At the beginning of every year, people across the globe make promises to better themselves. Whether you’re trying to get a few more hours of exercise in each week or spend some more time with your family, we all see this new beginning as a chance to make meaningful changes. For Major League Soccer teams, the start of a new season presents squads with a similar opportunity to reinvent themselves as they strive to reach the top. Here are five Reso-Loontions to keep an eye on as Minnesota United looks to take the next step.
- BonGOALkuhle Hlongwane
It’s time to get more goals from Bongi. With so much raw talent and endless potential, the development of this young forward will be a key factor in deciding the Loons fate this year. Head Coach Adrian Heath is hoping to see anywhere between 8 to 12 goals from the winger this season, while Bongi told his manager to expect 25. Regardless of which expectation is met, a breakout season from the South African star might be exactly what this team needs if they want to take the next step toward MLS Cup.
- Consistency is Key
The 2022 season was a turbulent one for MNUFC. A hot start was dampened by a brief lull, making the beginning to the season a bit of a mixed bag. During their mid-season unbeaten streak, the Loons saw themselves shoot up the league standings, picking up win after win and appearing nearly unbeatable. The final stretch of the season left a bitter taste in everyone’s mouth, with lackluster performances stealing the team’s momentum before the playoffs.
In 2023, Coach Heath is focused on getting more consistent performances from his team. There’s a lot of potential in this Loons squad; the biggest hurdle to overcome is making sure that everyone performs at their best every time they step onto the pitch.
- Pressure Makes Diamonds
The Western Conference has gotten better. Portland have already made a statement signing, LAFC have shed dead-weight, and Seattle will be back with a vengeance. With plenty of the transfer window left, more teams will be stocking up to make a run at the playoffs.
Among all Western Conference teams, MNUFC have the longest active playoff streak, earning a spot in each of the last four MLS playoffs. They say that pressure makes diamonds, so perhaps an even more competitive conference will unlock the Loons lethal side as they aim to extend their postseason record.
- Make Some Noise
No matter how you slice it, last season ended in disappointment. After proving themselves capable of beating nearly anyone, the Loons fell flat at the finish line. Injuries and misfortune may have played their part, but those pitfalls plague every team.
While reaching the playoffs at all is an accomplishment in this league, the real prize comes at the end of the postseason. For a team that has been present in the playoffs so often, the Loons won’t be satisfied with being participants. Getting to the playoffs isn’t good enough anymore, it’s time to make some noise.
- Next Man Up
With the addition of the Leagues Cup to an already busy schedule, the importance of depth is becoming more pronounced than ever before. Now, more than ever, the Loons need to make sure that they have reliable backups ready to come off of the bench and make a difference.
Last year’s injury crisis left the club dangerously thin at center back, an issue that Doneil Henry and the return of Bakaye Dibassy should ease. Without the Swiss-army knife that is Robin Lod, key injuries in the midfield and attack may have kept MNUFC out of playoff contention entirely. With solid signings like Cameron Dunbar and Zarek Valentin already through the door and several more to possibly come, this year’s roster is filling out nicely from top to bottom.
While this is a lot to accomplish in just one year, the Loons never shy away from a difficult task. This season, the club has their sights set on becoming MLS Cup contenders. It’s going to take a lot of hard work and, as always, a bit of good fortune. However, the pieces appear to be in place for a new outlook on life for Minnesota soccer. When the Loons take to the pitch on February 25 in Dallas, they’ll have a chance to show their intentions right away.