I’m going to keep this fairly short and on point as a lot of what the club has done in the offseason will be discussed in more detail in other paragraphs and pieces. But MNUFC enters their fourth season in MLS with head coach Adrian Heath and fifth season with Manny Lagos as part of the front office. The first two seasons were painful to watch the product and last year ended painfully with the club dropping the USOC Final, missing out on a Concacaf Champions League spot, and losing in the first round of the MLS Cup Playoffs at home to LAFC. Normally I’m very pessimistic about the teams performance and chances and yes the Loons look to have more problems up front rather than in the back compared to the opposite in previous seasons. But at the end of the day this team needs improvement and I see that happening. As long as the team can score some goals I see MNUFC gaining a top four playoff spot with a home game. But they’ll need to win in the playoffs to impress me.
Minnesota United enters its fourth year in Major League Soccer with somewhat unclear, but high, expectations. After a mapped-out 3 year plan the Loons look to further success in the League. Simply put, year 4 must add more than year 3, and that means winning a playoff game. Minnesota United’s offseason has been relatively quiet, notably adding Amarilla and goalkeeper Tyler Miller. Somewhat under the radar, however, was the Loon’s accumulation of depth pieces. Aaron Schoenfeld, who was previously in Israel, adds depth behind Amarilla, potentially competing with Toye. On the other end of the field, James Musa was picked up from Phoenix Rising in the USL who should help out on the defensive end during international breaks and Open Cup. Minnesota’s front office has been very calculated in their moves, and appear to be pretty smart about it. The notable weakness in the lineup is the lack of a playmaker. Kevin Molino is currently the expected attacking midfielder, is talented, but not entirely as creative as desired.
So what does all this add up to? Well, it looks a lot like last season. A couple of pieces have moved, like Darwin leaving, However, some pieces have been added. Chacon and Lod have both had a full offseason to adapt and hopefully should both make an impact this year. The Loons will be a more complete roster this year, but the competition in the West will also be better. It seems likely that Minnesota will squeeze into a low playoff spot, and potentially have to face LA Galaxy again, or Seattle. A lot is left up in the air. Adding a playmaker will help a lot, but also Chacon and Molino could both step up to the task and make this season something special.
Michael “The Loonigan” Clark:
The offseason was full of surprising, but intelligent, moves.
Just when I thought MNUFC was going to overspend on league-best Vito Mannone, they were able to sign LAFC’s solid Tyler Miller. The trade of our most creative footballer, Darwin Quintero, left a void that begged hope that there was a specific signing sitting in the wings. There wasn’t, but after a long wait, MNUFC signed in Luis Amarilla who shows a nose for being in the right place at the right time. Might I mention that Amarilla is 24 and Darwin is 32? The fitness will be noticeable and we will no longer need to worry if Quintero’s wacky, daughter-inspired goal dances will empty his tank.
Shockingly enough, Finlay is the elder statesman of our attack. As much as I regret saying this, we may see the ever-popular Finlay in his last year as a Loon. Enjoy it while you can, because you won’t see many folks with his commitment and work-rate.
Romaine Metanire will return; bringing accurate, aerial crosses, but this season we will see better chances and solid finishes. That’s because much of the attacking corp are sitting tall at 6 feet plus, are younger and fit, and had plenty of time to practice together. Banish your memories of Angelo Rodriguez huffing and puffing after falling short, by five feet, for a header.
Look away when you see our supposed boy-wonder, and Heath-inspired science experiment, Tomas Chacon. He’ll be in the mix occasionally, but unless he masters a nutmeg where he runs under defenders legs, I don’t see him winning much playing time. However, my fellow supporters tell me that I’ll be eating my words on that particular prediction. I sure hope so.
Chase Gasper and Hassani Dotson will continue to blossom. But will Mason Toye? Molino will show more creativity because he has the talent around him to reciprocate. Of course, questions remain about the depth of the team on attack but there seems to be more competition for starting roles on defense.
Last year was a year of constant signings, which can disrupt a team’s mojo. Barring injury, we should see a stable core throughout the season. Stability means MNUFC will make a top four finish in the division. The fatalistic Minnesota-sports fan in me says they will lose their first playoff game...again.
