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State of the Loons

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After only one game in the past five weeks, where do we stand on Minnesota United?

May 15, 2021 - Saint Paul, Minnesota, United States - Minnesota United midfielder Emmanuel Reynoso kisses the ball before taking a corner kick that would lead to the game winning goal vs FC Dallas at Allianz Field. (Photo by Tim C McLaughlin)

Since the Loons 1-0 stoppage time winner from Robin Lod against FC Dallas five weeks ago one would be excused for not keeping up with MNUFC very much, myself included. After that late winner Minnesota United had a bye week after three games in seven days. They then looked to avenge an early season loss with a road trip at Real Salt Lake which ended 1-1, with a late equalizer from Niko Hansen. Since then MLS has been on an extended International Break. With some countries having qualifiers or nation league games, as others prepared for continental tournaments (EURO and Copa América). One should be excused for not paying attention, especially after a very long 2020, however a lot of subtle changes within Minnesota United have occurred.

First off the Loons were able to get a point on the road, and the new signing made their debut in Adrien Hunou. This is something to be celebrated even getting a player from the top french league in the prime years of their career on the field for MNUFC. Earlier this week Bill McGuire sat down with Andy Greder and discussed a wide range of topics about Minnesota United. One of which was the recent signings.

I think it validates in some situations where waiting for someone that you are pretty sure is of the right pedigree, quality, humanity, individual, and are willing to endure some hardship while you wait for them is the right thing to do — spending a year to get Reynoso, and spending I don’t know how many months on Fragapane and Hunou and just saying, “We are trying to do this.’ I’ve got to tell you there were times I would say because I knew we were looking at these two and say, “Are you sure we should be waiting? We can get into the season and not be optimal.

There is a slight sense of frustration but also optimism from the owner on player acquisition. When you are spending your money you want to see that player on the field right away, especially after seeing Reynoso who you chased for a year have such a positive impact right away. This sways many peoples opinions on how aggressive an organization should be in acquiring new talent. This extends beyond sport and into business, when a business invests in something new you want to see the dividends right away. You want it available right away, but these situations don’t work like that and you have to play a fine balance of patience for peaking in the playoffs. However you need to also be in the playoffs in order to peak there.

However it is what is said later that should give fans hope about what the ambitions are from the top. When asked about the loss in the Western Conference finals McGuire said,

You’ll always remember it as the chance you had. On one hand, it disappointed and frustrated people, our fans. On another level, it showed a lot of people that we have a real team and a real club, and it can compete at the highest level with the best teams, teams that have been around a lot longer.

We can all reflect on what should have or could have been last year. We can all sit on social media (not me I encourage you to delete it too) and complain about what they do wrong, but when we do that we should also acknowledge what they do right. From where this team started they had no business being one of the best teams in the league last year, but the grew and they continue to grow even if the results don’t show it right now. However, now begins that stretch of summer games that makes or breaks your season. There are 14 games before the Loons play at Seattle on September 11th after another international break (one in which CONCACAF begins it’s final round of World Cup Qualifying). During this stretch and during that international break we should know everything we need to know about the Loons going into the final thirteen games of the season.

The Roster

So what should give MNUFC fans hope? Well the new signings should be getting a chance to show what they can do during this stretch with some key players still injured and some players still at the EURO’s. Which we should pause on for a second, yes there have been Loon’s playing at the European Championships so far this month. Ján Greguš came off the bench in the 90’ for Slovakia in their 2-1 win over Poland, they are schedule to Kick Off at 8 am on Friday June 18th and by the time you’re reading this the game will have probably have finished so go check out how he did. However both Robin Lod and new signing Jukka Raitala have been starting for Finland. On another side note, one of the announcers from the EURO’s mentioned Robin Lod’s background as a hockey player and how it shows in the way he plays each game (and I will never unsee how that is perfect in Minnesota). Both Jukka and Robin were unfortunately involved in the horrific events that happened with Christian Eriksen, but will play there final group stage game against frontrunners Belgium on June 21st.

While neither team is a favorite to win the tournament by any stretch of the imagination, having players from your team in one of the biggest competitions in the world is something that we should all appreciate. In other international news Dayne St. Claire had a clean sheet for Canada, while they qualified for the final round of qualification for the World Cup.

When the talent in your roster is to the level where you have three players playing in the EURO’s and you still feel confident in your ability to win your games, you should commend the front office. When asked about the roster McGuire hinted at his role in the process. “My involvement in those discussions is not, “Should it be this one or that one?’ It’s what can we afford and what can we do both in the confines of the budget but also our ability to pay?

The Right Person in Charge

Bill McGuire summarized the state of the Loons better then I could right now.

You wouldn’t go into the season expecting that if you didn’t bring in two very good new players you might not win in your first four games. When it happens you say “Geez, what is going on?” To the credit to our staff, they stuck in there and said, “Look, we have a good team. We have a good squad. Sometimes things just don’t go right.” We played Seattle very well, then there was a mistake. In soccer, you get down one and it’s easy and you have a couple of things that don’t go your way —and boom! I’ve looked at data on everything imaginable. I sit at home and try to learn. ... Changing everything you are doing every three to six months or year because you don’t like the one year, that is not how you build a great organization.

For full disclosure if you’re still reading this and this is the first time you’ve ever come across me and my thoughts, I have been critical of Adrian Heath. Not because Adrian isn’t qualified or has not done a good job turning the team around from Year 1. I just try and ask the question is can Heath take this talented roster to the logical next step? Which for the fans is a championship, now wether ownership has that expectation it was hard to tell in the comments made by McGuire. What was obvious was the desire to right the ship, even when the team starts 0-4 and the staff is saying we have a good team.

In the end, if you trust the people you have, you accept it, you respect it. That doesn’t mean you don’t challenge it. I promise you, there were many times that I, and I’m sure other people, did.

Greder continued and asked about supporters wanting Heath to be fired (I’m not in that group yet), but that McGuire seems to trust Heath’s vision.

He’s been around (the game) longer then all of us. He knows, and he doesn’t demur from it, by the way. I’ve heard his interviews. He says, “Look, we know who’s responsible in the end and where it comes from.” LEt’s be serious. I understand the emotional part of the game. Look at parts of last year: I could find the same social media things, which I’m not on, but somebody could find them for me. They were calling for so and so and so and so. That is crazy. I don’t think that is a logical way to build excellence. The line is too fine in making that kind of judgement.

Building excellence is something that is thrown around too much in sports. Excellence is a subjective term, what is excellent to one person may not be to another. With that being said I think most people when looking at the context of last year would say 2020 was excellent. However in sport and business you cannot live in the past year and expect to achieve in the next. If the expectation is excellence in 2021 for the Loons from McGuire, they need results quickly. Not because ownership will make a rash decision about someone’s job, but because if not they will need to start looking at if the manager is capable of maximizing the qualities of this group, or wether this group is capable of excellence. Unfortunately, in this profession of management when so much is invested in a squad the easier business decision is to find a new manager then a new squad. Not saying the Loons should consider this, but it is the reality of the profession.

The easy way to solve this is to start moving up the table, and start by getting a result against last in the west FC Dallas on Saturday.