Image: Minnesota United
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In the words of adopted Minnesotan Lizzo, “It’s about damn time!”
The 2023 Major League Soccer season is upon us, there’s a new unnecessarily complicated playoff format, but one that may give a Reynoso-less Minnesota United team a fighting chance at a fifth straight postseason appearance.
Even so, the folks at Extra Time and MLSSoccer.com weren’t exactly bullish on their outlook for the Loons’ season. The league’s analysts each picked MNUFC to finish anywhere from 5th (thanks, Kaylyn!) to 12th. The average predicted finishing place between the 13 participants was 11th. That, even in this expanded playoff structure, would put Minnesota on the outside looking in for the first time since 2018.
Never fear! The Sota Soccer staff is here to bring you our predictions, which are obviously the most accurate.
Biggest Strength: This team has some collective quality and depth in the defensive half of the pitch that hasn’t been seen since Ike Opara was on the matchday roster. If goals are going to be scarce, the Loons may just have the defensive chops to save enough results to stay in the playoff conversation.
Biggest Weakness: The obvious answer is No Reynoso, but I’ll go a little deeper. This team is heading into 2023 without a true tactical identity, and the challenge without Rey will be to develop something both collective and consistent, especially in the attacking half.
Team MVP: It’s Robin Lod. It has to be Robin Lod if Minnesota are going to sniff a playoff spot.
Newcomer of the Year: I’m going with a dark horse here, but based off conversations I’ve been having with those around the club, young homegrown Cameron Dunbar is really turning some heads in preseason. If the club remain without their star No. 10 for a significant amount of time, the former Galaxy player will have a big opportunity to make an impact.
Most Improved Player: Give me Bongi or give me death! Seriously, though. Hlongwane showed some real quality and speed last year. If he can tighten up his dribbling and ability to work in tight spaces, he could be a real star for this team.
Total Points: 45
Western Conference Finish: 9th. It could be another nail-biting decision day for the MNUFC faithful.
Biggest Strength: Midfield depth
Biggest Weakness: Consistent goal-scoring forward
Team MVP: Robin Lod
Newcomer of the Year: Molik Jesse Khan
Most Improved Player: Mender Garcia
Total Points: 47
Western Conference Finish: 9th
Biggest Strength: This is a sneaky one, but up-and-coming talent.
Biggest Weakness: If Rey’s a no-go (or a no-show), it’s consistency in playmaking. This is probably the case even if he is on the team this year.
Team MVP: Kervin Arriaga, if for no other reason than him taking a developmental leap could transform this team.
Newcomer of the Year: Miguel Tapias, because having three viable centerbacks is crucial to a successful roster build.
Most Improved Player: D.J. Taylor was quietly very solid last year, and he’s only 25. He’s got the foundation to step up as one of the league’s best right backs with the right leap.
Total Points: 43
Western Conference Finish: 11th
Biggest Strength: A veteran presence that has grinded out ugly wins season after season.
Biggest Weakness: It’s hard to pretend it’s anything other than that Reynoso sized hole in midfield.
Team MVP: Robin Lod, we’re about to see just how flexible everyone’s favorite Finn is.
Newcomer of the Year: Miguel Tapias, a young, starting quality defender is a huge step for an aging defense.
Most Improved Player: Wouldn’t it be something to see Luis Amarilla finally drop those 25 goals he promised? MNUFC are certainly going to need them.
Total Points: 48
Western Conference Finish: 8th