Image: Minnesota United
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Things looked to be less complicated and more straight-forward for Minnesota United defender D.J. Taylor heading into this season.
After a 2022 regular season that saw the right-back play himself into and solidify a starting role, only for summer signing Alan Benitez to shake things up in the second half of the year, Taylor would go on to win that position battle and re-earn his spot heading into the playoffs.
After getting married in January, Taylor began to receive national recognition on many “most improved” or “players to watch” lists leaguewide ramping up to the 2023 campaign. It finally seemed like the 25-year old was firmly planted as the guy at right-fullback for the Loons.
However, a nagging tendinitis issue in his patella caused Taylor to miss almost the entire preseason and affected him into the regular season as well, as the North Carolinian didn’t see the field until March 18th.
“I usually don’t get hurt a lot, so this preseason is probably one of my hardest, to be honest, in my career,” said Taylor. “I kind of had an injury that wasn’t really necessarily an injury…I’d come back and still have pain. So it definitely took way longer than I expected it to. It was very frustrating preseason for me. You know, I like to hit the ground running and just keep going. I only really trained in one gear. So that was a frustrating process.”
During Taylor’s recovery, Adrian Heath started offseason signing Zarek Valentin in the club’s first two matches, with the MLS veteran playing a major role in a defense that allowed just one goal over the season’s first 180+ minutes.
Moreover, Valentin notched an assist and team Man of the Match performance (via Fotmob ratings) in Minnesota’s March 25th home draw with Vancouver. Taylor started that game as well, playing at left-back.
Is it another year, another position battle for the former US U-18 international? Or is the spot his to lose as we advance further into the season? Either way, Taylor enjoys the challenge.
“I think for sure it adds pressure, but I think it’s a good pressure, you know, because Z and I have a good relationship and no matter who’s playing we’re both going to push each other to to be the best version of ourselves and to help the team,” said Taylor. “At the end of the day, it’s up to [Heath], and we’re good teammates about it. So we just push each other…and it does kind of give that good pressure, good mentality to say, ‘Hey, you know, I really need to perform this weekend,” which gives you that extra boost and motivation rather than if you didn’t have someone behind you competing.”
You can listen to our full conversation with D.J. Taylor HERE .
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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