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Minnesota United FC aims for pair of firsts in 2019

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota United FC has reached Year 3 of its self-described three-year plan on the heels of a pair of losing campaigns underscored by defensive futility.

Late last season, CEO Chris Wright sat for multiple interviews immediately following his pronouncement that sporting director Manny Lagos and head coach Adrian Heath received “passing grades,” an effort to clarify the organization’s outlook and expectations. Injuries were cited as a drag on the Loons’ performance, but a pronouncement of “no excuses” was made ahead of the 2019 season.

The measured requests for an extra player or two that became familiar in Heath’s postgame interviews were heeded this winter as the Loons brought in five new players expected to crack their first XI. Several incumbent starters from 2018 are slated to provide quality in depth that was largely absent in previous years.

And all this in preparation for the debut of Allianz Field — MNUFC’s $250-million new home — and the promise of fielding “a playoff contender” per managing partner Dr. Bill McGuire.

With the keys to its new stadium, Allianz Field, in hand, Minnesota United is sure to deliver off the field. On the field, its goal of reaching the MLS postseason has been made easier by the addition of a seventh berth in the West. It now falls to the next eight months to see if the Loons can make good between the touchlines.

Early road test at Vancouver

When: March 2, 6:00 p.m. ET

Where: BC Place

Broadcast: TV — FSN; RADIO — 1500 AM (KSTP)

Live stream: Fox Sports Go

The buzz: MNUFC will travel to Cascadia to face an old foe in Caps manager Marc Dos Santos. During its tenure in the North American Soccer League, Minnesota found the Dos Santos-led Ottawa Fury worthy opposition. That isn’t an outlier, as the Canadian has met with success at a number of stops in his still-young coaching career. The Loons managed just five points on the road all of last season, so pragmatically speaking, a draw would be a solid first step into 2019.

Other key matches

March 9 at San Jose – Minnesota’s longest road trip of the season is its first, playing five away from home to begin the 2019 MLS campaign. The second game of that away swing comes against San Jose, with the Quakes having become a bit of a bogey team for Minnesota. San Jose has won four in a row against Minnesota, and the Loons accounted for half of the last-place Quakes’ four wins last season. A result at Avaya Stadium would help exorcise one of the demons that have haunted Minnesota since joining MLS. 

April 13 vs. New York City – Years of work, anticipation and marketing lead to this day: the debut of Allianz Field. The opening of a state-of-the-art, soccer-specific stadium may seem surreal to those in Minnesota who have followed the chain of professional teams linked by a common set of players, coaches and fans that began with the Minnesota Thunder in the early 1990s. There will be plenty of motivation for the Loons to christen their new home with a win and give the Wonderwall cause to sing. 

June 29 vs. FC Cincinnati — MNUFC’s brass has long maintained there are different ways to build a team, and resisted comparisons to fellow 2017 MLS-debutante Atlanta United. Part of that sentiment is pragmatism and part is pain-avoidance, with the free-spending Five Stripes embroidering a gold star atop their badge last season. And as much as the Loons intend 2019 to be a step forward, a home game against a Cincy expansion side might provide a more favorable example with which to compare the Loons’ stumbling entrance into the first division.

Check out the full 2019 schedule here.

Quotes & Notes

  • “One of the things in the offseason we knew we needed to correct was the mentality of the group and with Romain [Métanire] at right back, with Ike [Opara] with Ján [Greguš] and Ozzie [Alonso], the players that we have brought in we can do that.” – Adrian Heath
  • “We’ve been laser-focused on adding starters in key positions of need this offseason and we feel that Ike is an excellent addition to a really good core group of defenders already on our roster. He provides a wealth of MLS experience — he is coming off of two great years. We are thrilled to add his quality and leadership to our roster.” — Manny Lagos
  • “You better get ready Minnesota… because I’m coming in hot and I heard y’all need some warmer weather. Let’s do this.” — Ike Opara
  • Ángelo Rodríguez was held out of full training earlier this week but is expected to be available for selection on Saturday. Romario Ibarra is the likely candidate to replace Rodríguez in the starting lineup should Rodríguez not be judged 90-minutes fit.
  • The Loons conceded just one goal in friendlies this preseason. All preseason results should be taken with two handfuls of salt, but even the smallest signs of defensive improvement are welcome in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

Biggest offseason moves

  • Dec. 20, MNUFC made Slovak midfielder Ján Greguš its third Designated Player. The center midfielder has been praised for his range of passing and all-around game, and Minnesota is hoping the 28-year-old will make significant contributions in attack and defense.
  • Jan. 10, the Loons used a waiver claim to bring out-of-contract Osvaldo Alonso in on a TAM-level, two-year deal. Now 33, as the holding midfielder can stay healthy, he’s expected to give Minnesota’s back line the protection they’ve lacked in recent seasons. Lagos and Heath are also bullish on the impact Alonso’s drive and leadership will have on the rest of the Loons.
  • Using TAM and an international roster spot, Minnesota paid a comparatively high price to sign fullback Romain Métanire, announcing the transaction Jan. 25. Brought in from Ligue 1 club Stade de Reims, the Malagasy international will be given every chance to solidify his place as Minnesota’s starting right back, and has the athletic gifts to meet the demands the modern game places on outside backs.
  • Three days after adding Métanire, MNUFC sent a million dollars in TAM and future considerations to Sporting KC in exchange for Ike Opara. The 30 year-old North Carolina native is now Minnesota’s best centerback. In addition to bolstering the Loons’ defense, Opara’s prowess in the air should add a bit of bite to MNUFC’s previously-toothless set pieces.
  • MNUFC’s last major offseason acquisition, Vito Mannone, joins on loan from English Championship side Reading Football Club. With his work permit now sorted, and his brown Labrador Retriever Choko stateside, Mannone adds Premier League experience to the Loons’ goalkeeping corps. Incumbent starter Bobby Shuttleworth may be between the posts Saturday, but Mannone is expected to challenge for the No. 1 spot. 

Roster breakdown

Forwards — Abu Danladi, 23; Darwin Quintero, 31; Angelo Rodriguez, 29; and Mason Toye, 20.

Midfielders — Osvaldo Alonso, 32; Hassani Dotson, 21; Ethan Finlay, 28; Ján Greguš, 28; Miguel Ibarra, 28; Romario Ibarra, 24; Collin Martin, 24; Kevin Molino, 28; and Rasmus Schüller, 27.

Defenders — Michael Boxall, 30; Francisco Calvo, 26; Chase Gasper, 23; Brent Kallman, 28; Carter Manley, 22; Romain Métanire, 28; Eric Miller, 26; Wyatt Omsberg, 23; and Ike Opara, 30.

Goalkeepers — Vito Mannone, 30; Bobby Shuttleworth, 31; and Dayne St. Clair, 21.

See full roster details here.

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