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Starting XI - 2014 Minnesota United FC

By far the best regular season the Loons had on the pitch to date. But the season came to a close all too soon.

A Starting XI from the 2014 MNUFC season
MN Dark Clouds

Following the end of the 2013 season all sights were set on the 2014 North American Soccer League season. For the first time in club history there was no real turmoil as seen in previous seasons. No losing of ownership like after 2010, no Championship and rebranding such as after 2011, and no worries of an owner not being found like the dying days of the 2012 season. The full offseason to prepare without turmoil immediately was shown the following season starting with the first match in San Antonio against the Scorpions.

Starting XI:

Forwards:

#21 Christian Ramirez - One of the most popular players to every wear the Black and Blue, known colloquially to the fans as Superman; Ramirez spent 4 12 seasons with the Loons from 2014 to the middle of 2018. Prior to coming to Minnesota he played his first two years of college soccer at USCB for the Gauchos before transferring to Concordia University Irvine for his Junior and Senior seasons. During the summers between college seasons he played for Orange County Blue Star from 2010-12. After graduating college he joined MNUFC as his first professional contract, in his 4 12 seasons in Minnesota, Ramirez made 140 appearances and scored 72 goals between both NASL and MLS. In August 2018, Ramirez was sent from Minnesota to Los Angeles Football Club for up to $1 Million in Allocation money. After only making 24 appearances and scoring six goals in a single calendar year with LAFC he was traded again to Houston Dynamo for $250,000 in allocation money.

#77 Juliano - A long career spanning 15 seasons prior to joining Minnesota, Juliano spent a majority of his career in Brazil with some time in Italy as well. From the 99/00 season through the 05/06 season he played in Brazil for Palmeiras, Coritiba FC, Santa Cruz, Flamengo, Juventude, and Guarani. Following the 2005/06 season he moved to Italian side US Lecce where he stayed for just a single season before AC Pisa. After just one season at Pisa he once again changed clubs, moving to Portuguese side CS Marítimo. After just seven months in Portugal, Juliano was back in Italy after being purchased and signed by Novara Calcio 1908. For the next three years Juliano would mainly be on Novara’s roster but after an on and off stint of three years he headed back to Brazil playing for sides América Futebol Clube and Audax São Paulo. Juliano joined the Loons prior to the 2014 NASL campaign and would play three seasons for the side making 64 league appearances during that span before retiring.

Midfielders:

#17 Omar Daley - Another veteran player on the roster, Daley had a long career from his native Jamaica to England, Scotland, and even a short stints in the US before signing with the Loons. Daley’s senior career began in his native Jamaica with Portmore United where he would spend a majority of his first six years. During the time with Portmore, Daley was sent out on two separate loan spells. The first to Reading during the 03/04 campaign, where he made just six appearances, all coming on as a substitute. The second loan spell was during the 04/05 seasons when he was sent back to England, this time to Championship side Preston North End. In his lone season with the Lilywhites he made 14 league and one cup appearance, all coming on as a sub. For 2006, Daley made his first move to the States signing with Charleston Battery. He would make 23 appearances for the Battery during the 2006 season before heading back to England in early 2007. Omar signed with League One side Bradford City in the midst of the 06/07 season, a club where he would spend the most time at since playing for Portmore United in Jamaica. In his three full and two partial seasons with the Bantams, Daley made 123 appearances in league play, one FA Cup appearance, and another four in the League Cup. In the middle of the 2010/11 season, Daley was loaned out to Rotherham United where he would finish the season, making eight appearances, starting just twice. Following the end of the loan his time at Bradford would also finish and Daley headed North to Scotland, joining Motherwell FC. In two seasons in Scotland, Omar had 44 appearances across all competitions. Following the two seasons in Scotland, Daley then headed back to the US joining MNUFC for the 2013 Fall season and re-signing with the club for 2014. In two seasons with the Loons, Daley made 19 league and one playoff appearance, he would make the Starting XI for 10 of the matches and was subbed on in the other 10. After two seasons with the Loons, Daley made one last move to Oklahoma City to play for the USL’s Energy FC. In his lone season with Energy before retiring he made nine appearances in all competitions, with all but two coming before the end of May. Along with his long senior career Omar Daley made 75 appearances for the Jamaican National Team.

