Tomorrow night Minnesota United plays their second match in Phase Two of the 2020 MLS season. Before the Loons take on Columbus Crew SC we spoke with our friend Pat Murphy of our sister site Massive Report to get the scoop on the Crew.
E Pluribus Loonum: Minnesota handed Columbus their first loss in any competition back at the MLS Is Back tournament. But since then Columbus is still playing incredibly well and has a 3 point lead in the East. Where did the Crew’s mindset go and how has the team been able to show so much consistency in this very weird 2020 season.
Massive Report: Very weird is putting it mildly when talking about 2020. What was interesting about the MLS is Back Tournament is how it was broken up. The Crew made it very clear the team wanted to get all nine points in the group stage because those counted toward the regular season standings. The Black & Gold did that. Then the players and coaches all said the right things about wanting to advance as far as possible in the knockout round, but no one seemed that disappointed to be going home after the shootout loss. That’s not to say Columbus was accepting of losing, but I don’t think missing out on an MLS is Back trophy was going to set this team back.
And it hasn’t. As you pointed out, the Crew has done well since the regular season resumed with just one defeat. The Black & Gold are yet to lose or concede a goal at home. The focus has been on each opponent each game and getting better with each passing match. The group has done a good job of not getting too high or too low and all the other clichés teams say, but they tend to be true for good teams.
I honestly think it was probably a blessing in disguise for the Crew to bow out of the tournament when the team did in terms of the regular season, as it allowed the Black & Gold players time to get home, rest, recharge their battery and be ready for the resumption of play.
EPL: We’re in the middle of a very elongated secondary/summer/mid-season transfer window right now. Tell us about the acquisitions of Ema Boateng, Grant Lillard, and Fatai Alashe. Where do you expect them long term and how have they performed so far since acquiring those players.
MR: When the three trades were made all within a few days of each other in August, I wasn’t sure how much of an impact any of these players would make as all three seemed like depth pieces at best. While Emmanuel Boateng had success with the LA Galaxy, he hadn’t played much over the last year with D.C. United and the winger position was one of the deepest groups for the Crew. Fatai Alashe and Grant Lillard weren’t guys I knew too much about and their MLS past didn’t indicate that of contributors over what Columbus already had.
Boateng, however, has come in and played a part at the winger position for the Black & Gold. He has seen action in four games off the bench and given Caleb Porter yet another option to deploy, especially as someone who can run at a tired outside back. He should have had an assist against New York City FC but had the goal incorrectly called back for offside. Alashe has had to step in even more than he expected with the injury to Darlington Nagbe. And while he doesn’t provide the same possession play and passing range as Nagbe, Alashe has been more than serviceable in a starting role in the last two games. Lilliard hasn’t seen the field yet but did make the bench for the last game. He is a guy the Crew likes potentially down the road.
At the time of the trades, Porter explained that, given the strange season, the Crew didn’t want to go out and bring in guys that wouldn’t fit in in the league or in the locker room. So far, it seems they’ve found a few good pieces without giving up very much in return.
EPL: With Kei Kamara heading to MNUFC fans are going to want to know what to expect from him. He spent a good amount of time in the Black and Gold of Columbus as we know. What are your thoughts on Kamara and what can he accel at for the Loons?
MR: Kei was one of my favorite players to cover when he was here in 2015 and part of 2016. He’s a lot of fun, a good quote and obviously can score goals. If things are going well, Kei will be great. It’s if the season starts to turn is when Kamara can be more difficult and less of the fun-loving guy he is otherwise.
On the field, however, Minnesota is getting one of the league’s best finishers. I was always amazed at the different ways Kamara was able to score goals. While he is older now and his athleticism has diminished with age, I think he will fit in well on a team like MNUFC that can find ways to get him the ball in the penalty box.
Our own Ashle Norling answered a few questions with Massive Report as well, which you can check out here.