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A far-too-long season preview that you did not ask for

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The 2020 MLS campaign for Minnesota United FC has officially arrived. I broke down our roster, spoke about upcoming matches, answered fan questions and laid down the expectations for 2020.

February 9, 2020 - Saint Paul, Minnesota, United States - Scenes from the 2020 Surly Boot Soccer Tournament at Allianz Field.
February 9, 2020 - Saint Paul, Minnesota, United States - Scenes from the 2020 Surly Boot Soccer Tournament at Allianz Field.
(Photo by Seth Steffenhagen/Steffenhagen Photography)

The Ultimate far-too-long season preview you didn’t ask for

Minnesota United FC kickoff their 2020 campaign this Sunday in Portland against the Timbers, who the Loons are 3-2-1 against all-time. The Loons are hoping to build off an incredibly exciting 2019 season where they achieved their first-ever playoff berth while also managing to find themselves in the final of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. Neither the Cup final nor the playoffs ended in Minnesota’s favor, but the Loons laid ground for what could be an exhilarating 2020 season for them.

The Loons 2019 season earned head coach Adrian “Inchy” Heath a contract extension to remain in charge through the 2021 season, with an option for 2022, while Assistant coach Mark Watson was promoted to the role of “Technical Director.” The extension for Heath arrived as a result of the club’s success in 2019; Heath’s record as a Loon over three seasons is 35-14-45.

“I’m delighted to get it sorted and really excited about where we can go from what we’ve just done,” Heath said. “It’s well documented that the first two years were a struggle, but we always talked about having a three-year plan and we’ll see where we are at the end of the three years. When I look back at the year, making the Open Cup Final, getting a home playoff game, being disappointed to lose to a team like the LA Galaxy who spend all the money they do and the players they have, it shows you how far we’ve come. The most important thing is we have to push on now, we can’t rest on what we’ve done. Yes, last year was good, but we have to make this year even better. We’ve all been all over the world looking at players and we feel as though we need two or three spots now to take us to that next level and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Following a season where, it’s fair to say, the club exceeded expectations, they’ve brought in new players to compete for starting spots while also retaining a core that posted the leagues best defense in 2019. Fullback Romain Metanire was a 2019 All-Star while Centerback Ike Opara was voted the league’s defensive player of the year. Rookie (now sophomore) Chase Gasper earned his first U.S. Men’s national team call-up in the offseason while also being a finalist in rookie of the year voting. The Loons will have a new bigman between the sticks though, as they lost Vito Mannone, who was voted Goalkeeper of the year in 2019. The Italians’ loan ended with the Loons and he headed back to his club in England, Reading FC. The biggest loss for the Loons, however, may have been Attacking midfielder and designated player Darwin Quintero. Quintero was traded to the Houston Dynamo for $600,000 in allocation money and midfielder Marlon Hairston.

The Loons primary goal will be to continue their hot form from 2019 into 2020 – they’re hoping to start the season off with a crucial away win in one of the toughest stadiums to play at in the league: Providence Park.

The big question here though, is how does the team prepare for 2020? Who was brought in to replace the gaping holes of goalkeeper, striker and attacking midfielder? What should the expectations for the Loons be?

No worries: This incredibly far-too-long preview will cover every question you have. I’m going to breakdown our roster, go over upcoming matches, talk about expectations and more. So, without further ado, let’s tackle 2020, Minnesota.

Upcoming matches

The loons will have a tough string of road matches to start the season. They start off with heading to Portland on opening weekend, but then will have to travel to San Jose the following weekend to take on a reinvented Earthquakes side under the guidance of Matias Almeyda. If the Loons can get through both of those matches without dropping points, that’s a fantastic start to the season. The Earthquakes were one of the leagues hottest teams at one-point last season while it’s well known that Providence Park is one of the toughest stadiums in the league to play at. Timber Joey will be leading the supporters in deafening chants as the Loons open up their campaign Sunday evening.

Following a two-week road trip, the Loons return home to open up Allianz Field for year two against a talented New York Red Bulls side. Minnesota got lucky with their schedule; they get to play four home matches in a row following their return from San Jose. This presents an opportunity to not only earn points at home but start off the season on a hot scoring streak. The loons were one of the best teams in terms of earning 3 points at home last season; continuing that in 2020 is key to their success.

