- Franco Fragapane and Adrien Hunou both have incredible vision and a goal-scorer’s sense for space. And so although still not complete, with Robin Lod out until probably the July 3rd game against San Jose Earthquakes, Minnesota United now has an interesting offense. Play will move through more than one player and the attack will take more than one (changing every game) form. As Tyler Miller noted after Wednesday’s game, “we obviously have a dangerous flank and the service that we can put into the box but when you can combine that with the ability to play in tight spaces, play quick combinations around the box, that just adds another dangerous attack to us…” Yes, Emanuel Reynoso will still be the 10, but Fragapane, Hunou, and Lod are showing themselves to be creative play-makers and goal-scorers in their own right. And instead of being either a counter-attacking team, or playing with inverted wings, or playing for speed over the top, or sending in innumerable unanswered crosses, this team seems able to do all of that in the same game. Whether they can be coached into a better version of what their individual talents allow is yet to be seen, but these are exciting times to be a Loons fan.
2. Finally, two years after completing a three year plan, this feels like a real team, like the roster has finally come together. It is possible to imagine how these Loons will play and what a preferred XI might be. Miller seems to have secured the starting position, even as Dayne St. Clair remains a starting quality keeper. Even without Ike Opara, the backline of Romain Métanire, Michael Boxal, Bakaye Dibassy, and Chase Gasper is solid, with moments of being very good. And this offense, well, it’s going to be very fun. With Lod easily slotting in on the right when he returns, in spite of Hansen’s quite good play, the only question will be in the middle of the field: Wil Trapp has shown himself to be surprisingly good as a single deep six, and both Hassani Dotson and Jacori Hayes have had exceptional games in Greguš’ absence. It might be open for debate whether Greguš automatically gets his starting spot when he returns. But possibly more to the point, and beyond all of that, there are no rentals and no out-sourced talent in this starting eleven, and everyone seems to be playing in position. This is finally and fully a team.
3. There has been much chest thumping in defense of MLS after Gonzalo Higuian’s recent comments (“I thought I would come here and play with a cigarette in my mouth and, instead, it is difficult”). But what we saw on Wednesday night, and to an extent last weekend against FC Dallas, is that there is a difference between being a tough league and being a good league. (Which are both quite different from being a fun league.) MLS is certainly a tough league with a lot of travel and a hard summer season and a whole lot of enforced parity. Austin FC were, for the entire match, exhausted after opening with eight games on the road. But even if it is a tough league it is not for that an especially good league, a reality that will only get worse with continued expansion and growth. There are, of course, a few teams that have both the technical and front office staff and organizational structure to create a definable style and identity and that have the roster and players to play up into that style and identity; in other words, a few clubs with good players who are coached up into a great team. And there are a handful of teams that just are really quite bad. But there are also a whole lot of middling teams who have only one or the other. At the moment, Austin FC seems to have the former but not the latter, while MNUFC seems to have the latter but not yet the former.