Sun. Dec 10th, 2023

Image: Minnesota United

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After utilizing largely veteran talent over four straight playoff runs, it seems Minnesota United is reaching a pivot-point in 2023 and need a handful of youngsters to take the next step in order to keep that streak alive.

Don’t get me wrong, young players have played crucial roles on previous successful teams. Where would Minnesota have been in 2019 without rookies Hassani Dotson and Chase Gasper? Then 24-year old Emanuel Reynoso solidified himself as the team’s best player soon after his arrival in 2020. Bongi Hlongwane and D.J. Taylor played pivotal roles in last year’s playoff squad.

But, when you look around the roster and potential lineups leading into 2023, a need for multiple guys to “step up” is apparent.

Who are those candidates? Let’s take a look.

Joseph Rosales

Minnesota certainly got their money’s worth out of the Hondurian last season, as Rosales was the lowest payed player on the roster, according to the MLSPA’s salary info release.

Not only did Rosales play beyond his contract, he asserted himself as one of Adrian Heath’s top central midfield depth options on a squad full of them. Just 21-years old at the start of last season, Rosales ranked in the top 15% of midfielders leaguewide in progressive carries (2.14 per 90), successful take-ons (1.45), and tackles (2.82).

Rosales was statistically one of the best forward-dribbling CMs in MLS in 2022, and showed a ton of improvement in his defensive abilities over the course of the campaign. These ingredients breed a lot of optimism about Rosales taking a huge step into the spotlight this year.

Mender Garcia

While a recent DP striker signing doesn’t exactly scream “under-the-radar”, it’s important to acknowledge Garcia’s youth and what’s already been asked of the now 24-year old in his first three months of action.

A natural CF, according to both Garcia and head coach Adrian Heath, Garcia was asked to spend most of his playing time on the wing late last season, due to injuries and lack of depth in those positions. Even so, the Colombian found himself in goal-scoring positions a handful of times, putting one in the back of the net before season’s end.

With striker being such a question mark for this team, and the likelihood of a surefire starter being brought in before the February 25th opener almost nonexistent, there’s certainly an opportunity for Garcia to take a firm hold of his natural position.

Cameron Dunbar

The recently-acquired homegrown from L.A. had a breakout season last year for Galaxy II in the USL Championship. Dunbar finished the year with 12 goals and three assists in 33 appearances.

The 20-year old does have some MLS experience as well, making 15 appearances for the Galaxy first-team between 2020 and 2021.

If you talk to anyone on the MNUFC coaching staff or roster about who’s been impressive this preseason, Dunbar’s likely to be the first name they bring up. The newcomer has turned a lot of heads so far and could be a huge injection of both youth and quality attacking midfield depth, especially if the team is without Emanuel Reynoso for more than a few weeks.

Tani Oluwaseyi

The Loons’ first-round pick received a lot of hype upon his selection last winter, with MLS Today and Extratime host David Gass calling Oluwaseyi one of the most pro-ready players (skill-set wise) in that year’s player pool.

While there was a lot of short-term optimism for the 22-year old in his rookie year, the more realistic timeline would suggest it would be a bit before he got the chance to play for first-team minutes.

A knee injury and subsequent surgery caused Oluwaseyi to miss nearly his entire senior season at St. Johns, battling back to play in only their season finale and conference tournament opener. Adrian Heath always preached caution and patience with his first-round investment, but the gaffer’s been bullish when talking to the media about the youngster’s first-team prospects for 2023.

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