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Five Things We Learned from Minnesota United’s Five-Game Homestand

Important players, players showing more to come, and a few other lessons we’ve learned

Captain Francisco Calvo thanks the fans after Minnesota United's 1-1 draw with Sporting Kansas City
Tim C McLaughlin

We knew that the month of May (which, for all intents and purposes of this article, includes the match against Houston on April 28) was going to be both important and revealing for Minnesota United. After all, the results that come from a stretch of five out of six home games can contribute significantly to a team’s final points total.

We learned much of the Loons during the spell. From newly reliable players to ones who are newly less so, we’ve gained a much better understanding of the way the 2018 season is likely to go.

Here are five such lessons, in no particular order:

Michael Boxall is Minnesota’s best defender.

April 28, 2018 - Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States - Minnesota United Defender, Michael Boxall (15) heads the ball during the Minnesota United vs Houston Dynamo match at TCF Bank Stadium. 

(Photo by Seth Steffenhagen/Steffenhagen Photography)
April 28, 2018 - Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States - Minnesota United Defender, Michael Boxall (15) heads the ball during the Minnesota United vs Houston Dynamo match at TCF Bank Stadium. (Photo by Seth Steffenhagen/Steffenhagen Photography)

Early in the season, very few people thought Michael Boxall should even be in the starting eleven for United. FiftyFive.One’s Dave Laidig broke down the numbers in March, showing fairly clearly that Brent Kallman would, on paper, be the better choice as Francisco Calvo’s partner.

Boxall has since done a lot to prove the numbers wrong. He’s been level-headed—at times a necessary opposite to his fellow man-in-the-middle of the defense—and remarkably consistent. He’s been able to cover for others’ mistakes when he needs to and also hasn’t been slipping into or out of the lineup. He also has become an imposing physical presence to threaten opposing attackers.

Fans are beginning to notice his play, as has his coach. Boxall will wear the captain’s armband in Calvo’s absence, certainly showing that he is highly trusted by United’s coaching staff.

Miguel Ibarra is Minnesota’s best attacker.

Miguel Ibarra brings the ball into the box as Minnesota United host Atlanta United on 3/31/18
Tim C McLaughlin

At the start of the season, Ibarra wasn’t projected to be a started. For many, his best role was as trade bait. But then Ethan Finlay and Kevin Molino tore their ACLs, giving Ibarra on spot in the XI. When Sam Nicholson was traded to the Colorado Rapids, Batman’s starting role was cemented.

He’s recevied accolades, from fans, coaches, and now the league itself, for his workrate. His wonderful goal against the Montreal Impact even earned a spot in the MLS Team of the Week. Ibarra has spoken of how he and teammates have needed to step up this season. In many ways, he has epitomized that notion.

Fullback is one of Minnesota’s strongest positions.

Eric Miller during his MNUFC debut in a 1-0 victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps at TCF Bank Stadium.
Tim C McLaughlin

There is a caveat to the above statement: when healthy. But both right and left back now have some strong options. Jerome Thiesson, Eric Miller, and Tyrone Mears compete for the starting spots while Carter Manley has been a consistent selection for the bench and has showed upside in his few appearances.

In Adrian Heath’s system, which allows fullbacks to move up and involve themselves in attacking play—so long as they can attend to defensive duties as well, this new strength is a blessing.

Alexi Gomez and Darwin Quintero aren’t completely settled yet.

Darwin Quintero 4/3/18
Darwin Quintero practices with Minnesota United on 4/3/18
Tim C McLaughlin

It feels weird to say that Quintero isn’t entirely comfortable yet and that he’s only getting started. But it shows with both Gomez and Darwin. Both had very near misses in the Montreal game, Quintero shooting inches wide of the post and Gomez pinging the cross bar, that, based on their histories, are uncharacteristic. Heath mentioned in his post-match presser that Gomez still needed some time to regain match sharpness.

It must be considered that both players are new to the United States and thus going through a difficult cultural transition as well as one on the field. A large chunk of the Minnesota United locker room speaks Spanish, so communication and comfort there is not a concern, but the real-life aspects of their moves are, well, real.

Expect the World Cup break to give them the time they need to attend to settling down. And expect the train to really start chugging when league play resumes.

If Minnesota can control the early minutes, they’ll be successful.

Christian Ramirez shoots a header off during Minnesota United's 2-1 victory over the Houston Dynamo
Tim C McLaughlin

So many of the goals conceded by MNUFC have been early ones, and so many of the early minutes have been nervy ones. It always seems to be that halftime calms everyone down—or, in the case of the Montreal game, the first water break—but teams can’t afford to waste the first forty-five minutes on working out their issues.

If the second-half Loons can show up for the first half too, this team will be dangerous. Being dangerous could be the difference between being above or below the red line.