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The Angle

What I Mean When I Say I’m Excited About Minnesota United FC’s Inaugural Season

by on 2 March 2017

While fans are excited for the start of Minnesota United FC’s inaugural season in MLS, all should be ready to temper their expectations. Only one team, Seattle Sounders FC, has managed to finish better than sixth in their division in their inaugural season. The average win percentage for expansion teams is a paltry 26 percent over the past 13 years. This is not to dissuade the average fan away from the team, but to remind them that being a fan involves ups and downs and this season will have a lot more of the latter. Still, there is a lot to be excited about.

There’s a system and there’s buy-in from the players

I was speaking with some players for a project we’re hoping to put together in the next couple of months for FiftyFive.One, and I was impressed by how frequently the players I spoke to mentioned how much they appreciated the system and tactical approach Adrian Heath was bringing to the team.

They all spoke of how much easier it was to play knowing what was expected of them. The most interesting thing as an observer is that Adrian Heath seems to place more value in a tactical philosophy than any specific formation. He seems willing to work with the players he has to create the space each player needs to operate.

While Orlando was known to primarily play a 4-2-3-1, Minnesota lacks the defensive midfield depth to put two No. 6s into the match. Plus, the creativity that Kevin Molino brings on the wing and the flexibility that Johan Venegas brings as either a second striker or as a No. 10 makes such rigidity unnecessary.

Based on the preseason, this will be a team given the license to play free-flowing, attacking soccer. While there will be times it’ll backfire spectacularly, it should give the players Minnesota has lots of opportunities for success in front of goal. As we all know, there is little more exhilarating than a goal and there should be plenty of them this season.

The team will win more than five games this season

When Grant Wahl made that prediction in October, he was right. The team didn’t have a coach, hadn’t signed any players, and didn’t look to have a plan in place to get a team ready for the 2017 season. By the time the Portland preseason tournament wrapped up, it was clear that Heath had a system in place that would keep the team competitive this season and Wahl’s initial prediction would likely be proven false.

While wins might not be as frequent as we might hope, or have come to expect over the last three seasons for Minnesota, season ticket holders should have plenty of opportunities to toast their team after a win.

The MLS schedule and travel dramatically favor the home side and Minnesota will be playing on a unique pitch at TCF Bank Stadium that will likely give the team an added advantage. Couple that with a nice long stretch at home during June and July, and the team should be able to put together a couple of nice winning streaks by the end of that home stand.

The team has a lot of above-average MLS players

Alexi Lalas appeared on this week’s FiftyFive.One podcast and he had a lot to say about the Loons. Lalas rightly pointed out that the team’s best player is presently Molino, who wouldn’t be the best player on any other team in the league.

While fans might be disappointed by the lack of a Designated Player, what the team does have is a high number of quality attacking players, some of whom have previously shown well in MLS. And those who haven’t, in particular Miguel Ibarra and Christian Ramirez, have a selflessness to their play that will aid the team, even if those two don’t start off the season putting up great numbers.

For the fans, watching an attack where all five of the attacking players could prove to be a scoring threats will make for some exciting soccer. While none of the players are sitting on a contract that dictates that they must be in the game or involved in every goal, that unselfishness should withstand the inevitable stumbles early in the season.

The team could be a lot better defensively than we think

While some may think of full backs as defense-first players, in many modern systems they are actually a key component of the attack and can be valued more for what they bring going forward. If the full backs are not expected to be as defensively focused, Jermaine Taylor and Justin Davis – the likely opening day starters – will be just fine for now.

With two experienced central defenders in Francisco Calvo and Vadim Demidov, stalwart defensive midfielder Collen Warner, and a No. 8 in Rasmus Schüller who has looked like a solid two-way player in the early going, the Loons should be able to control the center of the pitch. As long as Taylor and Davis don’t make too many egregious mistakes, the defense shouldn’t play the team out of too many games.

My predictions

I don’t have a win prediction (although it will be higher than five) and I don’t have a prediction about the place they will finish in the West. What I do know is that the Loons will be competitive and surprise a lot of teams and fans out with their team-first, attacking style of play. What we will see will definitely be interesting and entertaining.

There’s an old saying that many think of as a curse, “may you live in interesting times.” There’s little in MLS more interesting than what the next 34 games should hold for Minnesota and, as for me, I can’t wait.

May Minnesota have an interesting season.