Let’s go ahead and state the obvious before getting started: No, a first-round playoff exit wasn’t the result any of us wanted. When the boys made it to the Western Conference Finals back in 2020, it felt like the Loons may be contending for trophies in the near future. Naturally, early success breeds higher expectations. Unfortunately, higher expectations don’t necessarily account for some of the obstacles that the 2022 season would present MNUFC.
Does it sting less knowing this early playoff exit was an incredibly hard-fought battle that pushed some of the stiffest competition in the Western Conference to the brink of elimination? Considering what they were able to overcome throughout the season, I can legitimately take solace in this club going blow for blow with FC Dallas until the bitter end. And, while I’m aware that moral victories or participation awards don’t translate at the pro level, the Black and Blue made progress towards hitting that next gear in 2023.
Plus, this isn’t a playoff recap, but rather an exploration into the 2022 season as a whole. It’s about the entire body of work, and there are a number of memorable moments, milestones and performances that deserve their due. So, let’s do that, shall we?
2022 Team MVP - Dayne St Clair, Goalkeeper
This was a tough decision between DSC and another important member of the 2022 squad, who shall remain nameless for, like, ten to twenty more seconds, depending on how fast you read. But, in terms of the 2022 season, Dayne St Clair was the most valuable player on the pitch. It’s not hyperbole to say that he was a difference maker, because throughout the season he was quite literally the difference between games won and games lost.
In fact, it doesn’t feel like a stretch to say that without him in goal for the first half of the season, the Loons could very easily have been doomed long before Decision Day. This isn’t an indictment on Tyler Miller by any means, as he is a skilled and solid keeper that could start on a host of other MLS teams. But, after seeing small glimpses of St Clair’s immense talent and athleticism in his last run as a starter during the 2020 season, the 2022 season shouldn’t be considered some “meteoric” rise. He’s developed into what the club thought he could be when he was drafted 7th overall in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft. Going from opening day back-up to All-Star to All-Star Game MVP to the MLS Playoffs to the World Cup in Qatar…not too shabby of a year for the lad.
Thank you, Canada for this lovely gift of a goalkeeper. Please make sure Dayne hydrates over there in balmy Qatar.
Player of the Year (not to be confused with an MVP...totally different) - Emanuel Reynoso, Midfielder
What can we say about “El Rey?” In all honesty, even non-Loons fans have to stop and watch when he has the ball. As a Loons fan, it’s hard not to admit the level of importance Emanuel Reynoso has to the club. Truly, Rey is the stick that stirs the drink, if you will. He’s a case study in elite ball control, and when the Loons are attacking successfully, Reynoso is likely the one who had the ball to begin with.
His ability to operate in space is a thing of beauty to see in real time. It’s magnificent to watch the ways he creates opportunities to distribute the ball to teammates, or to simply regain space and regroup rather than rushing the attack or losing possession of the ball. And, after a slow start to the season, we got to see Reynoso add more firepower to his play when he unleashed his scoring prowess and added another asset to an already well-stocked arsenal.
As a two-time MLS All-Star, it’s clear to see that the rest of the MLS has started to sit up to take notice of the young Argentinian. So did MNUFC’s front office, signing the number 10 to a new three-year contract extension and ensuring that the Loons will have one of the most-talented players in the league holding down the midfield for seasons to come. Hallelujah!
Game of the Year - 7/30/22 - MNUFC - 4, Portland - 4
A draw? Yes, a draw was, in one writer’s humble opinion, the best game of the season. The July 30th home draw against Portland Timbers was the most complete performance for the Loons attack this season. And yes, lots of scoring equals lots of fun. Behold.
HIGHLIGHTS: Minnesota United FC vs. Portland Timbers | July 30, 2022
Goal of the Year - 6/9/22 - Emanuel Reynoso, 9th minute vs. LA Galaxy
While there were definitely an assortment of tasty scores we were treated to this year, this Reynoso goal is the tastiest. Not only because of the level of difficulty that comes with scoring from 30 yards out, but this was the start of the team’s strong run through late June to the end of August. It’s also when Rey unlocked his cheat code for being as big of a problem as a scorer as he is a ball handler. Cue the \chef’s kiss.\
GOAL: Emanuel Reynoso, Minnesota United FC - 9th minute
Most Improved Player of 2022 - D.J. Taylor, Defender
Taylor’s role with the team became more important to the club as the list of injured defenders grew. He rose to the occasion and made the most of his opportunity. And, I’m not sure that qualifies as the classic “next man up” situation, because he did see some competition for playing time with the addition of Alan Benitez during the thick of the season. Ultimately, Taylor proved to be the most solid in his play at right back, but DJ was also an asset on the attack as well. His speed and ability to put cross passes in the right spots made him a valuable part of the squad. Hopefully, we see DJ return to the Loons for 2023 and see how he’s able to build upon his 2022 season.
Biggest Surprise of the Season - Kemar Lawrence, Defender
Bringing in the 30-year old left back proved to be a far more important move than when he was initially signed. Lawrence made his presence felt on both sides of the ball and, much like DJ Taylor, having him step up when a slew of injuries hit the Loons backline was something that can’t be overlooked. It will be interesting to see how he factors into the roster next season.
Goodnight 2022, and Good Luck 2023
Now, as we put the 2022 campaign in the rearview, there are still some lingering questions that have yet to be answered. Like, is Robin Lod a midfielder or a wing? Can Adrian Heath be the one to tap into the potential many saw in Jonathan González? Will we see young Bongi raise his level of play and become more of a scoring threat on the attack (all for the sake of seeing his post-goal celebration on a more regular basis)? Truthfully, I have no idea what will come to fruition, but over the course of the next few weeks of the offseason, I’d expect to see some of the wheels put in motion to create a clearer picture of the upcoming season.
Helluva year fellas. Onward and upward.