Image courtesy of Minnesota United
The 2023 MLS campaign kicks off this weekend, and Minnesota United FC are set to begin their sixth season in the league. The Loons 2022 season came to an end in the opening round of the 2022 Audi MLS Playoffs, where the Loons fell to FC Dallas in a penalty kick shootout on the road. Ironically enough, Minnesota has a chance at redemption Saturday when they head to Dallas in their first match of the season.
There are numerous storylines surrounding the club heading into 2023, but none more prominent than the status of playmaker Emanuel Reynoso. I asked all of my followers on Twitter to send me questions around those storylines — including Reynoso — for our first mailbag of the year.
So, without further ado, your opening weekend mailbag answered by yours truly.
In this hypothetical scenario, Reynoso wouldn’t be included in the stat line. So, taking that into account, I think it’s a big year for both Hassani Dotson and Robin Lod.
It looks like the Loons will begin the campaign in a 4-3-3 with Lod as an additional 8, with Bongokuhle Hlongwane at right wing. Lod’s decisiveness in the middle of the park and his ability to move the ball forward will be one of the most important roles in the team.
For Dotson, it’s a big return year. Prior to his torn ACL in spring of 2022, the Loons midfielder was one of their brightest performing players. At one point, Dotson was a player on the outskirts of a U.S. Men’s national team call-up. If he can return to form, it only makes the midfield better.
I would not expect Patrick Weah to feature with the first-team much this season. He’s coming off a torn ACL and hasn’t performed at this level in quite some time. He’ll be a mainstay with MNUFC2.
Oluwaseyi was name-dropped weekly by Adrian Heath throughout preseason. He’s a really exciting prospect who the club are expecting big things from this year.
I did ask Heath this question a while back, and the answer was basically “no”. The replacements at the 10 position for the Loons right now — assuming Reynoso will not play it for some time — are both Robin Lod and Cameron Dunbar.
With the new playoff format, it’s going to be hard to miss the playoffs if we’re being honest. Nine(!!) teams will have the chance to qualify. I think the Loons will be right around the 6-9 spot with their current roster, though.
I personally think it’s the 6, a central defensive midfielder. Dubbed the “Makelele” role, a 6 controls the tempo of a match, is asked to be the last resort before your defense and is often your most consistent tackler on the pitch.
It’s a big, big year for Wil Trapp.
The rumor mill has two U-22 players being looked at. One would be a Designated Player, with the contract of Luis Amarilla being bought down to make space for it.
The other would be a TAM signing, while both are forwards.
Robin is the best option the Loons have for an attacking midfielder at the moment. That being said, he’s likely better as an 8 in a 4-3-3.
If the role doesn’t belong to Wil Trapp all year, it’s going to be either Joseph Rosales or Hassani Dotson competing for that spot. However, you could see Arriaga drop to the 6 role with one of the two players named above moving into an 8 role alongside Lod in a 4-3-3.
The issue with Gonzalez is that the Loons midfield is already full with Dotson returning. “Jo-Go” was brought in to be a difference maker centrally due to the absence of Dotson + some inconsistencies from other players.
They opted to use the purchase clause on Rosales’s contract and bank on a healthy Dotson all of 2023 instead.
I personally thought González was great in his cameos for the Loons. It’s a bummer he’s not here in ’23.
I think both parties were happy to move on from each other’s company.
For what it’s worth, the initial reviews on Tapias are that he’s been fantastic. Dayne St. Clair praised how he’s made it easier to play out of the back with a left-footed central defender and Michael Boxall has praised his athleticism and speed on the back line.
Here’s my predicted starting XI on Saturday. Thanks for asking, Bill.
Goalkeeper: Dayne St. Clair
RB: DJ Taylor (Zarek Valentin if Taylor isn’t healthy)
RCB: Michael Boxall
LCB: Miguel Tapias
LB: Kemar Lawrence
CDM: Wil Trapp
CM: Robin Lod
CM: Kervin Arriaga
LW: Franco Fragapane
ST: Luis Amarilla (maybeeee Mender Garcia)
RW: Bongokuhle Hlongwane (Bonzinho)
Striker. The answer is 100% striker.
Luis Amarilla hasn’t proven he’s good enough to lead the lines for the Loons over the past year while Mender Garcia is still a raw talent we haven’t seen much of.
The issue with Amarilla is he creates space and gets into good positions, he just mistimes his runs and/or opts to pass instead of shoot. I hope his confidence is back to where he wants it to be heading into 2023, because he’s likely set to start Saturday.
As for the change, I’d expect one of the forthcoming U-22 players rumored to be in talks with the club to compete for that spot.