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This past week, Minnesota United held the first set of tryouts for its new second division team, MNUFC2, which will be competing as part of the MLS NEXT Pro league this coming season. In its first five years in MLS, the Loons worked with a variety of lower division teams in the USL and other leagues to loan out players in need of minutes and development but now, with MNUFC2, the club will have a chance to keep those players closer to home and working in the same system as the first team.

MNUFC2’s head coach is Cameron Knowles, who joined the coaching staff last season from Portland Timbers, where he was an assistant coach with the first team before becoming the head coach of Portland Timbers 2 of the USL Championship. Knowles and his staff pored of applications from over 200 players to begin with before calling in around 80 players to be evaluated over the week.

“We're starting a new team, you know, and that means that there's a lot of spots to fill, and we need to give an opportunity to players to show what they've got,” Knowles said at the conclusion of the tryout’s final game. “Some of these are local kids and some kids have come from outside the country, outside the state and we want to get a look as best as we can. Some of them may be invited to preseason, some may be offered contracts and some we may see a little way down the road. It's a good opportunity for us to bring in somewhere between 80 and 85 kids over the last three days.”

Ranging in age from about 18 to about 24, the players hailed from Division I colleges and some Division III colleges and also different regional clubs. The somewhat ad hoc nature of the teams was in evidence during the games as numbers or positions were called out just as often as actual names as players tried to set up tactics. Centerbacks exhorted their lines to get higher while midfielders coordinated with fullbacks by use of hand gestures showing overlaps or marking coverages.

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Cameron Knowles talks with players after a game.

“You come into a situation where you might know one or two guys, but you've never played with a lot of these people,” said Knowles. “The teams aren't as structured and organized as they would be if it were a club team or a college team. On top of that they're playing two sessions on the first day and then you know, 11 on 11 yesterday and today. Physically, that's challenging at the best of times, but they put their best foot forward and I think that attitude for all the players was outstanding.”

If the mission for putting together a first team is something simple, if devilishly hard to actually achieve, like “Get the best talent for the system, performing with each other at their best,” it’s a bit more complicated for a second team. MNUFC2 needs to function as a team with veteran leaders and experience, but also as a training opportunity both for young players who could make the first team and as a first taste of professional soccer for players from the Youth Development Program.

“You can't have all of one thing really,” said Knowles. “Starting from scratch, we're looking at everything and that gives us a great opportunity if someone catches our eye, you know, to invite them into preseason to get a longer look at them to maybe offer them a contract.”

The bottom line for MNUFC2 is that it will provide a much more organic growth opportunity for young players much closer to the first team, but above that bottom line, there will be chances for many different kinds of players to get minutes as the team finds its footing in its first season.

“The biggest thing is we've got to get off the ground, you know, and it's a new league,” said Knowles. “It's a new team in a new league. And that's not going to be without its challenges you know, so we've got to be patient with that, too.”