#12 Jamie Watson - Watson is a familiar name to Loons fans old and new but for different reasons. After two seasons at North Carolina and a season with the DFW Tornados in the PDL, the Texas native left college and joined MLS on a Generation Adidas contract. The #13 overall pick in the 2005 MLS SuperDraft joined Real Salt Lake for the 2005 season and stayed with RSL until being waived prior to the ‘08 season. Following 38 appearances in MLS, Watson joined PDL side Austin Aztex U23 for the 2008 season where he helped guide the team to a Mid-South Conference title and into the Southern Conference finals. The performance with the Aztex saw him get picked up by FC Dallas for the remainder of the season. After a lone appearance with FCD to finish the 2008 season, Watson signed with USL Second Division side Wilmington Hammerheads for the 2009 season. Another strong showing in a lower league club led to Watson signing a contract with USL First Division side Austin Aztex following the end of the USL-2 season. He would stay with the Aztex and manager Adrian Heath through the end of the teams time in Austin and into their move to Orlando, save for a brief loan to Minnesota in 2012. After making 95 appearances for Austin/Orlando from 2009-13 Watson would join Minnesota United full time ahead of the 2014 NASL season. Watson would spend his final three seasons as a player with the Loons making 36 appearances across all competitions, scoring four goals and getting two assists. Jamie retired following the 2016 NASL season and is now a sideline reporter for MNUFC matches and hosts Adrian Heath’s radio show on SKOR North.

#0 Floyd Franks - Another player who joined the Loons as a veteran, Floyd Franks played just two seasons with MNUFC in the NASL before retiring from professional soccer. After a college career at UNC-Charlotte playing for the 49ers and a season with Carolina Dynamo in the PDL, Franks was selected 10th in the 2006 MLS Supplemental Draft by Chicago Fire. He would stay with the Fire through the end of the 2007 season but made only 10 appearances during his time in the Windy City. Following his release from Chicago, Floyd joined up with USL Second Division side, Cleveland City Stars for the 2008 season. He would be an integral part of the club making 17 appearances during the season, helping guide Cleveland to the USL-2 Playoff Championship. Following the end of the USL-2 season, Franks moved to Danish side Jammerbugt FC. He would be there for just one season making 33 appearances before heading back to the US joining second division side Carolina RailHawks. Floyd spent two seasons in Cary, NC making 50 appearances and having another strong showing that saw him get picked up by Vancouver Whitecaps for the 2012 MLS season. Franks would only spend a half season with the Whitcaps before being waived in June and then rejoining the RailHawks a few weeks later. He would stay with Carolina until being traded to Minnesota part way through the 2013 season. In one and a half years with the Loons, Franks made 23 appearances for MNUFC. Following the 2014 season Floyd Franks retired from professional soccer and has since gone to college for Civil Engineering and now works for a building design and construction management firm.

Defenders:

#22 Kevin Venegas - After a college career at Cal State-Fullerton, Venegas signed with MNUFC prior to the 2012 season. He spent a total of six seasons with the Loons, including the clubs first season in MLS. Following his release after the 2017 season, Venegas played for USL Championship side Indy Eleven in 2018 then joined New York Cosmos “B” of the NPSL and Members Cup.

#2 Justin Davis - Davis joined the then named NSC Minnesota team ahead of the 2011 season and continued playing for the club through the transition into MLS. After the 2017 season he was released by MNUFC and joined USL expansion side Nashville SC. He played in Nasville during the 2018 and 2019 USL Championship campaigns. As of the publishing of this article he has not been signed by any club for the 2020 season.

#3 Cristiano Dias - After spending four seasons with Miami FC (who rebranded in 2011 at Fort Lauderdale Strikers) Cristiano came to Minnesota in 2011 and played for the club through 2015. During his time with MNUFC he also played two indoor seasons with the Missouri Comets in 2011/12 and 12/13. After his time with the Loons he joined Puerto Rico FC in 2016.

#5 Tiago - Another veteran Brazilian player picked up by MNUFC for the 2014 season. Tiago’s career started out in his native Brazil with Botafogo during the 2001/02 season. After just 13 appearances with the club he would be on the move for the following season; heading across the Atlantic to play for Italian side Perugia. During the 02/03 season he also was with S.S. Sambenedettese Calcio but would make no appearances for either club. Tiago moved once again for the 03/04 season, this time heading to Spain to play for FC Barcelona’s B team. 24 months and 23 appearances later Tiago headed to Switzerland to play for BSC Young Boys. His three seasons with the Swiss side saw him make 86 appearances in one of his longest tenures with a club during his career. After the three seasons in Switzerland he would make another upwards move, heading to recently relegated German 2. Bundesliga side MSV Duisburg. During his time with Die Zebras he made just 30 appearances for a side that finished 6th in the league both seasons. Another move came prior to the 2010/11 season heading to fellow 2. Bundesliga side Fortuna Düsseldorf. Tiago would make just 8 appearances for the senior side and a single one for the second team during the season. Tiago would be on the move again at the end of the season, heading halfway across the globe to Australia to join A-League side Newcastle Jets. Part way through his second season in Newcastle, after 28 appearances he was released by the Jets and picked up by Sydney FC for the remainder of the 2012/13 season. During his year and a half with Sydney FC, Tiago made just 10 appearances. It was at this point, just prior to the 2014 season, where he joined MNUFC after agreeing to a contract termination with Sydney FC. In his three seasons with Minnesota, Tiago would make a total of 71 appearances, the most he made for any team since playing for Young Boys. Following Minnesota United’s move to Major League Soccer, Tiago once again switched clubs, joining USL side Harrisburg City Islanders for 2017. He would stay with the City Islanders after they rebranded to Penn FC for the 2018 season before retiring at the end of the season.

