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Starting XI - 2015 Minnesota United FC

The Team That Nobody Wanted is Going to MLS, but first they have a few seasons left in the NASL.

Starting XI from MNUFC 2015 season
Minnesota United FC/Our Sports Central

The 2015 season would start as normal for the club with Minnesota heading to Arizona then Brazil for pre-season training, similar to 2014 when they would go to California then over to England. A big change would happen for the club this offseason though. Just two days after a friendly win against Vasco de Gama in Brazil, MNUFC owner Dr. Bill McGuire was awarded an MLS expansion franchise to begin play in either 2017 or 2018. The announcement was done at the Farmers Market in Minneapolis, with the backing of the Dark Clouds singing “The Team That Nobody Wanted is Going to MLS” throughout the entire announcement. Minnesota United was selected over Sacramento Republic and over a Minnesota Vikings backed team that would’ve played at the then planned new Vikings Stadium (the now opened US Bank Stadium). The Loons bid was chosen as the team had a proposed soccer specific stadium, originally set to go near Target Field in Minneapolis, but after issues with that site the Loons would build the stadium on a bus barn in St. Paul on the corner of University and Snelling and open Allianz Field in 2019.

Before getting into MLS the Loons knew there was two to three seasons left in the North American Soccer League, of which the 2015 campaign would open on April 11th in St. Petersburg, FL against the Tampa Bay Rowdies.

Starting XI:

Forwards:

#21 Christian Ramirez - Ramirez spent 4 12 seasons with Minnesota United 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. Ramirez made 140 appearances and scored 72 goals between both NASL and MLS for MNUFC. 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.

#18 Daniel Mendes - his career started with Botofogo in his home country of Brazil before heading to Sweden to play for Allsvenskan side Kalmar FF in 2003. He left Kalmar for Korean side Ulsan Hyundai in 2004 but headed back to South America in July 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 but was purchased by AIK six months later. After 2 12 seasons he was sold back to Kalmar for the 2009 season, where he would stay under contract through 2014. In 2013 he was loaned to GAIS and loaned to Minnesota United in 2014 before signing with the Loons in 2015. Mendes made 42 appearances, scored nine goals, and had four assists in his three seasons in Minnesota. Following the 2016 season he joined indoor side Florida Tropics for the 2016/17 season and has since retired as a player.

Midfielders:

#23 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.

#22 Jonny Steele - Another veteran player added to compliment the squad for the 2015 season. After his Youth Career in England, Steele headed across the Atlantic to the US and joined USL A-League side Syracuse Salty Dogs for 2004 before heading down the road and joining Rochester Rhinos in 2006. In the fall of 2006, Steele would return to his native Northern Ireland, playing short term for Irish League side Ballymena United. Following the short time in Northern Ireland, Jonny returned to the US and signed with the Carolina RailHawks for 2007. He would only stay in Cary, NC for one season before heading South to play for the Puerto Rico Islanders. In two years on the Island he would make more appearances for Puerto Rico than any other team he would ever play for. After two years in Bayamón, Steele would head back North to Vancouver as he signed with the Whitecaps for the 2010 USSF D2 Pro League season. His stay in British Columbia only last part of a season as Steele would be traded to FC Tampa Bay in July. While he re-signed with FC Tampa Bay for 2011 he would head back to Cary, NC on a season long loan with the RailHawks where he would make 26 appearances. Following his time with the RailHawks, Steele would jump up to MLS and join Real Salt Lake where he would make 29 appearances for RSL, after being released in December 2012, Steele would sign with New York Red Bulls for the 2013 season. After one and a half season in the Big Apple, Steele would depart NYRB and head to Australia to join the Newcastle Jets for the rest of the 2014/15 A-League season. After leaving the Jets partway through the season he would then sign with MNUFC ahead of the 2015 NASL campaign. However after just 5 appearances he would be released by the Loons at the beginning of July. In 2016 Steele signed with Ottawa Fury FC where he would make 12 appearances before heading to Miami FC for the 2017 NASL and 2018 NPSL seasons. Jonny Steele would sign with English Non-League side Ramsgate in May 2019 where he was last known to be playing.

