As we wait and we wait and we wait for Minnesota United’s next big signing to be officially announced, it might be nice to take a moment to look back. Something like what owner Dr. Bill McGuire offered in a 2019 interview:
We didn’t do a good job our first year; there is no way around that. … We had not developed internally the technical skills that I think we have now to go look for players and assess one player versus another, and we have been out spending more time visiting and seeing players in person, which makes a difference because there you get to see things about how they train and other things.
A surprising bit of ego-free honesty that is, apparently, the prerogative of ownership. And retired players.
An honesty that also seems about right even as it doesn’t quite capture the full depth of the team’s player acquisitions. By a rough count - and I am sure I am forgetting someone - there have been 87 Loons in the short history of MLS MNUFC. (For a quick comparison, in that same time frame 54 players have worn the five stripes.) This has been a team in constant flux.
Elsewhere we could try a ranking of these 87, or at least a rough sorting of the booms and the busts. But as the Vadim Demidov interview makes clear, even that basic of a sorting requires a certain stability of team and club.
A stability that would also make possible a different kind of sorting into four types of player acquisition. The first type, we might say, a set of core acquisitions. These are the players around whom a team and a club will be built as a tactical and stylistic unit, the players through whom a culture and an identity will be formed. And these core acquisitions come in two types: established players and those who still have some developing to do. Of the first, Ozzie Alonso, Ike Opara, Vito Mannone, Sam Cronin; of the second, Michael Boxall, Ján Greguš, Miguel Ibarra, Christian Ramirez. Then second would be the kids. The dreams and the hopes. But more importantly, the future, a statement of intent for what the club wants to become. Thomás Chacón, Hassani Dotson, Dayne St. Clair, Mason Toye. And finally the big signings, the impact players who will fit into a team that already exists, elevating everyone around them to a final form. And like the core players, these also come in two types: the big money signings and the rare finding of a player that is underappreciated or under-used at their current club. Kevin Molino, Darwin Quintero, Emanuel Reynoso.
This is all, of course, rather rough - was Molino meant to be a big signing or a core player? But even with that roughness two things become apparent as we try to tell our stories as we wait. First, some really good players have come through this team. And second, the most successful of them no longer required a team, or at least this team, to be good. So maybe the ‘technical skills’ that Dr. McGuire spoke of is actually simply the ability to out-source training and development as the team builds to some still hard to see future. A future that may become clearer with the next signing. Or the next one after that.