There is only one day left until the Portland Timbers kick off the MLS season, hosting Minnesota United in the league’s first match of 2017. We have seen glimpses of the Loons in the Timbers’ preseason tournament, but to get the whole picture we walked with E Pluribus Loonum’s Garrett Denney.
People in Portland got a chance to take a sneak peak at the Loons during the Timbers’ currently nameless preseason tournament, but the lineups run out there by Adrian Heath and company were a little hard to decipher. Does Minnesota have a locked down starting XI coming into the starting game? What will that look like and what players can you be most sure about heading in to Friday?
First of all, thanks for the chance to talk Loons-Timbers. Watching our boys compete in your invitational was a highlight for me. While a lot of preseason friendlies tend to feature wonky lineups and many second and third string players, the Timbers’ tournament was a great window into what it will look like to compete against three other Western Conference squads. It’s an exciting time to be a Loons fan.
To your question, I don’t think Minnesota has a starting XI locked down in its entirety at this point. The Loons are an expansion team with a massive amount of new players joining from other MLS clubs, its NASL side, and international clubs. All the fresh blood makes for an exciting preseason but it also shrouds our true starting line up in a bit of mystery. Compounding the problem of predicting a day one starting XI is Coach Heath’s willingness to try several different tactical formations during our seven preseason matches.
Looking ahead to our MLS debut on Friday, I would be surprised if the likes of keeper John Alvbage, defenders Francisco Calvo and Brent Kallman, midfielders Kevin Molino and Johan Venegas, and forward Christian Ramirez were not named to the starting XI.
Plenty has been made of the different in approach between Minnesota and Atlanta United over the course of the offseason and preseason; what do you think is the driving force behind the way the Loons are approaching their inaugural season in MLS, how will it play out, and are you sick of talking about it yet?
Okay, so there’s a lot to unpack here. Clearly the difference between Atlanta United’s club building efforts and Minnesota’s couldn’t be more stark. It seems like every soccer outlet has made a point of writing monthly “MNU vs. ATL” think pieces to compare and contrast our rosters, front office staff, marketing, and stadium efforts. It’s not completely unfounded, but it is comparing an apple (because Minneapolis … nudge nudge) to an orange. While Atlanta has had about two years to build their MLS side, Minnesota was until this fall primarily concerned with running a NASL team.
When Minnesota announced its intent to join MLS last summer, it had an extremely compressed window to deal with all the logistics and business growth that comes with stepping up from NASL. A head coach and his staff needed to be found and hired; an almost entirely new roster of players would need to be scouted and signed by said head coach; a new kit would need to be designed in partnership with Adidas; an effort to build a new stadium would need constant shepherding and support … you get the idea. At the end of the day, it’s just a ton of work to join MLS and Minnesota United were in the unfortunate position of having to do all the usual work while also building a stadium and running a NASL operation. To top it off, United’s front office staff is thin compared to many of its counterparts, showing more resemblance to a NASL office than an MLS operation.
Am I sick of talking about it? No way. I’m just itching to see this team get on the field and do what we all are waiting for them to do: Play some MLS soccer. Comparing Minnesota to Atlanta is going to be a season-long narrative, so we all best buckle up and just ride that wave rather than fight it. It’s important for all of us in the Minnesota United media sphere to remind our readers both old and new that the real goal this year is not to live up to whatever standard Atlanta ends up setting, but instead to have a solid year in MLS.
From an outside perspective, Kevin Molino appears to be the centerpiece of the Minnesota lineup this season. Is he a player that can carry a team? Will he have to? Who do you think will step up and take some of that pressure off him down the stretch?
Is Kevin Molino the type of player that can carry a team? Absolutely. Molino is electric in the midfield and deadly in the box. But will he have to? No way. Minnesota will start the season with exactly zero Designated Players on the roster, so it can be tempting to look at our so-called blue collar squad and think we need a splashy player to somehow compensate for average talent, but it’s a temptation that is deeply off base. The real strength of the United roster is in its consistent quality. While it’s true the team lacks a big dollar DP, we don’t really need one yet. We have a number of players on the roster already that would normally qualify as a DP-level player if we hadn’t bought down their contract with our abundant TAM.
That said, Coach Heath loves Molino from his days in Orlando. While the team shouldn’t ask him to shoulder more than his fair share, expect to see him feature prominently in this attack-minded squad.
Predicted Line Up:
- GK: John Alvbage
- DF: Vadim Demidov
- DF: Francisco Calvo
- DF: Jerome Thiesson
- DF: Justin Davis
- MF: Mohammed Saeid
- MF: Bashkim Kadrii
- MF: Miguel Ibarra
- MF: Kevin Molino
- FW: Johan Venegas
- FW: Christian Ramirez