If there was one match I’d highlight as the match to watch during the Loons first six fixtures, I’d look at Saturday April 11th against the Los Angeles Galaxy. The loons host the Galaxy in a rematch of last year’s first round playoff loss. Heath and Co. will be looking for revenge against a team that, frankly, should not have knocked the Loons out of the playoffs in 2019.

First and foremost, though, the Loons have to get through the Timbers Sunday evening.

Roster breakdown

The 2020 roster looks a lot different from 2019. I broke down every player on the loons roster this season and talked about what sort of expectations we should have for him.

· Jose Aja

o Who is he?

§ No. 4, Aja, is one of the new recruits for 2020, filling the roster spot of Wyatt Omsberg who was traded to the Chicago Fire in exchange for left wingback Raheem Edwards. Aja has MLS experience, playing in the league from 2016-2018 with Orlando City and the Vancouver Whitecaps. The defender’s 2019 season was spent in Chile with first division side Espanola.

o Realistic expectations?

§ The Uruguayan will provide competition for Michael Boxall but will be competing with Brent Kallman (remember him?) and newly acquired New Zealand international Noah Billingsley for the 3rd string role on matchday. I’d expect Aja to be a player that we see feature in the early rounds of the Open Cup as well as a player the team would consider throwing in a back-three with Boxall and Opara if need be.

· Osvaldo Alonso

o Who is he?

§ Oh captain, my captain – A man who needs no introduction, Ozzie Alonso is without a doubt one of the most prestigious and accomplished midfielders to ever feature in Major League soccer. The Loons No. 6 will return to the pitch this year to control the midfield and lead a relatively young squad towards another playoff run.

o Realistic expectations?

§ I think it’s fair to assume that Ozzie Alonso will return as the best midfielder on the Loons roster, but there are looming questions about his age/legs. The Cuban international is 34 years old this year and he’s someone who is 100% going to feature if he’s healthy; meaning he’ll have a heavy workload. If I’m Adrian Heath, I rely heavily on Alonso when needed, but if there’s an opportunity to either rest or pull him early from a match, I take it.

· Luis Amarilla

o Who is he?

§ Mr. 25 goals has taken the Loons preseason by storm, leading them in scoring. Amarilla is considered the Loons biggest addition of the offseason, and he’s a scorer – something Minnesota desperately needs. Amarilla, 24, joins the Loons on loan after being the leading scorer Ecuador’s Liga Pro in 2019, where he scored 19 goals in 24 appearances. Amarilla promised Loons head coach that he’ll score 25 goals for him in 2020 (excluding preseason) – that’s ballsy, Luis.

o Realistic expectations?

§ This is probably the toughest one to talk about, honestly. I am a big Mason Toye fan – he’s someone I think has incredible potential as a footballer. I look at Toye and compare him to a young Jozy Altidore in Holland; quick, clinical and hungry. Amarilla on the other hand, is an entirely different breed of footballer. He’s not the quickest or the biggest, but he’s got a natural nose for the goal – we saw this in preseason. Amarilla is the presumed started for the Loons on Sunday, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see him score either. He has all the confidence in the world right now. The big question regarding him is how long he can make that confidence stick around, especially considering MLS is a massive upgrade in competition to that of Ecuador. I say Amarilla ends with 14G and 5A in all competitions.

· Noah Billingsley

o Who is he?

§ I think Billingsley is one of the most interesting players on the Loons roster this season. At 22, he’s already been capped by the New Zealand national team alongside MNUFC teammates James Musa and Michael Boxall. Billinglsey was selected in the first round of the 2020 Superdraft by the Loons, with Heath stating this: “Good kid, tremendous athlete, wants to get better. We think there’s so much more room and scope for him to improve and we’re pleased with Noah. It was pretty evident from early on that we were going to sign him and now he’s got in his foot in the door and now he’s got to take it. It’s a bit like Chase and Hassani last year, they’ve taken opportunities that have come their way, now he’s going to have to do the same because there will be opportunities for him.”

· That’s some high praise, considering many thought Gasper and Dotson were needles in a haystack.

o Realistic expectations

§ Billingsley is intriguing for many reasons, but one being that the Loons already have a plethora of central defenders. Opara and Boxall are undeniably the starting two, but there’s also newcomer Jose Aja and Minnesota native Brent Kallman. Billingsley will likely be a loan candidate, but there will be a clause for the Loons to call him back whenever they want. Examples being Open Cup matches, friendlies and injury crises.

· Michael Boxall

o Who is he?

