Image: Minnesota United
Minnesota United FC are off to their best-ever start as a Major League Soccer franchise. The Loons are undefeated through Week Six of the MLS season, recording three-straight road wins and two draws at home at Allianz Field.
St. Louis CITY SC also got off to strong start, winning all of their first five games. Week Six saw Adrian Heath’s side knock off undefeated 2023 expansion franchise St. Louis CITY SC on their own turf. The impressive result saw the Loons take that final leap over the hurdle that was the start to 2023, with heads starting to turn at their performances of late.
The storylines surrounding Minnesota can’t be overlooked, however. They’ve overcome obstacle after obstacle, and for Heath, he can’t remember a season where so many issues have presented themselves to the squad. MNUFC Captain Wil Trapp spoke on it postgame.
“Look, I think, of course, we’d love to have Rey (Emanuel Reynoso) here, undisputedly one of the best players in the league. But I think with that vacuum, we’ve had to become a little bit more of a team right in the sense of, you can’t just pass the ball to one guy and make him solve all the problems for you,” Trapp said.
MNUFC talisman and star player Reynoso has been suspended by the league without pay for failing to report to preseason and has since stayed in Argentina, with minimal contact between the player and the club. Six weeks into the season though, he’s not on the minds of the players anymore, and they are now adapting to play without their leader.
“I think from [Rey’s absence], you see guys take the mantle and take the responsibility on their shoulders and it feels a little bit more cohesive,” Trapp said. “And of course, we’d love to have [Reynoso] back, but given what it looked like at the beginning of the season in the preseason, and where we’re at now… we’re just really pleased with the way in which guys are responding and taking responsibility.”
The Loons failed to win a single preseason game in 2023, going 0-5-1 (WLD) through their six matches while being shutout four times along the way. Now, they have put those struggles behind them and have embraced a new way of thinking, focusing on unity and cohesiveness as a squad.
Trapp sees the squad depth and early results as something to build on for the future. “At the end of the season, where it’s just chaotic, and you need two points here and these types of games, these gutsy performances where guys come into the game, where they’re getting meaningful minutes to contribute to the team… that helps the team as a whole feel committed to what the group’s in,” Trapp said. “I think that’s massively important for not only just the guys on the field, but for the entire group feeling like hey, we’re pulling in the direction towards something”
The right direction that Trapp touches on is the continual climbing of the table. Despite sitting 4th in the Western Conference, the Loons have a game in-hand over all but one team in the top-six places in the West. They’re also level on points with 3rd place LAFC.
The progress the squad has made since February is astounding and it should start being noted that Adrian Heath has taken this squad to a new level in 2023. The Englishman has adapted and changed their entire tactical presence on the pitch from 2022 and it’s taken them to new heights. The Loons gaffer adamantly said it “speaks volumes” to how the squad performed in St. Louis, but praise needs to be passed his way as well.
“Well, we’re gonna enjoy this evening and then turn our attention to Chicago. Obviously got a big win for them last week [against Inter Miami]. And you know, I think they’ve got a decent team,” Heath said. “We’re gonna need another big performance, the most important thing and I’ve just said that to the players. Let’s think about what we’ve done right to get this performance. And we’ll need the same again next week, a similar performance. And if we do, we will give ourselves a chance.”
The Fire have started their season 1-3-1, securing two very impressive results along the way with a 3-3 draw against the still undefeated FC Cincinnati and a 3-2 Week Four win over Inter Miami CF.
The match will likely be the first chance for newcomer Sang Bin Jeong to take the pitch. Jokingly, postgame Heath said “Well, he shouldn’t be unavailable,” but the Loons gaffer added, “after having a good week’s training behind him, it will put him in a better spot than he is at the minute.”