Week two of preseason training saw the Loons migrate to Tucson, Arizona, where they’ve transitioned from assessing the state of the squad to sharpening their skills ahead of the season opener. This is where the most important work begins, and with new players joining the roster at a rapid pace, there are a lot of moving pieces to keep track of.
A week in warmer weather probably sounds good to every Minnesotan right about now, but for an MLS team in preseason, playing among the cacti has been beneficial beyond temperature. Interim Head Coach Cameron Knowles noted the advantages of getting out of the dome for a week.
“Being able to train on the grass obviously has its benefits,” Knowles said. “Being out in the fresh air obviously has a natural benefit as well. The space we’re using has two fields side by side, so it accommodates a large group and gives us more space to work with in terms of organizing a training session. And this is really a loading phase of preseason. That first week in Blaine was about seeing where guys are. Now it's about getting them ready for the next phase, where we're going to start playing 90-minute matches. So we’re starting to build in minutes through 11 vs. 11. Some of the more intense training as well. The facilities here afforded us the ability to do that.”
The squad got their first minutes in a friendly scrimmage with local side Sporting Arizona, a match that showed the coaching staff several promising trends. A 7-0 scoreline saw goals from Patrick Weah (2), Robin Lod, Miguel Tapias, Jordan Adebayo-Smith, Molik Jesse Khan and Darius Randell. Preseason games are the best place to show what you’re capable of, and for a few young Loons, it was an opportunity they took advantage of.
“I would take my hat off to the two younger players, Kage Romanshyn (Jr.) and Darius Randell,” Knowles said about the match. “I thought they were both fantastic, and they worked right in with the quality without being shy in the moment. They're playing next to some really experienced players and against good opposition, and they did really, really well.”
This weekend, the boys will be back in action against another MLS side for the first time this year when they take on CF Montréal in their desert paradise. This matchup will serve as yet another step in the journey towards proper match fitness while adding in an additional layer of technical quality and general strategy.
“We'll look to get two groups 45 minutes each,” Knowles said about Saturday’s game plan. “Now, that's not to say that both of those groups will definitely get 45 minutes. I think there's some guys that we still have questions about from a fitness perspective; some of the guys that have just recently joined might only have a couple of training sessions under their belt. Carlos Harvey and Alejandro Bran are two of those who've just sort of come in and have only had a few training sessions with us, but we would like to get some of these guys on the field. Morris Duggan, another one that just arrived, we would like to see him play. So yeah, there will likely be two main groups. The group that starts the game will likely play 45 minutes, and then we'll make a whole host of changes for that second half.”
Once again, the club has unveiled a flurry of new signings this week. This time around, it’s a group of two midfielders and two defenders joining the first team, as well as a new addition to MNUFC2’s midfield.
For the first team, Panamanian international Carlos Harvey comes in to provide a unique profile in the middle of the park. The defensive midfielder contributed five goals in 34 games for Phoenix Rising during their USL Championship-winning campaign last season, showing an ability to play like a classic number eight when needed. Paired with fellow new signing, 20-year-old Moses Nyeman, the Loons midfield got a jolt of athleticism, quality, and youth this week.
Swedish center back Victor Eriksson has just come in as well, and his arrival offers much-needed support for Miguel Tapias and Michael Boxall in the heart of the back line. At just 23 years old, Eriksson has already put together an impressive career, helping his former club, IFK Värnamo, earn promotion from the third division all the way to the top flight of Swedish football. Like Harvey, he has earned time with his national team, playing 90 minutes in his debut match.
The final arrival for the first team was Morris Duggan, the 67th pick in the MLS SuperDraft. The Marshall defender joins the Loons after captaining the Thundering Herd in his junior season and earning his league’s Defensive Player of the Year award. After a few sessions to catch up, he will join his teammates fully, along with several other late arrivals. Knowles has had the chance to see most of his new arrivals play and has expressed his eagerness to work them into the team.
“We've seen all of them except for Victor,” he said. “Victor is waiting for his work visa. So he's not training with us at the moment. He's with the team and around the team, which is beneficial, but he's having to do physical training on his own. The other guys have been good. They've come in with a great attitude, and that's really the most important thing. We're trying to give everyone the best opportunity through this first stretch of preseason to show what they have and to earn playing time. It's certainly brought more competition to places.”
Wrapping up contract news, we have our latest Academy graduate taking his talents to MNUFC2. Kage Romanshyn Jr. has signed a two-year contract with the Twos, including a club option for an additional season. The Apple Valley native played a big part in the latter stages of last year’s MLS NEXT Pro season and will get a chance to keep the good play coming in 2024 and beyond.