Image: Minnesota United
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It’s match week!
Minnesota United, of course, opens their 2023 campaign in Dallas on Saturday night. Sota Soccer will be there as well, covering all the action in person! (Please consider supporting our coverage on Patreon, if you could)
For the Loons, the season begins on a bit of an awkward, unsure note, and there are plenty of burning questions that need to be answered, and can really only be answered on the pitch.
Here are the four biggest.
1.) Where will the goals come from?
This feels like a question that’s been asked ahead of every single MNUFC season since its ascension to MLS in 2017, and this year is no different.
That’s not to say this squad is incapable of producing goals. Robin Lod is the club’s leading MLS goal-scorer for a reason, and both Luis Amarilla and Franco Fragapane have shown an ability to put away chances in spurts. In addition, youngsters Bongokuhle Hlongwane and Mender Garcia found the back of the net last season as well..
But, there has been little to no consistency outside of a certain No. 10, whose future with the club is anything but certain.
2.) How will Adrian Heath account for Emanuel Reynoso’s absence?
Speaking of, it looks as if Minnesota is looking forward and moving ahead without their Argentine All-Star, according to Heath.
Obviously, entering the season without the guy who essentially accounts for all of your attacking success is far from ideal, and it will be a major challenge for this coaching staff and roster to collectively make up for what they’re losing without Reynoso. But it’s a task everyone involved has to take on.
In terms of how to accomplish that, collective is the word that comes to mind for me. Whether it’s the 4-3-3, 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1, 3-5-2, or anything else Heath and co. want to cook up, it’s truly going to take the Loons’ entire front-line to find a level of cohesiveness and quality that is able to produce chances at the rate necessary to compete.
Lod, Bongi, Fraga, Amarilla, Garcia, and even Cameron Dunbar will all need to find another gear this season if MNUFC want to extend that playoff streak.
3.) Who starts in the midfield?
One of the areas of the most optimism, and the most uncertainty, for this club is in the central midfield, and both for good reason.
Adrian Heath utilized 10 different midfield pairings in 2022, with eight separate players starting in either the No. 6 or No. 8 positions. Each of them, at some level, proved worthy of their spot as well.
The Loons head into this season with the aforementioned Robin Lod, captain Wil Trapp, Kervin Arriaga, Joseph Rosales, and a returning Hassani Dotson all in the conversation and in competition for a starting position.
4.) Is Miguel Tapias enough to lift the backline?
While Minnesota United’s attack, in some ways, took a step forward in 2022, it’s fair to say that the squad took a defensive step back.
Minnesota conceded 1.5 goals per match in last year’s regular season, the team’s worst since 2018’s abysmal 2.09 goals conceded average.
Already trending toward a recession, the club lost hugely impactful CB Bakaye Dibassy in late August, leading to a late-season collapse that nearly cost the Loons a playoff spot.
Dibassy is not slated to return until at least May, so MNUFC’s brass looked to Liga MX for a younger central defender with upside in Miguel Tapias.
The scouting report (compared to other backline players in FBRef’s Men’s Next 8 Competitions) says Tapias is an incredible shot blocker (98th percentile). The 26-year old also ranks in the top 30-percent in successful tackles, clearances, and aerials won.
Where the former Pachuca player might be lacking is in progressing defense to attack, ranking in the bottom third among defenders in interceptions, passes attempted, and progressive passes.