§ The MLS veteran returns to the Loons starting XI in 2020 with loads of confidence following a 2019 season where he and Ike Opara led Minnesota to boast the leagues best defense. Boxall was a mainstay throughout the season leading the defense on and off the pitch. Joining him in 2020 are two more fellow countrymen in James Musa and Noah Billingsley as well.

o Realistic expectations

§ It’s fairly straightforward for boxy: The expectation here is that he takes his 2019 form and improves on it. He was a crucial part of the defense in 2019, so keeping him healthy plays a big role as well. My hope I that he takes Billingsley under his wing and teaches him how to be a top player in this league. With Opara and Boxall both over the age of 30, there’s only a few good years left in each of them.

· Thomas Chacon

o Who is he?

§ This is a great question – most of us still don’t know. Chacon was signed in 2019 as a young designated player out of Uruguay – that’s about it. He featured during a spell of matches last September, but the 18-year-old seemed incredibly overwhelmed on the pitch. The team saw something in him to splash the cash, but it has yet to be seen on the pitch. Chacon has a lot on his shoulders in 2020 as the Loons have a gaping hole in the “10” position, but the Uruguayan will be competing with the likes of Finland international Robin Lod and Trinidad and Tobago international Kevin Molino for that starting spot.

o Realistic expectations

§ He’s had 6 months to settle in and adapt to the culture shock of moving to a new country and a new team at such a young age, I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been at the start for him. However, it’s time for the kid to show Major League Soccer and Minnesota United what he’s got. What he lacks in size he can make up for with his feet. If you’ve been to training, you’ve seen the vision and skills he has, so we know it’s there. For Chacon, the realistic expectation here is that this is a breakout season for him. He’s making DP money, he’s a Uruguayan U-20 player and somebody the Loons may end up needing as the year goes on. This should be a 7G and 7A type of season for him.

· Hassani Dotson

o Who is he?

§ He only scores bangers. The trademark phrase was introduced this past season after the rookie took MLS by storm. Providing versatility for coach Adrian Heath, Dotson was able to play as a right-sided fullback, a defensive midfielder and a central midfielder for the Loons. Dotson finished 3rd in Rookie of the year voting but earned himself a call-up to the USMNT U-23 team and is on the shortlist for players for this summer’s Olympic qualifying. Dotson’s versatility will prove crucial yet again for the Loons this season, both defensively and offensively.

o Realistic expectations

§ The realistic expectation here is that Dotson provides another season of magic for the fans of Minnesota. He’s somebody who could definitely be a week-in and week-out starter for the Loons, but he’s stuck behind captain Osvaldo Alonso and 2019 All-Star Romain Metanire. There’s a strong chance Dotson heads to the Olympics this summer if the USA qualify, so the Loons will have to be ready for his absence if it comes to that. Dotson will double his goal count from 2019 while slotting a few assists in there as well: 8G and 3A season from the former Oregon State man.

· Mason Toye

o Who is he?

§ Toye is debatably Heath’s most coveted player. You’ll hear it time and time again, “There’s not one player on this team who wants to be a professional soccer player more than Mason.” Heath, known as “the striker whisperer,” has developed a relationship with the young striker. Mason is always trying to surpass his own limits and play to the best of his ability, that’s for sure, but there’s still aspects of his game that are a bit raw. Toye is someone who’s a vertical runner, and in Major League Soccer, strikers must be horizontal and vertical runners. Toye struggles to read when to make runs ad when not to, but the fact that he’s learning so quick has MNUFC and USMNT fans excited. Toye is an active member of the US U-23 squad and somebody who’s being considered for the 2020 Olympics.

o Realistic expectations

§ Toye led the Loons strikers with 6 goals in league play during his Sophomore season in Minnesota; he finished 3rd overall in scoring behind Darwin Quintero and Ethan Finlay. Still at the young age of 21, he has an incredibly bright future. Pundits and analysists, I included, dubbed his 2019 season as his breakout year in MLS and in the USMNT striker pool. 2020 is his chance to prove us and Adrian Heath that he should be the starting striker for the Loons this season. If we go simply based off preseason, Heath seemed to favor recently acquired Luis Amarilla up top over Toye. The expectation is that Amarilla starts over Toye on opening night. For Toye, the 2020 expectation should be double digit scoring in the league, earning himself a starting spot in the XI and in this summers’ USMNT Olympic side.

· Raheem Edwards

o Who is he?