#4 Aaron Pitchkolan - After a college career at the University of Tampa and West Virginia University, Pitchkolan was selected in the = Second Round of the 2005 Supplemental Draft by FC Dallas. From 2005 to 2009, Pitchkolan played for Dallas before for FCD before being traded to San Jose during the ‘09 season. After being released from the Earthquakes he would play for the Rochester Rhinos, Puerto Rico Islanders, and San Antonio Scorpions over the next three seasons. He settled in with MNUFC, playing for the Loons for four seasons from 2013-16. When the Loons moved to MLS, Pitchkolan headed South to Jacksonville, joining the Armada for 2017. Following 2017 he retired as a player but was named assistant coach for the now NPSL Armada side for 2018: he was named Head Coach of the U-23 Armada side for the 2019 NPSL season.

Goalkeeper:

#30 Matt Van Oekel - Van Oekel started his professional career with the Minnesota Thunder in 2008, after they folded he joined NSC Minnesota in 2010. From 2010-14 he would stay with the Stars/Loons before leaving for FC Edmonton in 2015. After two seasons in Alberta Van Oekel signed with MLS side Real Salt Lake but split time with them and their USL side Real Monarchs SLC. After only one year in Utah he moved to USL Championship side Oklahoma City Energy FC for 2018 and then moved again to fellow USLC side Birmingham Legion for 2019.

Substitutes:

#23, MF Miguel Ibarra - Ibarra played for the Stars/Loons from 2012 to the summer of 2015. During that summer he was sold to Liga MX side Club León. Ibarra would rejoin the Loons in 2017 ahead of the team’s first season in MLS and stayed with the club through 2019. His contract option was declined towards the beginning of the 2019/20 offseason and as of writing this he is a free agent for 2020.

#23, MF Greg Jordan - The second sub on to the pitch for the Loons that night, the Illinois native played his college career at Creighton University before turning professional. After a successful career with the Bluejays, Jordan was selected 32nd overall in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft by the Philadelphia Union. While under contract with Union for the 2012 and 2013 seasons he never made a single MLS appearance for the side, rather spending the two seasons on loan with Harrisburg in the USL, making 18 appearances in two seasons for the City Islanders. Just over a week prior to MNUFC’s season opener in 2014, Jordan would sign with the Loons, where he would remain for the next three seasons. From 2014-16 he would make 48 appearances for the Loons before heading to NASL expansion side San Francisco Deltas for 2017 when Minnesota moved to MLS. In 2017 he made 21 appearances for a Deltas side that would win the NASL Soccer Bowl in the clubs one and only season in existence. After the Deltas folded, Greg Jordan headed East to Charlotte, signing a contract with USL club Charlotte Independence. After 16 appearances with Charlotte in 2018, Jordan retired as a player and now works as a Soccer Sales Specialist for HUDL.

#7, F Simone Bracalello - Played for the Stars/Loons from 2010-14, he then left the club for the Carolina RailHawks where he played his final season. Bracalello is now the Technical Director for Wake FC in Cary, NC.

#1, GK Mitch Hildebrandt - After a college career that saw Hildebrandt play for Oakland University during the college season and during the offseason the Kalamazoo Outrage and Michigan Bucks for two seasons each he joined MNUFC as a rookie for 2012. From 2012-15 Hildebrandt would stay with Minnesota, but always as a backup rather than a starting keeper. In his four seasons with the Loons he made just 21 appearances. In those 21 games he would give up just 24 goals while also gaining 4 clean sheets. Following the 2015 season, Mitch joined USL expansion (now MLS) side FC Cincinnati where he would stay for two seasons. In his two years in Cincy, Hildebrandt made 63 appearances and earned 22 clean sheets, helping lead the team to the USL Playoffs both years. The two year stint in Cincinnati saw him get attention from MLS club Atlanta United where he would sign for 2018. While he didn’t make any appearances for AUFC he did make 8 appearances for their second team Atlanta United 2. In early 2019 Mitch Hildebrandt announced he was retiring as a professional soccer player. He is now the Goalkeeping Coach for USL Championship side Sporting Kansas City II.