#8 Ibson - After adding multiple Brazilian veteran players in 2014, the Loons added another in Ibson for the 2015 season. Ibson’s professional career started with Flamengo in his native Brazil in 2003. In 2005 he would be sold to Portuguese club Porto, where he would be under contract to into July 2009. However for his final two years under contract with Porto, Ibson returned to Flamengo on loan. In the summer of 2009 his stay with Porto ended as he was sold to Russian side Spartak Moscow; just two years later in the summer of 2011 he would be sold back to a Brazilian side, but this time to Santos. After 10 months with Santos, Ibson would be sold back to his first professional club, Flamengo. 14 months after rejoining Flamengo he would leave the club once again, this time for fellow Brazilian side Corinthians. Eight months later he would leave Corinthians for Italian side Bologna where he would stay under contract with until February 2015, though he joined Sport Recife on loan in August 2014. Ibson joined Minnesota United in February 2015 and would stay with the club through the rest of their time in NASL and through the transition to MLS. From 2015-18 Ibson made a total of 107 appearances, including 49 in NASL and 58 in MLS. Ibson would be released prior to the 2019 season, following this he went back to his home country of Brazil, joining side Tombense where he is currently playing.

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 - A veteran Brazilian player picked up by MNUFC prior to the 2014 season, Tiago had played for over 13 seasons before joining the Loons. In his long career Tiago played for Brazilian side Botafogo, Italian sides Perugia and Sambenedettese Calcio, FC Barcelona’s B team, Swiss club BSC Young Boys, German 2. Bundesliga teams MSV Duisburg and Fortuna Düsseldorf, and Australian A-League sides Newcastle Jets and 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:

#33 Sammy Ndjock - After a Youth Career with French side Lille, Ndjock made his professional debut in 2010 with Turkish club Antalyaspor. After three seasons and just 30 appearances for the side he would be loaned out to fellow Turkish side Fethiyespor, making 30 appearances for the club in his season there. Antalyaspor would release Ndjock in November 2014, then in March he joined Minnesota United FC. At MNUFC he was brought in to replace outgoing starting keeper Matt Van Oekel. In two seasons with the Loons he made a total of 52 appearances in the NASL for the club. A lowlight during this time was during a friendly against AFC Bournemouth, Ndjock would attempt to throw the ball out of his box only to throw in backwards and sideways into his own goal.

Following the end of the 2016 NASL season, Ndjock was not one of the few players brought up to MLS with the club. After taking 2017 off he signed with Finnish third division side Mikkelin Palloilijat, where he has made 33 appearances in the two seasons with the club.

Substitutes:

#23, MF Greg Jordan - After a successful college career at Creighton University, 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. Jordan would sign with the Loons shortly before the 2014 season, 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. 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.

#9, F Pablo Campos - Though just appearing in our series now with the 2015 team, Campos had actually been picked up by the club prior to the 2013 NASL season. The Brazilian forward, who would eventually become the modern NASL’s leading goal scorer, played college soccer at Oklahoma Baptist University and Fresno Pacific University for two seasons each. During the summer before his Junior and Senior seasons, Campos would also lead the attack for PDL side Fresno Fuego, scoring 32 goals in 25 appearances for the side, helping the Fuego win a Regular Season Conference Championship and a spot in the National Semi-Finals. Following his second standout season in the PDL, Campos signed with Allsvenskan side GAIS for the rest of 2008. In February of 2009 he signed with San Jose Earthquakes, who had won a lottery as he entered Major League Soccer. In July, after just 12 appearances with the Quakes, he was traded to fellow MLS club Real Salt Lake, where he would stay through the 2010. Following two seasons in MLS that saw Campos score only 4 goals in a total of 39 league appearances, he would sign with the Carolina RailHawks of the NASL. Shades of his college career showed that season as he scored 15 goals in 28 league and playoffs matches. In 2012, Campos headed to San Antonio to play for the Scorpions, where he would score 29 goals across 30 matches. After a single season in San Antonio, Campos headed North and signed with MNUFC. In three seasons with the Loons he would make 54 appearances and score 20 goals for Minnesota. Following the three years in Minnesota he joined expansion side Miami FC for 2016, though he would only score once in 15 matches for the side before retiring after then end of the season.

