A lot of jokes have been made at the expense of Loons fans. Honestly, rightfully so. The organization has cared less about the team put on the field than it has completing its new stadium. One can’t really fault them for this, Allianz Field looks stellar and will likely become one of the best supporter experiences in the league. Yet there is a small contingent of us Minnesota United supporters that can’t seem to understand why the organization couldn’t get its shit together to both field a good team as other expansion sides have done and invest in the stadium. As it stands, Minnesota United’s buy-in to MLS will be a cautionary tale for future team brands.
The heart of the laugh-to-not-cry criticism by those of us who followed the team for years prior to its arrival in MLS is manager Adrian Heath’s Three-Year Plan, one that has seen massive turnover of player personal, stolid tactics, insulting man management, a stubborn refusal to acknowledge talent, a keen inability to scout, and constant complaining devoted to deflecting blame and accusing players of failure. Heath isn’t ‘the buck stops here’ kind of manager. I’ve made it no secret that I don’t think he has the ability or temperament to manage in MLS. Heath, at best, is a training coach; he is no manager.
This is all a long way to say, Adrian Heath ought to have been fired at the end of his first season. Instead, we got the Three Year Plan from the front office and a refusal to abandon the clearly failing and inept Heath. As one could surmise, by the final year of the plan Minnesota United are to qualify for the playoffs. If this fails to happen, then there’s no excuse to keep Heath on, and it becomes increasingly difficult to justify the continued employment of technical director Manny Lagos. Thus, the team have made some of the most significant moves in its history in an attempt to be relevant.
Many and most fans are feeling very positive about this coming season. However, enthusiasm needs to be tempered.
Minnesota United is a better team than last season.
It’s just that simple. Jan Gregus has a lot to live up to or, well, he just needs to not be a Demidov signing. However, I think Gregus and Rasmus Schuller together (occasionally buttressed by Ozzie Alonso) could be a very dynamic central midfield.
The addition of Romain Metanire gives the team not just a proper fullback to replace beloved Jerome Thiesson but arguably an upgrade. I’m still not sold on Francisco Calvo as a leftback, but holding down the right side is a good start. Right winger Ethan Finlay returning from injury strong is a good sign, Kevin Molino still exists and will likely make for an excellent super-sub should he manage against all odds to stay healthy, and re-signing Eric Miller gives much needed depth to the fullback position.
There is still a general lack of depth on the team with what there is being subpar, but every season the Loons have started out with barely enough players and made moves during the summer so I’ll let it slide. With Forward Madison as a proper USL affiliate, the Loons will finally be able to start developing talent with game minutes rather than having them merely train and ride the bench.
All of this is a prelude to the acquisition of centerback Ike Opara. If he remains healthy, his presence will shore up a profoundly leaky defense. Darwin Quintero is poised to have a massive season. If these two stars deliver, overcoming Heath’s tactical incoherence and raising the level of play of those around them, then Minnesota fans will have a pleasing season. As always, Miguel Ibarra will be the heart and soul of the team. We will be able to gauge the mood of the Loons by the real Ibarra’s energy on the pitch and demeanor off of it.
Adrian Heath still exists. A man whose temperament fails to inspire supporter or player, whose tactical understanding of the game is rooted in a style of football no longer played and surpassed by the modern game, who throws stubborn tantrums, and an unwillingness to take a modicum of responsibility or a moment to self-scrutinize ought not to be a manager. And yet, here he is…
Although he performed better last season, I still rate Michael Boxall as the weakest centerback on the team. In fact, all my criticisms from last season still stand–“Boxall lacks quickness, evinces poor positioning, has shown repeated poor judgment” & “is a bruiser who looks to foul before he thinks to act.” Hopefully, since Heath rates Boxall above Kallman, he’ll be able to develop a rapport with Opara. Having chemistry with your centerback partner is the most important trait in central defense.
I don’t believe for a second Angelo Rodriguez is a better striker than Christian Ramirez. In fact, Rodriguez is going to prove himself to be the kind of quality we saw come through the Chicago Fire–that is, Sherjill MacDonald, Juan Luis Anangonó, and Kennedy Igboananike. The insistence to fail to field true strikers and instead stuff the team with wingers (a position where players only run scalding hot or ice cold) is unwise.
While the entire league’s commentary and promotion staff believe acquiring Ozzie Alonso is the greatest move Minnesota United have ever made, it is underwhelming. Alonso is a bruiser. In fact, he plays dirty. Any happy to have him on their squad is morally suspect. But even if we ignore that, Alonso is a 33 year old replacement for a 35 year old (Ibson) and a 32 year old who will likely never see the field again due to injuries (Sam Cronin). An enforcer can only go so long before the physicality of their style of play catches up with them, and in the case of Alonso, we’ll see it happen this season with the Loons. He will be slower, more prone to needless aggression due to skill diminishment, and suffer more small, nagging injuries keeping him sidelined longer than anyone suspects.
Finally, many fans seemed to have bought into the idea this off-season that goalkeeper was the most pressing need the team had to address. Ignored in this assertion was the porous nature of the backline seemingly cobbled together weekly by Heath in a ‘just throw out there who ever is fit’ mentality. Minnesota leaking the most goals of any team in the history of MLS does not fall squarely on the shoulders of the goalkeepers. I detested the signing of Matt Lampson, who rightly turned out to be an exceptionally poor ‘keeper, but Shuttleworth is more than adequate especially if you actually put quality defenders in front of him who know and are confident in the system they are playing. Under Heath, no field player ever was. Acquiring Vito Mannone was a big get. He was referred to as a former Premier League goalkeeper. But wait a sec, what team and when? Oh, Sunderland? And during the seasons where it perennially barely survived relegation? Yeah, that’s a quality ‘keeper. He also struggled to secure the number one job? Looks good for Minnesota United. Mannone is a likely a better ‘keeper than Shuttleworth, but he isn’t a good ‘keeper. At best, this is a lateral move.
This team won’t make the playoffs and will end up slightly above its standing last season. Allianz Field will be a fantastic experience for Minnesota United supporters and traveling fans. Adrian Heath will be fired; Minnesota will turn the page.