§ In all seriousness, Edwards my favorite offseason acquisition for the Loons. They traded defender Wyatt Omsberg to the Chicago Fire in exchange for him, which could turn out to be an absolute bargain for Minnesota. Edwards was a highly coveted young prospect in Toronto during the 2017 season, but he has since bounced around from Montreal to Chicago and now Minnesota. His 2019 season was highlighted by injury, but he’s ready to break back out on the scene in Minnesota in 2020. Edwards is a versatile player, who can play both left wingback and fullback as well as left wing.

o Realistic expectations

§ Edwards could play an important role if Chase Gasper falls to injury at any point this season, as he’s the only direct replacement for the left-sided fullback position. He’ll primarily occupy a bench role, but he’s someone who will feature in Open Cup matches, friendlies and more. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Heath sub him on as a winger in late stages of a game if the Loons need a goal – he scored twice in preseason.

· Dayne St. Clair

o Who is he?

§ DSC is set for a 2020 season where he can get regular minutes as a starting goalkeeper for San Antonio FC in the USL. The Canadian goalkeeper was sent out on loan in January after the loons decided that goalkeeper Gregory Ranjitsingh will be the backup to Tyler Miller. DSC is a highly coveted goalkeeping prospect, but he’s in need of regular starting minutes before we can determine anything.

o Realistic expectations

§ 2020 should be a season where he gets a grip on the true harsh realities of being a professional goalkeeper. DSC won a national title in college but has since been a mainstay on the bench for the Loons – that’s not the case this year. He’s going to have to prove himself to the coaching staff in both San Antonio and Minnesota.

· Fred Emmings

o Who is he?

§ Literally, who is he? Is probably what you asked yourself when the Loons announced they’d be signing him to a homegrown contract. Fred is a massive human being who was probably taller than me as a 21-year-old when he was 12. Standing at 6’5 while only being 15 years old, he’s a young goalkeeping prospect for the Loons.

o Realistic expectations

§ While there’s a chance he’s sent out on loan with the likes of Forward Madison FC, it’s likely Emming’s 2020 will consist of training with the first team and attending matches as a player who doesn’t make the 18. That’s not to discredit him, it’s the fact that he’s the 4th string GK and he’s only 15: he has 20 years to make a career for himself still.

· Jan Gregus

o Who is he?

§ His footwork on the ball is as smooth as Grey Goose.

· Yeah that was bad, I’ll stop.

§ Jan is one of the most important players on the Loons roster, as he’s someone who completed the midfield trifecta. An important locker room leader, a visionary on the pitch while also being an absolutely delightful human being, Jan has become a fan favorite in Minnesota. After being acquired from FC Copenhagen in Denmark last year, Gregus has been a mainstay in the XI for the Loons.

o Realistic expectations

§ Gregus is someone that has proved to be incredibly important to the Loons, as he is both a creator and a defender in the midfield. His work rates are incredibly high and he’s always fighting until the final whistle. For Jan, staying healthy while maybe adding a few more goals to his tally in 2020 would be a great mindset. Expectations for him will be to continually create scoring opportunities in the midfield while also breaking up counter attacks. Ideally, a double-digit assist season from Gregus would be wonderful.

· Ethan Finlay

o Who is he?

§ Surprisingly enough, Finlay was the Loons 2nd leading scorer in the league in 2019. An incredibly hard worker, Finlay operates on the wing for the Loons. His pace proves crucial in counter attacks and breakaways, but there’s times where the final product is missing. I will say however, Finlay is a reporter’s dream in terms of interviews. I’ve never met someone who motivates me like he has during an interview; he’s an incredibly passionate player who gives his all every time he’s on the pitch. He embraces adversity and always wants to prove people wrong.

o Realistic expectations

§ For Finlay, his goal in 2020 should be to have a double-digit scoring season while adding at least five assists to his name. That can only happen though if he is starting, he has competition from Kevin Molino, Thomas Chacon and Robin Lod. It’s possible that Chacon and Lod aren’t seen as wingers but natural “10’s” but if results aren’t going the Loons way, Heath has been known to experiment up top with his wingers.

· Chase Gasper

o Who is he?

