with Ibson and Christian Ramirez for MNUFC player of the season in 2017. He tallied two goals and a single assist, while tallying 168 clearances and 49 tackles on the defensive side of the ball. Our captain will again lead the backline in 2018 for the Loons, as will he in June when he heads to Russia with his national team, Costa Rica. Francisco Calvo will rep the armband in 2018, while hoping to show why he is one of the best in North America at the same time. 2018 is Calvo`s year, and he's out to prove that to the world.
And last but not least: Vadim Demidov: There is a lot to say about the center back who came to the Loons after playing for the likes of Real Sociedad, Celta Vigo and Eintracht Frankfurt. Most of the commentary, the social media, the overall comments surrounding the player are completely negative. The player has suffered enough bashing from Minnesota fans, and we need to move on from him, just like the team has. First and foremost, I would like to thank Vadim for taking a chance on a team built out of nothing within three months, and committing himself to being a leader for the beginnings of our franchise. It takes a big person to commit to something like that, but it takes an even bigger person to commit to something like that, and have to accept what happened and be able to move on from it. I really hope Vadim can be the bigger person in this situation, and I hope he lands on a team for this upcoming season. Vadim Demidov captained the Loons in their MLS debut, and started 3 of their 4 first games. While Demidov played, the Loons conceded 16 goals; which is, well, not good. Following this disastrous start, Demidov never saw the field again in a Loons uniform, without even making the bench. During the majority of the summer season, Demidov was sidelined with a knee injury, but that didn't change the fact that he wasn't as a player to e contending for starting minutes. It was also reported that Demidov left the team in the summer of last season, while still being on their payroll. Following his 2017 season, Vadim was still a Loons player until this past week, when both sides mutually agreed to terminate his contract. I truly mean this when I say it: Vadim, I hope you find a team that welcomes you with open arms, and i hope you find happiness in the game again. To say you struggled in Minnesota is an understatement, it was a complete disaster. The thing about disasters, is you can always come back from them. Once you hit rock bottom, there is only one way up. So, on a concluding note, I hope you find success wherever you end up Vadim. I wish you the best of luck.
And there it is folks! The starting 11 from 2017 who laid ground on this franchise. Not all the players worked out, it happens, but, all-in-all we were a team that was built in three months. We exceeded expectations, and we proved Grant Wahl wrong. What's better than that?
Today is a big day MNUFC fans, we kickoff our 2018 campaign in which we will strive to prove Grant Wahl wrong once again. Let’s make today a memorable one, let’s start this season off right. GO LOONS!
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