Normally, I love Minnesota United Twitter. I enjoy being the guy behind our account and live-tweeting matches. It’s fun for me to interact with you guys and have some fun (and snark) during games. For those reasons, I was really looking forward to the opener against the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday night. Not just because MLS was back, but because everything that came with it was back too. The first few games showed that the craziness is back, the goals are back, the fans are back, and Minnesota’s match showed that the same old shortcomings returned as well. Kevin Molino’s late brace injected some excitement into an otherwise one-sided training exercise for San Jose, but it failed to conceal the poor performance of the first 80-some minutes.
Last year, a game like Saturday’s was par for the inaugural season course. Expansion teams are supposed to play like that. Do they have to? Atlanta United would argue they don’t, but the debut-season narrative was easy to swallow. Minnesota isn’t an expansion team anymore—they aren’t even the newest kid on the block. There are expectations for the sophomore season, the least of which is to improve.
If some of the tweets that were rolling in are any indicator of fanbase morale, it’s low. And it’s only been one game. But the fans are right. There’s no reason why the Loons shouldn’t be better.
Fans are told to trust the process, and that’s not wrong. There certainly is a process in building a sports franchise, especially one from scratch (though the NASL-edition of MNUFC shoul have lent some experience). But the key to a process is progress. Fans have every right to expect the product to improve every week.
Minnesota took the first steps of the process as they improved during the season. The next stage was to up to quality of players in the team with offseason signings, but we all know how that went. None of the acquisitions appear to be game-changers. Some will compete for starting spots and have some good moments, but none will take the team to a new level. The offseason was a missed opportunity towards progress.
It’s unrealistic to expect a club to sign whichever players they like, but it’s entirely reasonable to expect a couple. When a move doesn’t work out, it isn’t always a bad thing, especially if a front office can take away from it. Sometimes a player gets away; maybe the offer was too low, or there was competition, or the right people couldn’t be convinced. When a deal falls through, the front office should learn how to sweeten the offer next time. People close to Minnesota insist that there were offers made this offseason that fell through. The only one that was a public spectacle was the Nicolas Benedetti saga, which ended with Deportivo Cali rejecting an asking-price bid.
But why weren’t there any signings? Fans deserve to know, and deserve for it not to happen again. They’re unlikely to get an answer.
It’s obvious that things are not going to go well for Minnesota United this season. Fans want a scapegoat, a reason why the process has stumbled to a stop. Is it the front office? The lack of transactions would suggest so. But is there also blame to be shared for the coaching staff? It’s hard to say. Even the best coaches cannot be successful when they are dealt a raw hand, but there has also been some managerial blunders from Adrian Heath.
Minnesota United and its fanbase are at a crossroads. The club seems to hope that everyone will be engrossed in the progress at Allianz Field and let the 2018 season slide in hopes for what is yet to come. The fans want the team to win, to make the playoffs, to disprove the reputation the Loons earned last season. The relationship between a team and its fans goes both ways. The fans support the squad while the club provides entertainment for its fans. So why should fans be eager to cheer for a team that is ignoring a season?
Fans must keep the team accountable this season. If the product is not palatable, don’t swallow it. When we love our team, we care, and we want them to be successful. As MNUFC hopes to grow it’s brand—and the beautiful game too—something will have to give. Who will it be?