If 2020 was anything to go by then 2021 could and should be a banner season for Minnesota United’s defence. This club has gone from setting a league record in goals allowed in their first season in MLS in 2017 to breaking their own record in 2018; a year which seemed to be a race for that stat as San Jose Earthquakes allowed the same as MNUFC and Orlando City topped them only to have FC Cincinnati beat the Lions for the record in 2019.
And while goals allowed can also be attributed to the goalkeepers, they can be fairly indicative of how the team performed defensively as can shots allowed on goal. As a quick statistic breakdown the Loons allowed 189 shots and 70 goals in 2017, a year they would use two goalkeepers, John Alvbage for the first two matches and Bobby Shuttleworth afterwards, save for a sub on appearance by Alvbage in April. In terms of allowing shots the team was consistent with both keepers, averaging about five SOG allowed per match. But the keeper is where it improved with the goals against average dropping from 5.00 to 1.88 with the change.
2018 the defence seemed to get worse allowing 209 shots and 71 goals in their sophomore campaign in Major League Soccer. 2019 saw the totals drop to 175 shots and 43 goals and in the odd 2020 season they were 104 shots (4.952/game) and 26 goals (1.238/game).
In 2021 the core that brought success the past season returns with guys like Brent Kallman, Michael Boxall, Romain Metanire, and Chase Gasper coming back for another go around. Bakaye Dibassy and youngster Noah Billingsley will also return to the roster for 2021, Billingsley himself spent most of 2020 on loan with USLC side Las Vegas Lights.
Minnesota United has also acquired MLS veteran player Jukka Raitala from Montreal Impact (now CF Montreal) for the upcoming season along with signing North Carolina FC standout and Academy product DJ Taylor as well. Callum Montgomery was also acquired in a trade with FC Dallas, though he has not made any first team appearances in his two seasons in Texas.
2020 proved that Minnesota’s defence can be very good or very very poor as the team seemed to be extremely streaky early on, though that changed quite a bit as they headed later into the season. One key factor to look out for will be whether or not Ike Opara returns to the field for the upcoming season. Opara spent all of 2020 on the shelf with an undisclosed injury and as of now it looks less likely that we could see him on the field at least at the start of this year.
Opara could be the spark that brings MNUFC’s defence from good to great if all the pieces fall into place. We’ve seen sparks of the Loons having spurts of brilliance on the back line with not only great individual efforts but also great full match performances. And combined with either of the teams top two keepers we should and hopefully will be seeing a lot less cringe-worthy moments like we have suffered through in the past.
Stay tuned to E Pluribus Loonum for all your 2021 MNUFC and Major League Soccer needs.