It could have been worse.
That seems to be the general sentiment surrounding Minnesota United's expansion season of 2017. The Loons looked to be on their way to a historically awful campaign in the early going, but managed to turn things around enough to achieve, well, just a bad season.
The honeymoon period has ended in Minnesota, though, and the Loons will be expected to improve in 2018, particularly given the extraordinary success of their expansion brethren Atlanta United.
Heading into the 2018 season Minnesota has changed very little on its roster, though, so new players will need to be brought in or existing players will have to improve to avoid a repeat of 2017.
How did Minnesota perform in 2017?
2017 finish: Ninth place in the Western Conference (10-18-6), missed the playoffs.
The Loons conceded a remarkable 24 goals in their first seven games, leading to fears they could set a whole slew of unwanted records in their expansion season. Adrian Heath's side did manage to turn things around with some lineup and roster adjustments as the season went on, but it was still far from a strong opening campaign.
Minnesota's key offseason losses
Minnesota lost few significant pieces from its 2017 roster, with Johan Venegas being the biggest contributor to depart. The Costa Rica international joined Saprissa on loan after scoring two goals and adding five assists in a so-so 2017 season.
Aside from Venegas, no Loons player with more than seven starts in 2017 has left the team. A few of the sporadic contributors departing include Jermaine Taylor, Ismaila Jome, Joseph Greenspan, Justin Davis and Kevin Venegas, all of whom saw their options declined.
Minnesota's key offseason additions
Just like the previous section, this is an area lacking in significant names.
MLS veteran Tyrone Mears will add defensive depth and midfielder Harrison Heath, the coach's son, could be given a chance to impress after making just seven appearances in three MLS seasons so far.
Frantz Pangop, an attacking midfielder, and defender Bertrand Owundi Eko'o, arrive from Cameroon as relative unknowns.
Luiz Fernando arrives on loan from Fluminense, and the 22-year-old defensive midfielder should compete for minutes.
Perhaps the most significant addition so far is goalkeeper Matt Lampson, who arrived via a trade from Chicago and should push Bobby Shuttleworth for the starting position.
Full Minnesota roster entering 2018 season
Goalkeepers: Alex Kapp, Matt Lampson, Bobby Shuttleworth
Defenders: Michael Boxall, Marc Burch, Francisco Calvo, Vadim Demidov, Brent Kallman, Carter Manley, Tyrone Mears, Wyatt Omsberg, Bertrand Owundi Eko'o, Jerome Thiesson
Midfielders: Ibson, Sam Cronin, Ethan Finlay, Xavier Gomez, Harrison Heath, Miguel Ibarra, Jose Leiton, Collin Martin, Kevin Molino, Sam Nicholson, Frantz Pangop, Rasmus Schuller, Collen Warner
Forwards: Abu Danladi, Mason Toye, Christian Ramirez
Minnesota's projected starting lineup
Lampson and Shuttleworth appear to be evenly matched in the competition for the No. 1 goalkeeping spot, and both should have a chance to stake a claim for the starting position.
The Loons' back line struggled mightily last season, but Boxall established himself as the preferred partner for Calvo in the center of defense following his midseason arrival. Rookie Omsberg and new signing Owundi Eko'o could also push for minutes at center back.
Nicholson and Finlay will begin the season as starters out wide, but Ibarra and Ibson should also be in the mix for playing time. Ibson could also move into the center should Adrian Heath opt for a more attacking option instead of the central midfield pairing of Warner and Cronin. New signing Luiz Fernando should also push Warner and Cronin for playing time.
Ramirez is the undisputed top striker option, but Danladi's promising rookie season means he'll get plenty of looks in 2018, either playing alongside Ramirez in a two-striker system or as the top attacking option off the bench.
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