Image: Minnesota United
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Minnesota United enter “Matchday 4” of the 2023 Major League Soccer season with four points from two matches, both against clubs that are expected to finish at or near the top of their respective conferences, and one of those being a win on the road.
Oh yeah, and this is without undoubtedly their most important and impactful player over the last two and a half seasons.
Anyone who’s watched Minnesota for any longer than a single possession over that time can easily comprehend what the team’s identity has been: Get the ball to Emanuel Reynoso, and let him do the rest.
Now? A new identity is emerging, and one that’s more about the collective.
“It’s just togetherness,” said Loons left back Kemar Lawrence. “We started to clamp down a little bit more on everything just around the training facility. When you step onto the pitch, just bring in more…We have to make it a full team effort, and it’s been working.”
Getting to spend a couple days a week at the NSC watching this team train, you can tell they really enjoy being together. Players spend a lot of time on the field before and after the session, playing games like soccer tennis or two-touch and laughing nearly the entire time.
With that kind of kinship in the facility, it’s no surprise more bonds are starting to form among the players outside of it as well.
One of those friendships is between young attacker Tani Oluwaseyi and a returning Hassani Dotson. Both players were recovering from knee injuries last year, and found togetherness in their shared struggle through rehabilitation and recovery. Even with Dotson in Portland and Oluwaseyi in Minnesota.
“We didn’t rehab together. But somehow, some way, he’s now my best friend on the team,” said Oluwaseyi. “We have that dialogue asking, you know, ‘How do your knees feel today? Oh, Are your knees creaking today? What would you do for rehab today?’ Those little things like that, and just checking up on each other over time.”
Now, that communication includes FaceTime calls with not only Dotson, but Dotson’s daughter as well.
“It’s the best of both worlds [where we’re] talking about soccer. But, we can also talk about life and family as well. So it’s a good balance.”
Tactically, it seems the Loons have found a much more balanced, collective approach, with a greater emphasis on defending from the front to create turnovers, and relying on a strong backline in those initial lines are broken.
The attack has seen more wealth spread among the frontline as well, with striker Mender Garcia and winger Bongokuhle Hlongwane finding the back of the net early on, and Franco Fragapane providing assists on both occasions that won’t show up on the stat-sheet.
The sustainability of MNUFC having success without a significant proven playmaker on the pitch is a legitimate concern, but at least early on, it seems the team’s adapting to their new reality on the pitch, in the facility, and in life as well.
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The Loons Daily newsletter is written by Jeremy Rushing and presented by Sota Soccer, your home for soccer coverage in the North! If you could, please consider supporting our work at Patreon.com/sotasoccer