Photo Credit: Daniel Mick

The Angle

As MLS Offseason Roars to Life, the Loons Are Keeping Quiet — Let Us Pray They Know What They’re Doing

by on 20 December 2017

Just over a week into the 2017-2018 MLS offseason and the silliest time of year is already shaping up to be a barn-burner. With a few million dollars of discretionary allocation money added to the pot, the league’s “Haves” are flexing their muscles. But will Minnesota follow suit?

Atlanta United, not satisfied with its impressive South American corps, has reportedly made a massive bid for an 18 year-old Argentine, Ezequiel Barco. It also sprung big bucks to spirit Darlington Nagbe away from Portland, and has even made waves with smaller signings, like bringing former Minnesota goalkeeper Mitch Hildebrandt up after his sterling year and eye-catching U.S. Open Cup heroics with Cincinnati.

Not to be outdone, NYCFC has made its own big bid for a South American talent. League newcomer LAFC (who long ago inked Carlos Vela) has made aggressive trades for proven MLS defenders like Walker Zimmerman and Laurent Ciman, and may also add Sacha Kljestan. Even the relatively less flashy Sporting KC has made a big move, netting Yohan Croizet, a French attacking midfielder just entering his prime.

While some of the reporting on big transfer offers will ultimately prove erroneous, or the teams’ chase of their targets futile, it often feels as though every club in the league is being tied to top talent. All, except one of course.

Throughout all the hubbub, the Loons are ghosting along. There have been no big rumors attached with the club, neither medium nor small. There have been no promises, no hints, no hype, and no explanation. Just radio silence, cuts, and two isolated pick-ups.

Is that worth #PANIC-ing about? The calm, rational side of the brain knows it isn’t. The Loons have been preparing for this offseason since Week 2 of the last season, when it became clear that significant adjustments were needed. We are only a week into the offseason, and there’s a lot more that will necessarily come. It’s not as if Manny Lagos, Amos Magee, and Adrian Heath think that the team, as constructed, just needs some depth pieces to compete.

But the calm, rational side of the brain also can’t explain what on earth the Loons have been doing recently. The front office cut a number of depth players, including one Minnesota local and two long-time servants to the club. In their place, they’ve signed Harrison Heath, a young midfielder who has mainly been employed by teams coached by his father, and Tyrone Mears, a 34-year-old defender known for mental lapses who lost his place for Atlanta halfway through the season.

The former move was galling for its pure shamelessness. The latter move is baffling because it came among a flurry of fullback moves across the league, all of them involving players who are better and younger than Mears. While LAFC picked (and Montreal subsequently traded for) Jukka Raitala in the expansion draft, NYCFC traded for Saad Abdul-Salaam, and Seattle traded for Waylon Francis. Meanwhile the Loons, in picking Mears, appeared cheap and clueless.

Everyone wants to believe that Minnesota United has a master plan. But after a summer of ho-hum additions (Finlay being the chief exception) and such a miserable, cynical start to the offseason, has the team given reasons to hold such a belief?

Two true believers are Cal Williams and Jamie Watson of the commentary team. The two  are supremely convinced that things will turn out well, and they will argue with you on Twitter about it. The calm, rational side of the brain says that of course, they have close connections with the front office, they know a lot about soccer, they are doubtless better informed than the rest of us about transfer plans, and as we learn what they know, we will ultimately share the enthusiasm.

And that’s probably right.

But the calm, rational side of the brain has been thinking this for a long time. And the frantic, impulsive side of the brain says “ENOUGH ALREADY!” 

But the calm, rational side of the brain is getting exhausted by transparent nonsense like Williams saying “Love this signing,” after Minnesota acquired Mears, a player who will now be on his third team in three years. Or when Watson gushed over Heath, calling him a “Fantastic young pro who is a tremendous passer, tireless worker, smart, 2 way midfielder,” about a player who (again) is obviously on the team only because his father is the coach. Sometimes depth signings are just depth signings. I love Cal and Jamie’s enthusiasm in commentary, and really just at all times. But, read the room a bit guys! Pretending that extremely underwhelming personnel moves are masterstrokes in some grand plan mainly just leads the rest of us to wonder if we’re being gas-lit.

Then there’s Manny Lagos, who our own Wes Burdine interviewed for Everyone knows that trying to getting information in an interview with Manny is like trying to get blood from a stone. The calm, rational side of the brain knows this, and doesn’t read anything into his refusal to put a timeline on signing a big-money player, and it appreciates his appropriate disinterest in the Mears signing. But the calm, rational side of the brain has been thinking this for a long, long time. And the frantic, impulsive side of the brain says “ENOUGH ALREADY!!!” 

Seriously, Loons. Is it too much to get out in front of this stuff? Surely you can understand the bad optics of the first two offseason signings being the coach’s son and a senior citizen? Give us something, even if it’s just a reassurance that there’s more to come. Time and time again, the club seems to prefer to ignore obvious issues, rather than coming out and addressing them forthrightly.

So anyway, here’s to hoping there’s really a plan. Here’s to hoping that the club has signed its last Atlanta United cast-off. Here’s to hoping the Loons do not have too many injuries next year in central midfield and fullback. Here’s to hoping that Cal and Jamie really do know what’s coming down the pipe. Here’s to hoping that we’ll see some actual ambitious moves and not “we signed Wayne Rooney’s dentures” ambition. Here’s to hoping that we can be honest with each other about this club’s immediate goals, and stop pretending that frugality and charity toward prodigal children are tickets to the playoffs.

We can all see the steel rising out of the hole in the ground at Midway. We know the long-term future is bright. But the immediate future is what we’re focused on now, and it’d be nice to be able to believe in that as well.

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