§ Featuring as a left fullback for the Loons, Gasper announced his presence to MLS this past season with a terrific rookie campaign. Being drafted with his roommate and friend from Maryland, Dayne St. Clair, only helped his case. Chase is one of the funniest and most genuine people I’ve had the chance to interact with on the roster. He’s someone who is always willing to face it like it is, whether he was at fault for a goal or whether the team collapsed near the end of the game, he’s always going to face it. Now a capped USMNT player, Gasper’s 2020 could be a game-changer for him.

o Realistic expectations

§ I mean this in all seriousness when I say it. But I genuinely think Chase Gasper is the best American left fullback in the pool right now. I think he’s going to become a mainstay in the USMNT XI and will be up for All-Star and DPOTY voting. I have extremely high expectations for him, because I can see the talent on the pitch. His rookie year saw him finish 5th in voting, but it’s fair to say that his rookie campaign has done the most for him as a player than the 4 who finished ahead of him. Gasper is over the age of 23, so he could not be selected for this summers Olympics unless he’s chosen as one of the two over-age players to join the team. 2020 has a lot of potential for the defender.

· Aaron Schoenfield

o Who is he?

§ Schoenfield, AKA “Big Celery,” joined the Loons this offseason from Israel. He’s not unknown to MLS though, as he played with the Columbus Crew from 2012-2015, along with MNUFC teammate Ethan Finlay. Standing at 6’4, he’s a big presence up top and could play a big role on set pieces for the Loons.

o Realistic expectations

§ Big Celery will make the gameday 18, but I’d imagine he’s third string on the pecking order. His goal record isn’t great and frankly, I can’t imagine Heath choosing him over Amarilla or Toye. It’s possible in certain situations that a player of his size and strength may prove useful, but for now, I see him as a 3rd string striker. A good year for him would be 10 goals in all competitions, but that may be a stretch for a player wo again, doesn’t have a great track record of scoring.

· Gregory Ranjitsingh

o Who is he?

§ I mentioned his name above, but he’s a newly acquired goalkeeper. He has a great track record from his time in USL with Louisville City FC and made 2 appearances last year with Orlando City FC. The Loons drafted him 16th overall in this years’ waiver draft.

o Realistic expectations

§ For Ranjitsingh, his 2020 will be on the bench behind Tyler Miller, but if Miller falls out of favor or runs into an injury, his role could be massive for the Loons. 2020 gives him not only opportunity, but a fresh start in the north with the Loons.

· Ike Opara

o Who is he?

§ Ike Opara is one of the most well-known names around the league. The reigning defensive player of the year proved crucial to the Loons success in 2020, as he led on and off the pitch while producing defensive masterclass performances week in and week out. He’s set for a big 2020 season after leading the Loons to the best defense in the league during 2019. Opara’s class on and off the pitch is one of the biggest reasons why Heath wanted him on his roster – he’s a player who will give his all no matter what. That, and he hosts an absolutely hilarious podcast with former Sporting Kansas City teammate Benny Feilhaber: BSI the podcast.

o Realistic expectations

§ Opara’s 2020 season will be the backbone of success for the Loons. Opara’s role on the backline as a leader and as a reliable central defender is something that the entire team relies heavily on. He’s been dealing with some injury issues during preseason, but he seems to be a go ahead of opening night against the Timbers. The expectations with him are simple: stay healthy, do whatever you need to so to stay healthy. We already know he can play, he’s an absolutely brilliant footballer. At 31, he only has a few years left while he’s at his peak; he needs to stay fit and keep doing what he does best: lead a backline, play consistent and prove to the rest f the league that they should fear matching up against him.

· Tyler Miller

o Who is he?

§ The loons newest starting goalkeeper, Miller brings experience and excellence to the roster. He has big shoes to fill after reigning goalkeeper of the year Vito Mannone left the club, but he’s up for the challenge. The Loons paid 225k for Miller, taking him away from Bob Bradley and LAFC where he manned the sticks for two seasons. He studied under Stefan Frei in Seattle prior to arriving at LAFC, and he’s now found his way to Minnesota. He was called up to the 2019 January camp for the USMNT as well – a change of scenery could help him find his way back into the player pool.

o Realistic expectations

§ For Miller, he’s going to want to make a stand right away. He knows he has big shoes to fill, but he’s taking up the challenge. For Miller, keeping clean sheets every week will be a priority, but he’s someone who also needs to improve on 1v1 situations as well as set piece dynamics. He’ll be focusing on being vocal to his back line while also being more aware of his role in the net. Realistically, he’s going to want to retain his save percentage while also improving on GA in 2020. Ideally, getting double digits in clean sheets and surpassing his record of nine (2019).

· James Musa

o Who is he?

