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Column: Finally, What We’ve Been Asking For

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Minnesota United’s defense is falling into place at last.

MLS: Sporting KC at Minnesota United FC Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Since that fateful March of 2017, Minnesota United have not been a good defending team.

I wouldn’t say you’re wrong if you called them a bad one. At times, a terrible one. This has been excruciatingly obvious at times, far too many times for my liking. We knew this by the end of the first season in MLS, when the Loons had shattered the record for most goals conceded in a season.

We knew that they needed a top-quality centerback to be the boss of the back line. We started to realize that a defensive midfielder was necessary too. And as the 2018 season progressed, with United shipping more than 70 goals again, we saw that both were very, very necessary, and that a fullback wouldn’t be a bad spot to upgrade either.

We hoped, asked and incessantly tweeted about these needs, because maybe, just maybe, the people behind the club’s social media account have the power to sign players. We doubted the front office, incriminating Manny Lagos for failing to adequately prepare for the third year of the three year plan.

The #PANIC set in, as it looked like we were doomed to watch an ugly team play the beautiful game in a beautiful stadium. It was all there: the fanbase, the stadium, the resources, the star player — but one thing was missing:

With the Darwin Quintero-led offense in place, it was time for the defense to arrive.

Darwin
Darwin Quintero brings the ball downfield during Minnesota United’s 1-3 loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy
Tim C McLaughlin

There was money to spend after the departure of fan-favorite Christian Ramirez last season. There was a bigger question, though, of if it would be spent.

First came Jan Gregus, who could maybe be the number six we needed. But upon further analysis, that wasn’t really his game. He was more of an eight, a typical central midfielder. Was this another miss from the FO?

It wasn’t, because Gregus was just part of the plan. Here came Ozzie Alonso, the honey badger, a battle-tested, proven MLS midfielder. A star defensive midfielder. The answer to our prayers.

Alonso
Ozzie Alonso during practice with MNUFC on 1/23/19
Tim C McLaughlin

But what would lie behind him? Francisco Calvo would be a starter, but would that be as a central defender or as a left back? Would an unprepared rookie or youngster be on the right back? Would we see the same centerback duo again?

Romain Metanire answered the middle question. An allocation-money fullback is a rare thing in MLS, but now the first Malagasy international in the league would be able to take his experience defending against the likes of Neymar and settle into American soccer.

And rumors of a goalkeeper, a top one, that might be on the way. Agustín Rossi wasn’t to be, but there are others, one who might be a Loon.

But there still wasn’t the centerback, a shut-down one, the one we’ve known we needed since the beginning.

Enter Ike Opara.

The 2017 MLS defender of the year, a 6’2” defender with experience in the league. With national team caps, and a reputation as the centerback.

Not a question mark, not a chance, not a promise for the future.

Finally, what we’ve been asking for.