With another week in the books, we’re creeping ever closer to the start of the 2023 MLS season. Minnesota United are still down in Florida continuing their first preseason trip of the year. Just as it is with any new beginning, this year’s preseason has served as an opportunity for players to step up, raising the overall level of the squad.
In their 2-2 draw against the Philadelphia Union, several Loons proved that they’ve found their form. Goals from Robin Lod and Diogo Pacheco showed that MNUFC brought their shooting boots, impressing their manager along with a few other teammates.
“A terrific move, great bit of work from Bongi and the sort of finish we expect from Robin when he’s cutting in from the right-hand side, he bends it in the top corner,” said Head Coach Adrian Heath. “Overall, against a team that was one player missing from their MLS Cup team...what were they, 30 seconds from winning it all? For us to play the team that we played, with the injuries and the absentees that we’ve got, I can’t be anything other than pleased with the way the players played.”
Intelligent runs from Bongi and Mender were encouraging signs early on. As the match progressed, Bongi’s characteristically energetic play continued to make a difference. Other standouts on the day included youngsters Cameron Dunbar and Devin Padelford, both of whom rose to the challenge against what is likely to be among the league’s best teams in 2023.
With the squad beginning to gain meaningful fitness and form, it seems that the Florida sunshine has been exactly what was needed to jumpstart MNUFC’s 2023.
Help has Arrived
While returning players have been stepping up, new signings are here to make a difference as well. Following last season’s injury to Bakaye Dibassy, Heath identified his team’s need for greater depth in the middle of the defense.
“We got to the stage with Dibassy’s injury last year that Brent [Kallman] came in,” he said. “Now, Brent [Kallman] just missed the last four or five days: he’s got a slight bit of tendinitis. It’s nothing that would be an issue for the opening game, but you don’t want to go into a season where they’re [Brent Kallman and Michael Boxall] the only two that you’ve got.”
To patch this hole in the squad, the club have signed three new center backs: Doneil Henry, Mikael Marques, and Miguel Tapias. This group brings a mixture of youth and experience to the position, while doubling the size of the depth chart. While Henry has already joined the team, Marques isn’t expected to join the team until February. Negotiations with Pachuca are ongoing for Tapias. Currently, he will be joining the team in the summer, but the club is hoping to get him in sooner rather than later.
In the meantime, Kervin Arriaga has proven his versatility by filling in at the back throughout preseason.
“We’ve seen him play there for Honduras,” Heath said of Arriaga. “The one thing that’s shown, he can play there. He’s very comfortable on the ball. He’s quicker than people think and with his size, he can win the first ball, the first header.”
For Cameron Dunbar and Devin Padelford, the impressive performances against Philadelphia were a continuation of a fast start. Throughout preseason, they’ve been among a group of younger players impressing the coaching staff.
“The young ones are doing well,” Heath said. “It’s always a step up for them in this sort of intensity and the physicality. I think that’s the one thing that sticks out when you put these young kids up. As I said, I thought Devin [Padelford] did particularly well. Geremy [Rodas] — we feel as though may be one of the best passers of the ball, as a defender that we have in the club. We’ve got to now start to work on him getting a bit more aggressive and physical for a kid who’s 6’3”. And the [Diogo] Pacheco goal, he’s worked really, really hard in the preseason.”
As for Dunbar, life as a Loon is starting out well.
“The one thing about the kid since he’s come in, he can run with the ball, he can dribble, he’s got an eye for a goal,” Heath said. “He had an unbelievable effort against Philly [Philadelphia Union] which was an unbelievable save from Andre Blake in the first 20 minutes. He looks as though he’s got a goal on him and that’s something that we’ve spoken to him about. Can we consistently get him in really good spots in and around the penalty area because he can maneuver the ball? He’s got two really good feet and he can get a shot off really early. Certainly, in the couple of weeks we’ve had him here, he’s done really, really well and we’re really pleased with him.”
Dunbar’s speed and quick feet make him a versatile piece for any team’s attacking corps. Whether he’s tearing down the wing or pulling strings as an attacking mid, his skillset is sure to cause opponents some trouble.
With just a couple of days left in Florida, the Loons are wrapping up their time down south. In the remaining days, they will be playing a match against Orlando City SC, a squad that has made plenty of moves this offseason. Following their final game, the squad will be returning to the North Star State for a brief pit stop before heading to California to continue their preparations.