§ Musa was signed by the Loons this offseason after he posted a stellar season in the USL Championship with Phoenix Rising FC. The midfielder was a regular starter in 2019 during a 20-match unbeaten streak in the league. Musa has experience playing in England, New Zealand and Australia – he brings depth to the midfield while also providing a different option for the Loons. Standing at 6’0, Musa provides strength and physical ability.

o Realistic expectations

§ Musa adds depth to the midfield but also replaces the likes of Colin Martin, Rasmus Schuller and Lawrence Olum. Musa’s experience and size could prove worthy to the Loons. He’s a matchday 18 player and will definitely feature for the Loons if Heath thinks he’s good enough. For now, though, he’s on the depth chart behind Dotson, Alonso and Gregus.

· Kevin Molino

o Who is he?

§ Molino is one of the few players that has been with Minnesota United since their MLS tenure began. He was brought in as a record signing at the time – his rich history with Adrian Heath in Orlando City helped his case. Primarily a left winger, Molino can feature as an attacking midfielder as well. Through three seasons, he’s scored 12 goals and added 15 assists in league play. A Trinidad and Tobago International, Molino has proved to be a mainstay in the Xi over the past three seasons.

o Realistic expectations

§ For Molino, staying healthy in 2020 will be key. It goes the same for a lot of the players on this roster: stay healthy. We all know the playmaking ability that Molino has, but every season there seems to be some sort of long-term knock that keeps him out for at least a month. Starting strong will be key for Molino, his 2018 campaign began terrifically, with him scoring 3 goals in the first month but then he was lost to an ACL tear. In 2019 we saw glimpses of what Molino can be, so 2020 should be his season. My prediction is 13G and 9A from Molino – his best season in MLS yet to date.

· Robin Lod

o Who is he?

§ Robin Lod is probably the most interesting player on the roster. Bought from Gijon in Spain this past summer, Heath praised Lod for his playmaking ability and left foot, but we haven’t seen anything from the Finnish playmaker yet. Over the course of 5 months Heath’s go to excuse was fitness regarding Lod, but fans got tired of that excuse quickly. Receiving lots of ill-fated tweets and rather unpleasant posts on social media during the later part of the 2019 season, Lod couldn’t get anything going. Fans were harsh, media were harsh, but this is a league where you need to prove your worth. The 2020 season gives Lod that chance. There’s no excuse on fitness now, he’s had time to adapt to living and playing here. Show us what you’ve got, Robin.

o Realistic expectations

§ As a starting winger/attacking midfielder in this league, it’s fair to have high expectations for an international playmaker. Lod should have a 7G/10A type season, but I’m just not sure he has it in him. I want him to prove me wrong, but he hasn’t done anything to change my mind yet. For Lod, confidence is everything this year. He has to get on the scoresheet early in the season, he has to see positivity surrounding him. It’s a mental game at this point. He has the trust from Heath, he just needs need to trust himself now.

· Romain Metanire

o Who is he?

§ A 2019 MLS All-Star, Romain Metanire has proved to be a rock on the right side of the pitch for the Loons. Notably, he’s an excellent crosser into the box as. Known as “the pretty boy” of the team, Romain boasts a great sense of humor as well as a great work ethic. You can always find Romain making overlaps or tracking back on defense to cover up space. Metanire’s hot start to 2019, where he logged 6 assists and 4 TOTW performances through 11 matches, was what earned him the honor.

o Reasonable expectations

§ Loons fans can’t expect as quite of a hot start to 2020 as 2019, but they should still hold Metanire to a certain standard. He’s one of the leagues best crossers, and with the additions of Raheem Edwards, Luis Amarilla and Aaron Schoenfeld going forward, it’s safe to bet that he’ll find them on the opposite end of a cross. It would be an incredible feat for him to find himself in the MLS All-Star match again, but anything is possible in this league.

· Jacori Hayes

o Who is he?

§ Hayes was drafted in the 1st round of the 2017 MLS Super draft by FC Dallas and spent the first three seasons of his career with them. The Loons acquired him via trade in January, bringing in another midfielder to replace the gap left by Martin and Olum. Hayes brings a versatile style of play to the Loons as a more natural “8” while also having the ability to sit back as a “6.” For Minnesota, bringing in someone like Hayes who has playoff experience and three years of MLS already in him, is a fantastic move. He provides competition in the midfield and reliability on the bench.

o Reasonable expectations

§ Hayes will be competing with the likes of James Musa and Hassani Dotson for minutes, but the three of them will still likely be behind Alonso and Gregus – it’s great competition. As for many of the bench role players, Hayes is someone we’ll likely see in Open Cup play and friendlies with there being a possibility of a late cameo in the final stages of games as well. For the Loons, Hayes is a player that should be reliable off the bench while again, providing safe and consistent competition to those ahead of him in the depth chart.

