Photo by Daniel Mick.

Photo by Daniel Mick.


A Fresh Start for the Loons, and for Fans, if They Want It

by on 29 January 2018

Every year, as the soccer season winds down, I find a part of myself wishing for the offseason to begin, because it means the recruitment of new players, the reveal of new jerseys, and the hope that next year will be better. But once the actual offseason comes, boredom settles in like a fog. Even when your team isn’t that good, watching them play soccer is always preferable than not watching them play soccer.

At long last, the clouds are lifting. Minnesota United preseason is a week old and it’s hard not to be excited. Everyone is saying the right things, about how hard they’re working, about how the group is ahead of where they were last time, about how the rookies are looking better than expected, and how the newcomers are integrating faster than expected. I expect all of that, word for word, and I’m still happily buying it all.

Preseason is a magical synthesis of the best of the season and the best of the offseason. New players are still coming in, the jersey release is still coming, and I’m full of hope. At the same time, the team will soon be playing actual games—first against college kids and then other pros—and we’ll get to watch some of them. The results won’t matter and so the emotional exposure is minimal. If something goes wrong, believe the team will fix it before the season starts. If something goes right, believe that they’ll be able to ride that advantage to the Supporters Shield.

Best of all, I think, we’ll see the entire roster get their chances. We’ll see what the recent draftees can add, we’ll see what Christian Ramirez has learned after a few weeks in USMNT camp, we’ll see what Frantz Pangop actually can do, we’ll see how Harrison Heath and Tyrone Mears fit in, we’ll see if there’s a standout among our goalkeeping corps. We will see all of this, and more.

In the same vein, what I find most refreshing about this preseason is that it offers a chance for a clean slate and a fresh perspective—a chance I invite readers to take with me. Anyone who watched the last season can’t help themselves having a detailed list of opinions on each player on the roster, some bordering on grievance. But consider just for this moment putting it all aside. Separate out what you know about these players from what you think about these players. Separate out your observations from your inferences. Leave your baggage back in 2017.

To pick a famous example, I know that Kevin Molino is an attacking player with a proven track record of contributions in MLS. I know his focus is on attack and not at all on defense. I know that he can hit a pass through the lines, and I know that he can beat opponents on the dribble, but also turns the ball over frequently. I know that he is a threat to score with his head if he gets in the six yard box, and a threat with his foot in the rest of the penalty area.

think that his best position is on the right wing. I think that he doesn’t have the comfort to play in close quarters needed to be effective in a central role. I think that he doesn’t have the finesse or the quickness in reading the game to make that pass between the lines with the regularity of the league’s elite creators. I think that if Adrian Heath tries to shoehorn him into the #10 role again, the Loons are in for a long and difficult season.

But…! I’m putting this aside (really). I’m ready and willing to have my views changed. If the team wants to try out Molino in the #10 role in preseason, I’m looking forward to seeing how it works out. It may change my view, and it may not. But I’m in the market for new opinions.

That goes for every part of the field. Who will start at goal for Minnesota? I don’t have an opinion on that, I’d like to see Bobby Shuttleworth, Matt Lampson, and Alex Kapp get chances. I know Shuttleworth is one of the best shot stoppers in the league, but that he struggles. I know Lampson backstopped a defense that was 7th best in the league last year. I know that Kapp is a young player who the club clearly believed in enough to extend his contract. As far as I’m concerned, all three have a chance to be the club’s #1 option in goal, and I’m going to let the players themselves make their case before I form an opinion on the topic.

How should the Loons reform a back line that was historically bad last year? How many men should play in the midfield? Who should they be? Who plays on the left wing? Two strikers or one? Idk!

To all important questions about the upcoming year, I say: I dunno, let’s wait and see. The preseason brings new opportunities for the coaching staff to experiment and learn new things about their players. On our side, as fans, let’s not let our experiences last year prevent us from drawing different conclusions this year.

A new season means we can find hope in what we don’t yet know. Embrace that state of ignorance before it’s gone!

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  • Jacob

    Wise words. I look forward to enjoying to preseason atmosphere a bit and I do buy the pitch about internal improvement this year. Last year’s preseason and early season demanded an awful lot of adaptation and learning on the fly, from relocating to Minnesota to adjusting to the league, without a stable team to fit into. So it feels natural for me to extend some goodwill toward guys like Ibarra and Schuller who have lost much of their luster. Some underwhelming players have improved, and some promising guys are going to be even better, and that is awesome to see unfold.

    Adjusted expectations (for the short-term at least) help, too–I’m okay with hoping for playoffs this year and not looking further than that yet. Having Thiesson, Finlay, Cronin, et al in place from the start certainly doesn’t hurt, either.

    Most of my impatience and anxiety center around the front office. I’m willing to chalk up a lot of the lack of moves to factors outside their control, but I will run out of goodwill eventually if the roster building stalls out for too long. For example, I’m fine with Molino at the 10 for now because we haven’t roped in our franchise 10 yet. And Ibson/Cronin in the middle has been satisfactory, but it has a shelf life and we don’t have apprentices in place. I guess that anxiety has a place in the excitement though.



    • Dave DuJour

      Well, they’ll kick a ball at least.

      I hope.

  • markgoody

    Bring back Demidov!

