Before the Los Angeles FCs and Atlanta Uniteds of the world came around, expectations were reasonable for expansion teams. The goal was to find any sort of identity in year one, identify a core in the second year and, ultimately, begin to compete by year three. Expansion success wasn't rapid. Instead, it relied on building from the ground up and establishing a foundation.
But Minnesota United has lived in a world that coincides with the massive successes of LAFC and Atlanta, while they lagged behind a bit in search of themselves. But now its their third year, and it's time to put it together.
Following a 2018 season that saw several key players decimated by injuries, it seems the Loons are finally poised to compete. The club brought in some big-name players in the offseason, plugging in the central gaps that plagued the team in 2017.
Is it enough to push for the playoffs? Maybe, and that's what the expectation will be as the Loons embark on their third MLS season.
How did Minnesota United perform in 2018?
2018 finish: 10th in the Western Conference (11-20-3), Missed playoffs
Injuries decimated the Loons early, and they were never able to truly recover. It was a step up from their record-setting defensive frailty in their debut season, but Minnesota conceded 71 goals in 2018, good for second worst in the league. The midseason addition of Darwin Quintero helped massively, but it wasn't enough to lift the Loons onto the list of contenders.
Minnesota United’s key offseason losses
The Looks parted ways with some fan-favorites, including NASL holdovers Ibson and Jerome Thiesson. Ibson, in particular, was a difficult loss, but a necessary one as the club opted to move on due to his advancing age.
Maximiano and Alexi Gomez left the club after seeing their loan deals expire. Gomez was frequently on the field for the Loons, making 18 total appearances, but failed to either score or create a goal during his stay with the club.
The club also moved on from veterans Matt Lampson, Collen Warner, Johan Venegas and Marc Burch as part of 13 total offseason departures.
Minnesota United’s key offseason additions
Minnesota went hard after MLS veterans as the centerpieces this offseason, signing both Ike Opara and Ozzie Alonso to fortify the club's spine. Opara, the 2017 MLS Defender of the Year, remains one of the top defenders in the league and finally gives the Loons some reliability at the back. Alonso, meanwhile, was a stalwart in Seattle for years and, if he can stay healthy, offers a legitimate presence as a No. 6, which the Loons have never truly had.
In addition to Alonso, the Loons signed Jan Gregus from FC Copenhagen, offering a bit more experience in the midfield, while veteran goalkeeper Vito Mannone was brought in on loan from Reading to add Premier League experience in net.
Romain Metanire was also signed on a TAM deal and is expected to step in as a starting fullback.
Full Minnesota United roster entering 2019 season
Goalkeepers: Vito Mannone, Bobby Shuttleworth, Dayne St. Clair
Defenders: Francisco Calvo, Michael Boxall, Chase Gasper, Brent Kallman, Carter Manley, Romain Metanire, Eric Miller, Wyatt Omsberg, Ike Opara
Midfielders: Osvaldo Alonso, Hassani Dotson, Ethan Finlay, Jan Gregus, Miguel Ibarra, Romario Ibarra, Kevin Molino, Collin Martin, Rasmus Schuller
Forwards: Abu Danladi, Darwin Quintero, Angelo Rodriguez, Mason Toye
Minnesota United’s projected starting lineup
For the first time in club history, Minnesota United has a spine it can rely on. Opara jumps right into the lineup and could be partnered with either Boxall or Kallman centrally. That allows Calvo to play as a fullback, a position that's probably his best after some ups and downs as a central defender. Miller can provide depth at either fullback spot, but it appears Metanire will be the starter on the right.
In the middle, Alonso becomes the anchor alongside Gregus. If the former Sounders star stays healthy, he alone should be able to take a few conceded goals off of the year-end total while giving Gregus a bit of flexibility in the middle.
Quintero is likely the key, though, after starring following his move to Minnesota midway through last season. He'll have talented creators along side him, but the Colombian has the skillset to be one of the most productive 10s in MLS. There's depth in the attack with the two Ibarras, Schuller, Molino and Finlay battling for wing minutes, but Quintero is there star.
And then there's Rodriguez, whose arrival inspired enough confidence to jettison Christian Ramirez. It's a decision that's still very much in question, making Rodriguez a major talking point as the season gets going.
Minnesota United’s national TV coverage
- Minnesota United vs. NYCFC - Saturday, April 13 at 5 p.m. ET on ESPN 2
- DC United vs. Minnesota United - Sunday, April 28 at 1:30 p.m. ET on FS1
- Minnesota United vs. Portland Timbers - Sunday at August 4 at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN
- Sporting KC vs. Minnesota United - Thursday, August 22 at 9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
- Portland Timbers vs. Minnesota United - Sunday, September 22 at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN