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Three things: #MINvPHI

In search of wins and joy, a mid-week in which we learned a lot about MNUFC

October 20, 2021 - Saint Paul, Minnesota, United States - Minnesota United midfielder Franco Fragapane (7) breaks away from Philadelphia Union defenders Jakob Glesnes (5) and Olivier Mbaizo (15) during the match at Allianz Field. (Photo by Seth Steffenhagen/Steffenhagen Photography)

1. It was, of course, a mid-week game before MEA, on a first Fall night of cold and dreary weather, against an Eastern Conference opponent. It was also, though, a very important game, a must win, as the remainder of games will be in a final push for the playoffs. So it is hard to know what to make of the fact that the stadium was far from full and the crowd, until the end, was rather quiet. Part of that, of course, was due to the continued absence of much of the supporter’s groups as a response to the club’s refusal to enact adequate COVID protocols. There has also, though, been a diminishing sense of joy around the club as this year has worn on, a feeling that a slightly subdued Thin Skinned Inchy began his post-match press conference with: “Maybe people will realize it’s not so easy when you go down to ten men,” he answered unasked. “I’m so pleased for the players,” he continued, “because of the doom and gloom that was about here after we got beat by Colorado. You would have thought that the season was over.” Yet on the field after the game, Michael Boxall brought his own brand of joy with a smirk and some full-dad swagger.

After five years, it seems as difficult as ever to love this club just as it is easy to love these players and this team.

2. With the release, by the MLSPA, of the 2021 Salary Guide we should probably, at some point, do some math. As a first reaction, though, the release of the salaries is a reminder of the strange quasi-public place that these clubs as institutions occupy. Front offices seem to forget this at times, but they do not exist outside of the communities that have nurtured them and continue to support them. The numbers also show that this front office, apparently, still occasionally has a hard time connecting a player’s skill set with their positional fit on the team with their value, as evidenced by the wild and hard at the moment to understand salary discrepancy between Adrien Hunou and Franco Fragapane. But beyond that most glaring error, the rest of the salary breakdown feels about right: four tiers of salary with most of the players slotted in about where you would expect them. (The quickest breakdown would be: top tier - Greguš, Hunou, Lod, Reynoso; second tier - Alonso, Boxall, Dibassy, Finlay, Métanire, Miller, Raitala, Trapp; third tier - Agudelo, Fragapane, Hansen, Hayes, Kallman; fourth tier - Adi, Billingsley, Dotson, Emmings, Gasper, Jackson, Kibunguchy, McMaster, Montgomery, Rosales, St. Claire, Taylor, Weah, Zendejas). On the top end, Ján Greguš has not lived up to his value while Jukka Raitala seems properly valued but underused and in the fourth tier Hassani Dotson, Chase Gasper, and Dayne St. Clair all seem undervalued. They have also, though, been underdeveloped, and in two, which is getting close to one, case, underused. But what is most disappointing in the release is the absence of Ike Opara, who has been officially cleared off the books. Yet in the midst of that sadness Opara made a return to public life, which seems to be a very good thing and a moment to celebrate.

3. In a very gritty and resilient team win, Dotson, playing alongside Wil Trapp and in front of Boxall and Bakaye Dibassy, made a strong case for deserving a raise. Against a very good team that likes to play narrow and quick, those four controlled the defensive middle of the field. We have come to expect that kind of hard-nosed defense, clogging the middle and breaking up plays before they begin, from Boxall and Dibassy. A similar performance on the night from Dotson and Trapp, disruptive and well-spaced as an asymmetrical double defensive midfield, threw off the attacking rhythm of Philadelphia while also creating the space for Franco Fragapane and Emanuel Reynoso to begin the offense. It seems that, finally, the defensive midfield - either as Ozzie Alonso and Trapp, or as Dotson and Trapp - is finding its rhythm together. A development that for now should be enjoyed into the playoffs, even as the long time it took should be a bit worrying.