As Minnesota United players took to the National Sports Center indoor fieldhouse for the start of the 2016 preseason, things somehow looked different. It wasn’t a name or logo change this year and the training kits looked similar, too. A few of the players were new, but that’s to be expected and happens every year. For the first time since 2010, former head coach and now sporting director Manny Logos was not strolling the field with arms crossed surveying his team in a Loons warm up. Instead, his long time assistant Carl Craig was now in charge.
Craig, who has been Lagos’ sideman the last five years, was now front and center and commanding the attention of the players in the afternoons tactical session as head coach of the team. Along with his new number two man, Ian Fuller who just this past week was announced as an assistant coach, the new Loons’ skipper barked out commands, cajoled players and complimented quietly.
“At times it was awesome and other times it wasn’t,” laughed the new United head coach. “But that’s to be expected. We will just chip away at the game plan as we move forward. Technical and tactical stuff. Pattern work and some 9 v 9 football. Ibson I thought was tremendous. To come in on the first day and play as well as he did is lovely. So it was good to see all the lads back and there’s a bunch of lads on trail as well.”
Craig says he started the day out with a team talk to make sure the everyone understand what’s expected of them as a United players. “We had a nice chat with the fellas about what we can control. Things like thoughts and emotions and keeping ourselves in check and at the same time building a culture. And whilst we’ve all been here before, I’ve got my own approach how to do things which is similar to Manny but different as well.”
The new head coach sees one of his main tasks this year as keeping the players focused on the current NASL season and not looking toward 2017 when the team is likely to move to MLS. He says he talked to the players about keeping focused and supporting each other throughout the long and physical season. “We talked about what I expect from them and the culture that we operate under here. How we look after each other and support each other,” said Craig.
Craig says he brought in Fuller for several reasons. There’s a great familiarity as he and Lagos have had a good relationship with Orlando’s head coach Adrian Heath and his assistant Fuller. After Fuller was recently released from Orlando City, he thought he might fit in well with Lagos and Craig and aide them as they try to keep focus on the NASL season but also look forward to a possible 2017 MLS start date.
“I’ve sort of been through it all,” said Fuller. “From being a player to being a coach who is working with players and trying to help them get to the next level.” Fuller said he his time spent in Orlando when the team moved from USL PRO to MLS in the 2015 season, gives him invaluable insight that he hopes to share with Craig and Lagos. “It can be a difficult time, keeping a team focused when the organization also needs to look towards the next several years as an MLS expansion team. I’ve gone through it all and am looking forward to bringing my expertise here in Minnesota.”
“I’m also more of an attacking influence and Carl was looking for that,” continued Fuller. “I think Carl wanted to bring in some sort of attacking knowledge and expertise into the club. In Orlando we had to wear a lot of hats. I did that in Orlando and I can do that here.”
While downplaying it, Craig clearly wants to put his own stamp on the team . He says he’d like to start making some tactical adjustments. It helps having the new signings of Stefano Pinho, NASL 2015 Golden Boot winner and 27-year-old three time Best XI player Lance Laing.
The Newcastle native wants to put a greater emphasis on utilizing speed on the flanks. “I want us to be able to control games in a fashion that if we want to assert ourselves up front, we’re capable of doing that,” said Craig. “And if we want to sit back, we sit back. That’s going to be far more conscious this year than the approach we took last year. With Steph (Pinho) coming in and Lances’ physical prowess, it allows us to press higher up the field and therefore controlling games better than we’ve done in the past.”
The Jamaican international Laing, seems eager to stay focused on the 2016 NASL season and wants to win trophies. “Minnesota is the perfect destination for me,” said Laing who spent two years with the Fort Lauderdale Strikers before moving on to Edmonton where he played the last three seasons. “I wanted a new challenge and obviously coming here will challenge me more than ever. The style of play here is very different then what I was playing in Edmonton and I feel I can learn a lot more here.”
Laing said he has no problems concentrating only on the coming NASL season and doesn’t think much about MLS or anything beyond 2016. “I want to win a championship in the NASL. With Minnesota’s coaching staff and the players already here, I think we have a great chance to do that.”
Craig says he knows he still has some gaps to fill and says he expects several new players to report to camp over the next week. One with MLS experience and another with “premier European experience.”
He said he also expect two more goalkeeper in camp and Lagos is still looking for more defenders.
Another thing Craig emphasized was US Open Cup play. He said he will prioritize the cup competition this season and expects to do well after last years early drop to St. Louis, a USL PRO, 3rd division team.
There were trialist with the the team this week. This list includes some players were invited to fill spaces to create a split squad. They were: (M) Enrique “Keeeykeh” Cardenas, (M)Daniel Wilson, (M) Mouhamed Dado, (M) Andrew Lorei, (D) Gavin Peers, (D) Matt Hall, (F) Kadeem Dacres, (GK) David Meves, (GK) Aaron Perez, (GK) Matt Grosey
Craig also talked about the recent combine which took place last week. “The objective was to take a look at some local guys and fill out the reserve team and possibly unearth a couple of diamonds that could eventually move into the first team. But there were no diamonds at this point. Certainly a bunch of guys we invited to train with the reserve team. We brought in goalkeeper from Kosovo. But as this point no one could be at a level to play first team football,” explained Craig.
Players who attended last weeks combine: (GK)Adam Acosta (MN Reserves), (GK) Aaron Perez, (D) Andres “Coco” Jaramillo (MN Reserves), (D) Daniel Cisneros (MN Reserves), (D) Brian Chapman, (D) Matt Hall, (D) Gavin PeersM Brandon Beresford, (M) Daniel Wilson, (M) Andrew Lorei, (M) Rodrigo Galvan (MN Reserves), (M) Fuad Ibrahim “Ibee”, (M) Martin Brown, (M) Mouhamed Dabo, (M) Todd Wharton, (M) Enrique Cardonas, (F) Julian Wade, (F) Dogara Zamani (MN Reserves), (F) Kadeem Dacres.