#8, MF Michael Reed - Reed joined Minnesota United in 2012 after having played college soccer for four seasons at the University of New Mexico for the Lobos. From 2012-2014 he played for the Stars and Loons making just 31 appearances in that time span. Reed left to join Atlanta Silverbacks in 2015 where he 29 appearances that season. Following a single season in Atlanta he moved to the newly founded San Antonio FC club in the USL. Following two seasons in the Lone Star State, Nashville SC acquired his rights prior to the 2018 season.

#14, D Brian Kallman - The older of the Kallman brothers played for the Thunder from 2006-09 then for the Stars/Loons from 2010-15 before retiring professionally in January 2016. Since retiring he founded, owns, and runs Fùtebol Form & Fitness and has also recently been appointed the Girls High Performance Director of Eagan based Salvo Soccer Club.

#18, F Daniel Mendes - Another Brazilian veteran player who suited up for the Loons for a few seasons. Similar to teammate Tiago, his career started with Botofogo in his home country of Brazil. That is where the similarities of the two ended for now as in 2003, Mendes headed to Sweden to play for Allsvenskan side Kalmar FF. After 26 appearances during his season with Kalmar, Mendes was on the move again: to Korean side Ulsan Hyundai for the 2004 K-League season. After making 5 appearances for Ulsan in the first half of 2004, Mendes headed back to South America in July of 2004 to play for Colombian side Atlético Nacional. After 18 months and just 8 appearances in Colombia, Mendes headed back to Sweden joining Degerfors IF for 2006. Six months into his second stay in Sweden, powerhouse side AIK bought Mendes from Degerfors and would keep him for the next two and a half seasons before selling him to Kalmar for the 2009 season. From 2009 through 2014, Mendes was contracted by Kalmar where he made 126 total appearances in all competitions before being loaned to GAIS in late 2013 and Minnesota in 2014. Following a season on loan with MNUFC in 2014, Mendes joined the Loons full time by signing with the club for the 2015 season. In three years in the North Star State, Mendes made 42 appearances, scored nine goals, and had four assists in his time with the club. Following the 2016 season he joined indoor side Florida Tropics for the 2016/17 season and has since retired as a player.

Rest of the Season:

The 2014 season opened well for the Loons with a win over San Antonio on the road, this win was the first four straight for MNUFC in the NASL’s Spring Season. The only loss of the league’s nine match Spring Season came in the fifth match, a 1-0 road loss to New York Cosmos. Following this loss they would win two more and draw two matches to finish the Spring Season with a 6-1-2 record, 20 points, and a guaranteed spot in the NASL’s reworked playoff format The Championship.

The Fall Season started very similarly to the Spring half with MNUFC rattling off a seven match unbeaten streak that contained five wins. As part of the International Champions Cup at TCF Bank Stadium the Loons hosted Ottawa Fury FC at TCF following the ICC match. This resulted in one of the highlights of the Fall Season with MNUFC defeating Ottawa 2-1 in the pouring rain on the University of Minnesota campus. A 2-1 loss to Edmonton on the road broke the streak but the Loons were unphased going on another five match unbeaten streak. The last four matches of the Fall Season were a bit rougher for the Loons as they lost twice, drew twice, and only won a single match to end the season. Minnesota’s fantastic start to the Fall half still helped them to a 10-3-5 record with 35 points, tied with San Antonio for the Fall Championship.

The strong season by Minnesota gave the Loons a 16 win, 4 loss, and 7 draw record with 55 points through the entire 27 match season; giving them the 2014 NASL Regular Season Championship and the #1 seed in the NASL Championship Playoffs. Unlike 2013 where the Spring Champion hosted the Fall Champion in a single Soccer Bowl Championship match, the playoffs were reworked. This year the playoffs would be known as The Championship; with the winner of the Spring and Fall seasons guaranteed spots. The other two teams would be the third and fourth place teams from the entire 27 match season. This resulted in the Loons hosting a matchup with #4 seed Fort Lauderdale in Blaine. After extra time the score was still 1-1 and theStrikers would take the resulting PK shootout 5-4 to knockout the Regular Season Champions from the NASL Playoffs.