Minnesota United enters its 2022 campaign similar to virtually any other team in their sixth season of existence. With the highest expectations they’ve ever had.
A revamped pool of strikers and increased depth nearly everywhere on the pitch springs hope and optimism from the Loons’ faithful, who saw a club unable to get consistency in their starting xi in 2021, finishing 5th in the west but not securing a playoff spot until the final day of the regular season
Even with that optimism, there’s always caution…especially when you’re talking about Minnesota sports.
So how good can/will MNUFC be in 2022? The measuring stick is out in full force on MLS’ version of opening day, as Minnesota’s chartered plane heads east to take on a Philadelphia Union squad that many consider to be the most complete team in the league.
After a season that ended in the Eastern Conference Final (and potentially could’ve been further if not for a COVID outbreak at the worst possible time), the Union began their offseason with a big time trade, sending leading 2021 goalscorer Kacper Przybylko to Chicago for ALL the Garber Bucks, aka $1.15 in Allocation Money.
So how do you lose your leading scorer and manage to get better? Why not just sign a European Golden Boot winner. Philly used an open DP spot in about the most effective way you possibly could, grabbing Mikael Uhre, better known as the top goalscorer from the Danish SuperLiga last season.
Philadelphia then did what Philadelphia always does and signed another homegrown player, giving 19-year old defender Anton Sorenson the 19th such honor in club history. Speaking of Philly’s homegrowns, four of them were called into USMNT U-20 training camp over the winter, as Paxten Aaronson, Quinn Sullivan, Jack McGlynn and Brandan Craig all saw valuable competition among this country’s best young stars.
Back in their own HQ, the Union continued to stack MLS currency, as they traded Designated Player Jameiro Montero to San Jose for $250k in allocation money, a 2022 international roster spot, and a conditional extra $200k in allocation if certain performance standards are met. Or, as we call it in MLS standards, A HAUL.
The offseason for the Loons began in a way not many fans are used to, with a number of players from last season moving on to new clubs and new opportunities.
Ozzie Alonso turned down a contract offer from Minnesota to take his talents to Atlanta, Ethan Finlay bid his home state adieu and headed south to Austin, and Jan Gregus was picked up by San Jose in the re-entry draft and could very well play right beside fellow Minnesotan Jackson Yueill in the Earthquakes’ defensive midfield.
The vibes after these departures were understandably somber among the Loons’ faithful, but a sudden influx of strikers, most of which are familiar faces, began to instill hope that 2022 could be that next step forward.
Former Loons’ Luis Amarilla and Abu Danladi made their triumphant returns to the Loons’ striker room, and they were joined by South African social media sensation Bongokuhle Hlongwane, Thomas Williamson and SuperDraft pick Tani Oluwaseyi.
Outside the center-forward position, Minnesota began to build depth in the midfield with the signing of Hunduran Kervin Arriaga and the backline by bringing on MLS veteran defender Oniel Fisher.
What do the Numbers Say?
- MNUFC finished 2021 2nd worst in MLS in underperforming their xG (-10.2), 2nd only to Austin
- The Loons ended the season dead last in SOG% (27.5%)
- Reynoso finished 3rd in scoring attempts (97) and 4th in fouls suffered (94)
- Union were top of the league in tackles won (449), Minnesota 4th (431)
- Philly ended 2nd in midfield tackles (282), Minnesota fifth (258)
- Minnesota finished third in successful pressures (1755), Philadelphia fourth (1709)
- Philly wound up tied for 4th in Goals Allowed (35)
What Happened Last Time?
Last time these teams met
Back in October, Minnesota hosted the Union in what was an extremely important match for the Loons and their playoff hopes. Facing a 2-1 deficit in the 64th minute thanks to a Daniel Gazdag brace, the Loons would get two goals in in four minutes from Robin Lod and Franco Fragapane, respectively, to obtain a lead they would never relinquish en route to a huge 3-2 win in front of the Wonderwall.
Last time each team took the field
Minnesota fans and players alike would probably rather forget their finish to the 2021 season, falling 3-1 to the Portland Timbers inside Providence Park in the opening round of the playoffs. The Loons did take an early lead thanks to an 11th minute Fragapane goal. After that, though, it was the Sebastian Blanco show, as the Argentine scored the winning and insurance goals, both bangers, to secure Minnesota’s fate.
While the Union were also eliminated from the playoffs in their last meaningful match, there’s a bit more of a “moral victory” element to how they bowed out. Missing 11 total players, five of them starters, to COVID-19 safety protocol in the Eastern Conference Final, Philly put together a performance to be proud of from their backups, but ultimately fell short to the eventual MLS Cup winners NYCFC 2-1.
What’s the Result?
The stats show that, while both of these squads have quality in the attack, they still lead from the back in terms of their defensive success and ability to win tackles and turn teams over.
The Union not having their newest star DP in Uhre is an obvious advantage to the Loons, but how will their own attack look? Is Luis Amarilla fit? Is Hunou ready to step up this season? Will Danladi get the nod over both? There’s a lot of unknown.
With this lack of surety and the strong likelihood of some rust in the season’s first match, I’m calling for a stalemate.
Prediction: 1-1 draw