I’ll keep this brief. MNUFC added 10 players this off-season, 2 of which are likely Matchday 1 starters. They kept their midfield and defense intact. They added Amarilla to improve their production in attack. The core of this team is still together and Heath is still in charge, so I don’t forsee any tactical revelations coming from MNUFC in 2020.
Three predictions I’m fairly confident in:
- MNUFC will have less than 50% possession in MLS
- MNUFC will be top-10 in MLS in crosses
- MNUFC will attack the right side of the field more than the left side of the field
This is what MNUFC did in 2019 and I expect more of the same in 2020. As constructed, I believe MNUFC is a playoff team in 2020 but not much separates the teams in the west. If MNUFC has higher aspirations than just a playoff spot, they’ll need a DP #10, avoid injuries to key players, and of course have some luck.
First off, I know nothing...
Second, there are two things that would worry me if I worked for the Loons this season in 2020. Who is going to score goals outside of the strikers, and please keep Ike healthy. I’ve got a good feeling about Ike for some reason, but I’m worried about where this team gets goals from outside of the 9.
However there’s a lot to be excited about as a Loons fan, and I for one will enjoy in the optimism. United replaced Vito with an above average to all star level domestic goalkeeper, and in addition added depth to the defensive six (Centerbacks, Outside Backs, and Defensive Midfielders). While there may not be a lot of goal scorers in the three who play underneath the striker, there certainly is a lot of matchup based options for Heath and his staff to play around with. This should hopefully reduce the minutes required on some of the more “senior” players in these positions. I’m excited to see if Amarilla can prove to be “the real deal” for at least stretches of this season, and to see if this challenge to Toye can improve another area of his game (specifically looking at his movement in the final phase of attack). Speaking of Toye, it will be interesting to get an up close look at a handful of young domestic national team prospects. There is lots of USMNT action this year including a hopeful Olympic trip, please qualify and have coronavirus stop, but theres also the chance the full national team takes a quick look at a player if the first team pool isn’t performing as expected.
How will United do? Your guess is as good as mine, but they return “the spine” of the team and added in starting quality up top as well as in goal all while adding in quality depth throughout the team. If they want to compete for serious trophies they are a certain “luxury player” away, regardless they should be hosting a playoff game at Allianz if all goes to plan (insert three year plan puns here).
I think the word I am going to use to describe the upcoming Minnesota United season would be “optimistic.”
Making the playoffs last year was incredible but losing Darwin Quintero was a huge transfer out. Yes, Luis Amarilla says he is going to score 25 goals but let’s be realistic, 10 hopefully.
Unfortunately, he doesn’t have that much help in a support role to set up goals scoring opportunities. Quintero was a playmaker and could make his own goal scoring opportunities. Granted, Amarilla has several preseason goals, but that is preseason.
Jan Gregus could be a sleeper for another great season this year. I liked how he played in preseason, confident passing and not being afraid to shoot when the opportunity presented itself. He could be the catalyst in a great 1-2 combination with Amarilla.
Picking up Tyler Miller was very important because he does add stability to the team, and he will probably be busy for the first part of the season.
As much as I want to say we will be a playoff team, I am hoping for an above 500 win percentage.
Matchday 1 Extra
Heading into Portland, it’s hard not to see the similarities between the Loons and Timbers. They play in a smaller market of flannel loving fans, both usually play a 4-2-3-1 formation, and in 2019, they both sent in a LOT of crosses.
One difference between the two in 2019 was their efficiency in converting entries into the final third and penalty area into scoring chances. Portland had 287 more passes into the final third and 89 more passes into the penalty area, but they both sides finished with 52 goals. Their xG numbers (53.4 for MNUFC and 52.3 for Portland, per fbref) indicate that neither were overly efficient of inefficient with their chances, largely finishing as expected.
So Portland was 3rd in MLS in both completed passes into the final third and passes into the penalty area, but were mid-table in both goals and expected goals. Why? One possible reason is the inefficiency of their MLS record-breaking 753 crosses, 114 more than MNUFC (4th in MLS).
MNUFC stingy defense fared well against Portland in 2019, only allowing 1 goal in 3 games against the Timbers across all competitions. Will that defensive form against the Timbers continue into the 2020 season opener, with their attacking additions RW Yimmi Chará and #9 Jaroslaw Niezgoda? We’ll see on Sunday.