Wed. Jun 7th, 2023

Last year, I read the book “The Barcelona Complex,” by Simon Kuper, an excellent look at the history and current state of FC Barcelona. I suggest you go and purchase many copies, but I want to highlight part of one paragraph that’s stuck with me.

Barça people instinctively take the long view. The staffers in the ice-rink café care about the under-13s team, because they expect still to be around when the kids are old enough to play on the first team.

Simon Kuper

Some of Barça’s “mes que un club” slogan is real and some of it is marketing, but that long view is indubitably the truth. And up until this season, that long view for Minnesota United was more or less nonexistent.

Look around at other pro sports in America. The college draft is insanely popular in the NFL. The NBA draft is almost as popular. The WNBA draft gets a ton of coverage. Hockey has Canadian junior leagues and college hockey, as well as minor-league hockey. And the bedrock of baseball in America is the sprawling minor-league system, one that’s so developed that in many years, reading about up-and-coming Twins prospects is more exciting than actually reading about the Twins.

Aziel Jackson is on the inaugural MNUFC2 roster. Courtesy MNUFC

MNUFC, by contrast, has mostly been on an island on its own. The team had 30 players on its roster, but nowhere for many of them to play. It has a couple of homegrown players, but no real path to the first team.

That missing path why local prodigy Caden Clark, now one of American soccer’s up-and-coming stars, decided that he’d better make his way into the New York Red Bulls system rather than signing with the Loons.

The sense I get from most MNUFC fans, at least the die-hards – the ones who are reading this article – is that they would like nothing more to be like those Barça socis. They’re the people who would, in fact, look up the results of Minnesota under-15 team*, if not actually showing up to watch.

(Don’t bother; I’ve searched in vain for anything more than a list of scores for the U-15, U-17, and U-19 teams. I can’t even find who scored, and the only team player lists that I’ve found are the ones that are printed in the team’s media guide.)

But finally, this weekend, for the first time, in one way, Loons fans have that chance, because this weekend, MNUFC2 finally gets the ball rolling.

For the uninitiated, this is Minnesota’s team in what MLS is calling “MLS NEXT PRO*,” which is meant to be something of a cross between a reserve team and an under-23 team. A handful of MLS teams are retaining second teams in the USL for this season, but the majority have moved those teams over to the new competition. It’s a 24-game season, and it begins this weekend.

(*I genuinely can’t tell what the official capitalization of this league is. I’ve seen “MLS NEXT Pro” and “MLS Next PRO” from various league sources. I am almost certain it’s not “mls NEXT PRO” but that’s about all. I’m going with all caps until further notice.)

MNUFC2 announced a nine-man roster for its inaugural squad. Keen-eyed fans noted that they were at least two players short of a full team. They’ll be making up the numbers from both ends of the spectrum; it’s fair to expect that you’ll see players from the first team that aren’t playing much, as well as some players from the team’s youth development program that are ready for a bigger challenge.

In addition to the nine-man squad linked above, here’s a list of first-team players that have been on the bench for the Loons so far this season, but haven’t yet played in a game:

  • Justin McMaster
  • Callum Montgomery
  • Nabi Kibunguchy
  • Fred Emmings
  • Niko Hansen

Here’s a list of the players that haven’t even made a 20-man gameday squad this year:

  • Eric Dick
  • Tani Oluwaseyi
  • Devin Padelford

I would think that every one of the guys on that list is a strong candidate to also play minutes for MNUFC2, at least early in the season.

There is plenty to be excited about with MNUFC2, including a return to the National Sports Center this summer, an event that may cause many of us to be overcome with the powerful vapors of nostalgia.

But mostly, I’m just excited about getting excited about the future. Meet you in the ice-rink café.

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