Michael Boxall in Florida

Welcome Back: Michael Boxall

Within Minnesota United’s relatively brief time in MLS, centerback Michael Boxall has quietly become a keystone — not one of the first, foundational pieces, but the one that comes in and holds the whole thing together. Of players who were on the roster in 2017, only he, Ethan Finlay, Kevin Molino and Brent Kallman remain, and he is far and away the minutes leader for that group. In fact, he is not only the team’s minutes leader in MLS, he’s the team’s minutes leader in its entire history, stretching back to the Loons’ time in the NASL. So where to begin with this oracle, this font of institutional knowledge? The new kits, obviously.

“I wasn't around when the O.G. wing kit was being worn, but I was hearing from the fans that they definitely wanted to bring that back,” he said via phone from Florida. “I need to compare it side by side with the NASL one but apart from the three stripes on the shoulder, I'm a big fan of what they've done with it.”

Would that he could feel so positively about all the kits this year.

“I think there's been a few that stand out that are … well below par,” he laughed. “Obviously, given the MLS template, they've been given the three stripes on the shoulder. I'd like to see MLS and the kit manufacturer give a bit more license, some freedom to each club to do what they want to do with it.”

But enough about fashion: There are actual games coming in just a few weeks and as someone going through his third preseason with the team, Boxall has the experience to know when you can see if things are coming together or not.

“Everyone's coming in knowing that we've brought in the bulk of the base of the team from last year that was pretty solid down the stretch,” he said. “And then I don't think we got most of our confidence — or realized our potential — until the second trip of last preseason when we were playing other MLS teams. I'm kind of expecting that to be similar this year, especially with playing a college team and a USL team. You don't really get to test yourself until you're playing against teams and players that you're going to be coming against during the season. We've got our legs under us, but we're ready to test ourselves against whoever we play in Portland.”

While emphasizing the importance of consistency last season down the stretch when the back six or seven players rarely changed from game to game, Boxall heaped praise on returning vets like his opposite number Ike Opara, holding midfielder Ozzie Alonso and fullbacks Chase Gasper and Romain Metanire. He also gave shouts to newcomers Tyler Miller (“His distribution is class”) and Luis Amarilla (“He hit the back of the net a lot more times than a lot of the other players”).

And then there are his countrymen — James Musa and Noah Billingsley — each of whom intersects with Boxall’s career across several dimensions, from playing on the same Wellington Phoenix team years apart to playing with Boxall’s younger brother, Nikko. Boxall praised Musa’s dependability as a holding midfielder and said everyone’s been blown away by Billingsley’s athleticism. Boxall’s always been one of the most down-to-earth and easy-to-talk-to Loons — a quality that both Musa and Billingsley seem to share as fellow New Zealanders. It’s one of the things that’s made it easy for Boxall and his countrymen to fit in — a must in a long MLS season that’s just getting started.

“It's just a way of life down there,” he said. “Wherever you grow up in New Zealand, the weather's pretty nice all year round. You've got the beaches to go chill out at. Twenty minutes from just about anyone's house, there's a nice beach to relax on. All of that comes together for all of us to be fairly happy-go-lucky.”