Matchdays Sixteen, Seventeen, and Eighteen: What Are The Loons Building?

by on 8 July 2018

I was away on vacation the last two weeks, blissfully detached from the ups and downs (let’s face it, mostly downs) of following Minnesota United. After the horrific loss on the road to Colorado, it was a good time to step away, and though I missed one of the most memorable individual performances in team history, I don’t regret the break. This team can wear you down.

The Loons played three games in this stretch, losing twice, at home to Dallas and away to Houston, and winning once at home against Toronto. But the most noteworthy club news from the past week was surely this profile piece on Adrian Heath by Andy Greder for the Pioneer Press.

There’s a lot to unpack in the article, but none of it does the club many favors. Both Heath and principal owner Dr. Bill McGuire come off as remarkably tone deaf. The head coach insists that winning ten games last year was “the best coaching feat I’ve ever done.” The owner insists that the performances on the field are “making the strides that are consistent with what we hoped.”

It’s very hard to take either assertion seriously. The Loons conceded an MLS record number of goals last season. To claim that a year with that record as a success instead of a monumental failure is stunning. This season, the Loons are just a single conceded goal off their pace from last year, and they don’t have Vadim Demidov to kick around anymore. Meanwhile, the team is well behind their pace of scoring from last season, and has fewer points per game than last season. To claim that the team is making strides at all, let alone at a pace that the club planned for, is laughable.

The results tell a dire story, but ultimately, they’re not what matters most at this point in time. In a closed league system, you can accept bad results from time to time, because such a system allows clubs the luxury of building up. Clubs like Minnesota aren’t in a constant state of panic buying to stave off relegation, they have the cushion needed to make smart, methodical, long term decisions in order to build a long term contender. That should be the Loons’ objective, and it ought to take precedence over individual results if need be.

United’s struggles on the scoresheet would be palatable if there was evidence of this kind of process occurring. But there is not. Early in the year, the team played a handful of legitimately good games, leading many, including myself, to celebrate apparent progress. That optimism is gone now. The team that rolls out every weekend is as uncoordinated and ineffective as ever. It has been a long while since it was possible to discern the Loons’ tactical approach.

Worse still, the team being sent out every week is also unacceptably old. Saturday’s line-up against Houston featured thirty-five-year-old right-back Tyrone Mears deputized as a centerback to replace the suspended Francisco Calvo. He was used instead of twenty-two-year-old centerback Wyatt Omsberg, whom the Loons selected in this year’s draft. He was used instead of twenty-five-year-old fullback Eric Miller, who has played previously as a centerback for Colorado. Omsberg and Miller are bedrock pieces of the Loons’ future defense. Mears will surely be a free agent this offseason. To choose the out-of-position veteran over the two younger players who more naturally fit the role was an incomprehensible choice.

The same story is repeated all over the field. In midfield, Heath elected to deploy a three man midfield with a twenty-seven-year-old, a thirty-year-old, and a thirty-four-year-old, who for the second straight game, assisted a goal for the opposition. Left on the bench were two twenty-three-year-olds, including the team’s only natural defensive midfielder.

The result was an 0-3 loss. I’d suspect that just about every Minnesota fan would’ve rather lost 0-4 or 0-5 with a team of younger players. But even that hypothetical concedes the premise that the young players available for selection are far worse than the Loons that play now. The truth is that we have so infrequently seen them used, and used well, that it’s impossible to say even that. The same players are played week in and week out by the coaching staff, and despite repeated mistakes we have seen that a number of them are immune from any accountability. The formations may change, but the players do not, the tactics remain imperceptible, and the results continue their long slouch into the gutter.

There is a meta debate among Loons fans as to whether the front office or the coaching staff should bear the brunt of accountability for the team’s results. Of course, this is too cut and dry, both sides collaborate and communicate on player transfers and the team’s style of play. But from my perspective, it’s difficult to ultimately say whether or not this team’s roster is or isn’t good enough for the league. But it’s easy to say that the team’s coaching staff simply is not getting enough out of the players. Even if we accept that the roster isn’t good enough, that doesn’t preclude the team from being organized. That doesn’t preclude the team from developing young players. This is not a Minnesota team that appears coached at all, let alone well-coached.

What is Minnesota building towards? If the club is satisfied with progress being made according to the coaching staff’s three year plan, than fans are owed a detailed accounting of what is actually in this plan, in order to determine whether or not they should spend their money next year. Had people known that this three year plan called for a second year with even worse results than the first, I doubt so many people would’ve bought in. If this is where the club wants to be and how it wants to present itself, than it won’t be worth a lot of people’s time.

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