Minnesota United kicks off its 2019 season on the road this Saturday in a game against Vancouver Whitecaps. Although it will be over a month before fans get their first chance to check out the team at Allianz Field, there’s a lot to follow and see on the Loons’ first road trip of their third MLS season. Here’s a quick catch-up to get you prepped for the year ahead.
Key Offseason Acquisitions
After two seasons in which the team conceded — by its own admission — far too many goals, MNUFC entered the offseason with its sights set squarely on improving the team’s defense. This led to the acquisition of two MLS veterans, Ike Opara from Sporting Kansas City and Ozzie Alonso from Seattle Sounders. Each has been a standout defender in his own right, with Opara winning MLS Defender of the Year in 2017 and Alonso leading the Sounders to an MLS Cup in 2016. Opara is expected not only to bring size and skill to the backline, but organization and leadership, while Alonso will bring grit and tenacity in front of the backline.
Alonso will be freed to focus on defense by the addition of the team’s third Designated Player, Slovakia international Jan Gregus, who is expected to take on the playmaking duties in the center of the pitch as the team’s No. 8. Finally, the team added former Arsenal and Sunderland goalkeeper Vito Mannone to bring experience, shot-stopping and distribution to the position.
Minnesota’s early positive results last year were spearheaded by midfielders Kevin Molino and Ethan Finlay, but both suffered season-ending knee injuries that derailed their 2018s. Although Molino has recently had some setbacks, Finlay is playing in preseason games and looking to return for the start of the season, with Molino coming in not long after. They will bolster an attacking midfield that now sports impressive depth with Darwin Quintero, Miguel and Romario Ibarra, and changeup options like Rasmus Schüller and Abu Danladi.
First Full Seasons
You’d be forgiven for forgetting that Quintero’s 11 goals and 15 assists only represent a partial season, but the club’s prolific first DP only appeared in 27 of the team’s 34 MLS games last year. He, along with midseason acquisitions Angelo Rodriguez and Romario Ibarra, is in the midst of his first preseason with the team and all of them will figure to benefit from greater comfortability and preparation time for the 2019 season.
Given that both left back Francisco Calvo and newly acquired right back Romain Métanire figure to be called up by their respective national teams during the year, depth out wide in the defense will be important. Fortunately, the Loons picked up the left-sided Chase Gasper — tabbed as the most MLS-ready defender in the draft — and the right-sided Hassani Dotson in the MLS SuperDraft. Dotson was labeled as a midfielder, but has gotten some minutes this preseason at right back. Look for him as a possible depth option there when needed.
Head Coach Adrian Heath will likely stick to his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation to start the season, especially given the acquisition of players who will likely make it much more effective. One thing we’re likely to see is Alonso dropping back between the centerbacks to create a three-man backline when MNUFC has the ball. This will open up opportunities for attack-minded fullbacks Calvo and Métanire to push up the field. When this happens down the left side, look for Schuller — who has been playing on the left wing a lot in preseason — to slot in as an inverted midfielder in order to open up space for Calvo and cause trouble between the opposing team’s right back and centerback.