Jerome Thiesson had been in Minnesota a little less than two days when he first set foot on the turf at TCF Bank Stadium in a Minnesota United kit. Of the 10 players he took the pitch with that day in snow and freezing temperatures, only three would be regular starters by the end of the season. After a short preseason that saw the team doing its best to push the chemistry between players who had only recently met, the starting lineup was in constant flux throughout the season from a mixture of injuries, international call-ups and an ever-changing understanding of what players could bring.
But through it all, Thiesson stayed on the pitch. He wasn’t with the team when they got rolled 5-1 by the Portland Timbers in the season opener, but he started every match from then on. He played a team-leading 2,955 minutes — more than 100 more minutes than the squad’s stalwart goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth.
It’s hardly news to acknowledge that side backs are underappreciated. Strikers and attacking mids get the spotlight. Holding mids funnel all the action on the pitch. Center backs rarely get the attention, but they do block their fair share of shots and occasionally get an opportunity for a header. Goalkeepers are just crazy. But side backs are often tasked with shutting down the guy behind the guy — the winger looking to cross the ball — or being the guy behind the guy — overlapping for a cross or to overload the wing and get their own winger a chance to cross.
And so you want your left and right backs to be fast, incisive and tireless, but you also want them to be reliable, flexible, smart and willing to embrace a role that hinges on dirty work and provides precious little glamour.
On the pitch, Thiesson delivered. He notched three assists — including assisting on the Abu Danladi goal that earned the Loons their first road win against the Chicago Fire and the Kevin Molino match-winner in Atlanta. He also put up two goals of his own and one memorable goal celebration:
Whatever came along this season — on the pitch or off — he was up for it all, including sharing some of his deepest thoughts with fans in the popular “Jerry Thoughts” video series:
A team needs leaders. It needs stars, it needs depth. But it also needs personality. It needs heart. When people talk about “glue guys,” about the guys who keep it fun and make the team engaging, they’re talking about players like Thiesson. He might not lead the team in goals or assists, but don’t be surprised if by the end of 2018 he’s yet again leading the team in minutes, as well as selfies with fans. For a team that's still defining itself, that stuff matters. A team needs leaders, but it also needs ambassadors.