After reporting for duty in Blaine, MNUFC have taken their preseason preparations to Orlando, Florida. With a few weeks of working towards match-fitness under their belts, it’s time to catch up with the Loons and see how everything is coming along. Between three daily training sessions and several planned scrimmages against MLS opposition, this trip should get the squad well on their way to being ready for the season opener on February 25.
Working Out the Kinks
During their first week in Florida, MNUFC took on NYCFC in a full scrimmage. While the level of play was below mid-season standards, that is to be expected this early in preseason. At the moment, the most important things to get out of these games are fitness, rhythm, and sharpness as the players get back into the swing of things.
Even with heavy squad rotation, Head Coach Adrian Heath saw some promising trends in the match that he will be hoping to build on moving forward.
“When I think of the game as a whole, there were some pleasing points for one or two of the players,” Heath said. “The one thing about it is that we trained after the first half with the first group and then after the second half, the second group. The GPS showed that we did, on an average, a game-and-a-half. So, we got something out of the day, but there’s still a long way to go because I think for both teams, it wasn’t the quality that we’re used to seeing.”
At the end of the scrimmage, Tani Oluwaseyi’s goal was the difference between the squads. The second-year striker has an important year ahead of him, according to Coach Heath.
“He worked the backline, he looked to go in behind, and then he got himself a goal which will be good for him,” Heath said of Oluwaseyi. “It’ll boost confidence knowing the good of being with the first team and scoring. It’s a big year for him and if he can stay healthy, because that’s been an issue the last couple of years. When we drafted him, we did say that people might say it’s a gamble with his knee injury but there was something there to work with and that’s what, for us, has been the most important thing. He’s come back looking really fit and healthy, and he could be a big plus for us.”
In the match against NYCFC, the Loons gave chances to the whole depth chart. Several MNUFC2 regulars made appearances, including the likes of Devin Padelford, Carlos Leathermann and Geremy Rodas. Coach Heath spoke to the importance of these young players during his media availability.
“They’ve come in and they’re working extremely hard within the group,” he said. “Obviously, it’s new to them, and they are a bit nervous at first when they get here. But hey, they’ve got some talent and they’ll get opportunities and it’ll be up to them. It’s been nice to see them get on the field. As I said to them after the game, you’re here on merit and you’ve got to go and start showing some personality when you play within the group.”
With several younger players filling out the roster this year, MNUFC are hoping to see at least a few of these youngsters take the next step in their professional development during the season ahead. This includes young players from MNUFC2, as well as first-teamers like Bongokuhle Hlongwane and Hassani Dotson.
Nose to the Grindstone
Getting fit during preseason is always tough. To help expedite that process, the Loons are currently doing three training sessions a day. Between this rigorous schedule and the offseason workout plan provided by the club’s strength and conditioning coach, Heath feels like his team is in a good spot to start preseason.
“One thing all the testing has proved is that the players have come back in good condition. They’ve obviously adhered to their offseason program which Sean Buckley put together for them.” he said. “We’ve been pleased with the general conditioning of the players.”
As the squad works toward peak fitness, there is plenty more to come in Orlando. With games against Orlando City and the Philadelphia Union still to come, this Florida trip will give MNUFC a chance to pick up fitness while measuring themselves against playoff-caliber teams.
The Loons will be heading back up to the Twin Cities next week, where they will remain briefly before heading to the Coachella Valley Invitational in California. While at home, the preparation won’t be slowing down. Coach Heath knows the importance of working hard in the lead-up to the season, regardless of the temperature outside.
“As I always say, and it’s probably a boring line for everybody, the sole purpose of this five, six, seven weeks or whatever it is for preseason, is to get everybody fit and healthy for the opening day in Dallas,” Heath said. “As much as you want to play well and you want to see things, the results are not the most important thing. Getting everybody physically and mentally prepared for the opening game is the most important thing.”
Just one month remains before the Loons take to the pitch against FC Dallas. The next four weeks will be critical for the team. We’ll be keeping you updated on their progress, so make sure to check back here for more info as we get closer to the 2023 season!