    • Alex Schieferdecker

      Okay, wait a minute.

  • Troy Kadlec

    I love the impending season. I love the fact that the roster is fairly full and boasts even a bit of depth in places (wingers,GK). I enjoyed last season even with the rough start and finish. We got to watch Ramirez quiet the doubters, we got to watch Jerry fly around like a loon after scoring, and we got revenge on Portland AND Atlanta.
    It’s been tough being the team that gave up the most goals. I’m not sure we’ve done enough to address that, but I do expect that the players on that field are hell bent on preventing a repeat. We have some good guys and some guys with potential. We may still see a DP before the season starts and I suspect definitely over the summer window. The attempts at signings have left me encouraged, even if disappointed that we don’t seem to be able to seal the deal.
    We have a stacked forward crew with Ramirez and Danladi (with Toye to develop). The wingers are fleet (and a fleet) with lots of options. The central midfield has solid starters and if Schuller, Martin, Heath, or Pangop show anything, we should be OK. The back line is still concerning, but new blood and a veteran option in Mears puts us in a more stable place than last year.
    The team has improved even if not in all the ways we’d like to see. There’s room and an apparent willingness to continue to improve fromt he front office. The academy is starting to grow. There should be an affiliate team in the work on the next year or two. We’ll soon be picking our seats in Cloud City. 2018 will be fun!

    • Clark Starr

      I like the cut of your jib!

  • Vinyl Haircut

    If you can practice what you preach, Alex, I commend you. Last year, I bought every bit of what the team was selling because, well, mostly I didn’t know better. But I’m a much more judicious “shopper” this year. I’ll meet you half way and will agree to withhold judgment on all the happy platitudes until we see what shows up on the field.

  • Clark Starr

    Can someone who knows more and/or pays more attention help me out with something? Why the hesitancy with Shuttleworth? I “think” he “seemed” great last year. Yes we let in a shit-ton of goals, I can perhaps remember one where I thought he, himself, could’ve done better. But what do people see that leads them not to just pencil him in and be happy we have him?

    • Troy Kadlec

      Bobby was definitely solid between the sticks. He also absorbed a lot of punishment and won me over with several gritty performances. His performance gives him the edge in any starting goalkeeper discussion for the Loons. But, if you peel back the stats a little bit, his performance loses a little of its luster.
      If you look at Bobby’s stats over the season, his goals allowed average of 1.88 is the worst for any keeper who started 20 games or more. If that average stays up there, that projects to 63-64 goals over a normal 34 game season. Not the worst ever, but not good. Joe Bendik from Orlando managed a 1.58 facing only one less shot than Bobby which projects out to 53-54 goals over a season. A significant difference. Bobby’s save percentage is 66.7 which was about average for keepers. Bobby’s performance is well, middle of the road for an average keeper based just on stats.
      That being said, I think you can’t overlook the fact that our defense would have made almost any keeper look bad last year. But in a game of margins, someone who can block just one more shot or save one more goal, well it makes a difference. I don’t think Lampson or Kapp are necessarily that person, so Bobby is unlikely to lose his starting role to them to start the season.

      • Clark Starr

        Thanks! Makes sense. I could see upgrading, but if I was the front office, it wouldn’t be super high on my list of priorities.

  • MmattN

    The thing that has been stirring my optimism with the new season is consistency and carry over. I know the biggest sign of an improved season in the USL and NASL days was how many players from the year before were gonna carry over in to the new season. Of course I know we aren’t in the USL and NASL anymore but soccer isn’t one of those sports where just plopping a star into a role doesn’t guarantee the team will be better. Rather it takes time, chemistry and consistency to improve. That is one aspect of why the worries, fears, and panic of the offseason hasn’t effected me all that much.

    As you said this isn’t the 2017 Loons of more or less 20 new guys getting to know one another. This is the 2018 Loons an MLS franchise only two years old, finally ready to start walking.

  • Bruce J McGuire

    The consistency, continuity, familiarity, preparedness, are all great things and will definitely help the team.
    The lack of a single upgrade at any position will not.

    • Tres Gatos

      While other teams that were proven to be better over the course of last season, improved several positions to create an even bigger gap between them and us… MNUFC have essentially done nothing.

      A lot of teams we faced last year did not put their best teams out to face us, and they still drew or beat us. Those teams managed to improve this offseason. We have done next to nothing. We shouldn’t be signing players to fight for starting spots. We should be signing players to be starters to improve our squad, so that a starter from last year would be relegated to the bench & becomes much needed depth that we were also lacking last year.

  • Tres Gatos

    Maybe we will actually see what Heath’s style of play is this year… but I will not hold my breath.

    Between the shoddy defending, the decent at times counterattacks, the occassional goals, this team was too inconsistent last year. Any time there was some sign of a style of play, it would disappear. I am uncertain as to if I will ever see what Heath is supposedly attempting before he gets fired. It is one thing to have a preferred formation or starting 11, it is another thing to see what you want them to do & whether they can orchestrate that with their style of play.

  • Matt

    The first match for me is big. No goals allowed in the first 15 minutes, and 2 or less allowed for the game, and I’m happy. Low expectations, but just don’t want to see another tire fire to start the year. Just something respectable we can build on, not a mess we need to dig out from.