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For Minnesota United FC, trip to Tucson marks start of special spring

Jul 18, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota United midfielder Edwuin Gomez (32) congratulates forward Christian Ramirez (21) after scoring in the first half against New England Revolution at TCF Bank Stadium. (Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports)

TUCSON, Ariz. — When third-year Minnesota United FC coach Adrian Heath sets his team’s offseason schedule, weather is a big factor.

After all, temperatures in St. Paul, Minn., can be pretty rough this time of year. On Tuesday, it was in the mid-teens there and snowy. Tucson, by contrast, was in the mid-60s — and that was on a relatively ugly day, with scattered showers.

The prospect of better weather, and recommendations by his coaching staff, are what have led Heath and his team to Tucson for the Mobile Mini Sun Cup. The team kicked off the preseason on Saturday, when it forged a 0-0 tie with Phoenix Rising FC at Kino North Stadium. MNUFC will play its second match Wednesday against Houston Dynamo. The exhibition between MLS foes starts at 6 p.m.

“This year has been particularly drastic, shall we say,” Heath said. “We have an indoor facility, but we need to get out on a full-sized field.”

MNUFC arrived in Tucson Jan. 26 to take advantage of the better weather. The decision to get here early paid off — MNUFC missed out on experiencing the polar vortex storm that affected the Midwest. In some parts of the state, wind chill fell to minus 65 degrees.

“A couple of days before we left, it was really, really cold,” Heath said. “I think it was (10 degrees below), and it was coming in after that. We missed most of it.”

But MNUFC won’t stay in Tucson much longer. The group is expected to leave Arizona on Thursday for Minneapolis. There it will take care of some league responsibilities before traveling to Florida the following week for some more games. Such is the case with soccer spring training in Tucson. The Mobile Mini Sun Cup will also feature the Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers, New York Red Bulls, Houston Dynamo, Real Salt Lake, Sporting Kansas City and FC Dallas as well as three lower-level professional teams — Phoenix Rising FC, FC Tucson and the OKC Energy. A pair of Saturday tripleheaders, scheduled for Feb. 16 and Feb. 23, highlight the exhibition series.

The time in Tucson kicks off a busy winter and spring for Minnesota United, which is scheduled to move into brand new Allianz Field on April 13. The MLS schedule begins March 2, meaning the club will spend the first six weeks of the season on the road.

The Britain-born Heath said United’s new stadium will be one of the best in the country.

“It’s the beginning of a new journey for everybody,” Heath said. “Coming from Europe, I know how much stadiums mean to people. And I said it’s going to be pretty cool if you’re a young kid who just started supporting Minnesota United. In 50 years time you go, ‘Yeah, I was here in the beginning. I saw this thing built.’ It’s going to be a cool experience for a lot of people.”

For now, Heath just wants to take advantage of preseason games to get the team ready for their third season .

MNUFC has a slew of new players on the roster, which means they’re still developing and finding their footing on the field. One of MNUFC’s latest additions is Jan Gregus, a 28-year-old midfielder acquired from FC Copenhagen on Dec. 20. Gregus said the transfer to MNUFC went fairly quickly, but the move to the United States took a bit longer due to the Christmas holiday and visa issues.

The Slovakian said he’s ready to make an immediate contribution to the team and is looking forward to how the team comes together before the season opener.

“Obviously, it’s a good test,” Gregus said of the Mobile Mini Sun Cup. “I think the (preseason games) will get harder and harder. It’s maybe a new start for the new guys that came, but that’s what these games are for — to get used to each other and to do the tactics right.”

Contact reporter Norma Gonzalez at 520-262-3265 or
(c)2019 The Arizona Daily Star (Tucson, Ariz.) first published this article Feb. 6.
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