· Marlon Hairston

o Who is he?

§ Hairston was part of a package deal the Loons received in exchange for former designated player Darwin Quintero back in November. Hairston has been in the league since 2014, where he played for 5 years in Colorado and 1 in Houston. Hairston is a versatile winger who will provide competition for those ahead of him in the depth chart. The 25-year-old was called into the 2018 January USMNT camp but hasn’t featured since. A fresh start in Minnesota could be what the Missouri native needs.

o Reasonable expectations

§ Hairston isn’t someone I expect to feature heavily for the Loons towards the start of the campaign, but as time goes on, if there’s a dip in form from a starter we know he’s there. He’s down towards the bottom of the depth chart for wingers, but you never know what can happen. For Loons fans, seeing a 3G/5A season would be ideal. He’s the type of player who can provide a spark off the bench late to help steal a point or find a late winner.

· Brent Kallman

o Who is he?

§ Brent Kallman is the only player left on the MNUFC roster from the NASL era – he’s someone who has proved to be the perfect defensive depth. He’s been with the team since 2013 and is ultimately a fan favorite. Late in 2019 though, he was suspended by the league for 10 matches while being fined 20% of his 2019 salary. More here. Kallman will serve out his remaining suspension to start 2020 by being suspended for 5 matches.

o Reasonable expectations

§ It’s tough to see what the expectations for Kallman will be in 2020. The team has signed two additional central defenders in Jose Aja and Noah Billingsley, so the competition for the 3rd string spot is there. Kallman’s role will entirely be determined by Heath and whether or not he gives him another shot in the gameday squad.

Fan Questions:

1. Chris: Will Chacon ever be “ready?”

a. This is a tough question. I touched on it above, but this really *should* be a make-or-break season for Chacon. He needs to find his confidence on the pitch and realize that he is talented enough for this league. He’s tiny compared to most players on the pitch, but size never stopped Messi, it shouldn’t stop Chacon. The kid has great footwork, he’s got speed and vision: find out how to put it together and you really could have a special player. For Chacon, the competition for starting at the “10” spot isn’t very difficult, he and Lod are the only natural players who fit the spot. The Ball is at his feet, it’s his choice where he kicks it now.

2. Stefan: Am I crazy to think the MNUFC attack can improve in 2020 even if we wait until summer to sign a DP #10?

a. No Stefan, you’re not crazy. The loons should wait until summer to find their next designated player, because it’s straightforward now that the deal for Emmanuel Reynoso isn’t going to happen. The thing here though is that the Loons may not need a DP #10 come summer – it’s entirely possible that Robin Lod or Thomas Chacon pan out and finally start becoming the playmakers we all hoped they could be.

b. As for the loons’ attack, I entirely agree – I think the team’s attack improves even if we wait. Luis Amarilla is a goal scorer, Molino and Finlay are both healthy and Mason Toye is riding a breakout season. It’s an incredibly exciting time for the attack on this team.

3. John: Would you take Ibson (2017 form) back for the 2020 season?

a. John is a contributor on this site. He knows my answer will always be yes. I will forever embrace the Ibsonity and sauce that he brought to the pitch. If the loons ever decide to retire a jersey number, it better be #7.

4. Daniel: How would Goldy-Locks describe the expectations, both outside and inside, for the Loons in 2020? Too hot? Too cold? Just right?

a. Firstly, I think? I understand your question but it’s highly possible I don’t. Expectations are everything in this league. There are certain standards that you have to hold not only yourself but your teammates to. It’s incredibly selfish to not do that as well – you’re a family and you compete as one, if you can’t embrace that, you won’t make it in this league. For Minnesota, the expectations here are playoffs or bust. Heath earned a contract extension based off of the 2019 results the team had – let’s hope none of it was a fluke. In all reality, this is probably the first time that Heath has had everyone he wants healthy and all the players he asked for prior to a season opener. Expectations, meaning playoffs or bust, seem just right to me.

There you have it. 6,000+ words on a far-too-long roster breakdown.

Come on, you Loons.