#13 Jamie Watson - 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. After being waived, 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. 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.

#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 primarily be a backup keeper for Minnesota making just 21 appearances. Following the 2015 season, Mitch joined USL expansion (now MLS) side FC Cincinnati where he would stay for two seasons before signing with Atlanta United prior to 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.

#11, MF Kalif Alhassan - A young but veteran player by the time he made his debut for MNUFC in 2015, Alhassan began his career in his native Ghana playing for Liberty Professionals from 2007-10. In February of 2010, Portland Timbers of the USSF D2 Pro League signed Alhassan. While Kalif would only make 8 appearances between the regular season and playoff he would be re-signed for 2011 as Portland moved to MLS. He would stay with Portland in MLS for four seasons making a combined 104 appearances across all competitions, including 3 in the CONCACAF Champions League, before being released by the club. In 2015 Minnesota United FC would pick up Alhassan where he would play 27 matches for the Loons before being released in December. Kalif would sign with Tampa Bay Rowdies for the 2016 NASL season before leaving them for New York Cosmos in 2017. After just 5 games with the Cosmos, Alhassan was released from the team but would join Georgian club Dila Gori shortly after. He would make two appearances with the Guarders before heading back to the US and signing with OKC Energy FC in the USL for 2018. After a single season with just six appearances, Alhassan would leave Energy FC for Indian I-League side Minerva Punjab for the 2018/19 season. He would make just 3 appearances in the I-League and 6 in the AFC Cup during the season, after which he moved to fellow I-League side Churchill Brothers for the 2019/20 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.

#29, MF J.C. Banks - Another player some Mingos’ fans know, J.C. Banks played two seasons in the Loon Wing kit for MNUFC. A Milwaukee native, Banks would play his college soccer for UW-Green Bay, making 77 appearances and scoring 35 goals. Before his Junior season, Banks played for the Madison 56ers, and then Chicago Fire Premier before his Senior season. After graduating college, Banks joined Rochester Rhinos for the 2011 season, where he would stay through the end of 2014. After 92 appearances for the Rhinos over four seasons, Banks went back west and joined Minnesota United for the 2015 NASL season. Over two seasons with the Loons, J.C. Banks would appear 44 times for Minnesota and score 4 goals. Following the Loons move to the MLS, Banks would join NASL side Jacksonville Armada for the leagues final season in 2017. Though the NASL folded after 2017, Banks would stay with Armada for the teams first season in the NPSL before heading to Forward Madison for the 2019 season. In the ‘Mingos and USL League One’s inaugural season, Banks made 24 appearances for the club and would be re-signed for the 2020 USL1 season.

Rest of the Season:

The first “half” (more of 1/3) of the season wouldn’t go the way the Loons wanted. Opening with a draw in Tampa Bay, the defending regular season champions would only win three games during the 10 match Spring Season. A 3 win, 2 loss, and 5 draw record gave them 14 points, putting Minnesota in 4th place of 11 in the Spring standings.

After opening the Fall Season with a 3-1 loss to Carolina RailHawks, the Loons would really pick up steam from there, losing only two more times in the 20 match Fall Season. Minnesota would finish 11-3-6 with 39 points, six points back from Fall Season winner Ottawa Fury. The NASL had reformatted the playoffs for 2014 now allowing the Spring and Fall Champions as well as the next two best teams based on the overall standings. While a bi-polar season, the playoff format would work out for MNUFC as the Loons finished 3rd Overall through 30 matches with 53 points.

Third place meant the Loons would avoid their ultimate kryptonite in the New York Cosmos, and rather would face Ottawa Fury FC. TD Place Stadium in Ottawa would not prove to be friendly for the Loons however. A 1-1 tie through 90 minutes meant the game would head to extra time, and Fury’s Tom Heinemann, who scored in the 47’ to tie the match, would score in the 108’ to give Ottawa the win and bounce Minnesota from the playoffs once again.