Image: Minnesota United
The June FIFA international break has finally hit. It’s a small breath of fresh air for those not representing their respective nations, while MLS internationals will continue the long and grueling campaign of the 2023 calendar.
Minnesota United have five players representing their national teams during this window, with Bongokuhle Hlongwane, Joseph Rosales, Michael Boxall, Zarek Valentin and Dayne St. Clair all on International duty.
Although the International window is only an eight day period from June 12-20, extended absences could be brought to light if Rosales and St. Clair are called up to represent their respective nations in the 2023 Concacaf Gold Cup. The group stage of the tournament begins June 24 and runs through July 4. If both Honduras and Canada were to advance into the knockout stages, their absences would be further extended.
Meanwhile, the Loons now have a chance to rest after a relentless month of matches in May and early June. Adrian Heath’s side played 11 matches from April 30-June 10, with the squad averaging 3.8 days per match during the course. In league play, the Loons went 2-4-2 (WLD) during that stretch, earning eight out of a possible 24 points. In short, it was a month to forget. However, the start to the 2023 campaign has not gone the way many predicted – across the league.
For example, Inter Miami – who have just signed superstar Lionel Messi – are sitting bottom in the Eastern Conference. The Los Angeles Galaxy are tied for last place in the Western Conference while 2022 breakout side Austin FC sit one spot above them in 13th. In other words, it’s been a weird season… so far.
Here are my three biggest takeaways from the season so far for Minnesota United
It’s been a breakout 2023 season for the Loons South African star. Bongokuhle Hlongwane has been a joy to watch on (and off) the pitch for the Loons despite being part of one of the most bleak attacking groups in recent memory in Major League Soccer.
As harsh as it may sound, there’s been an obvious lack of inspiration or creativity from any of the front four beyond Hlongwane. South Korean forward Sang Bin Jeong has provided a spark. It’s just to be determined if that spark is enough to see him score more goals and become more than a role player under Heath in 2023.
From Franco Fragapane, Mender Garcia and Luis Amarila to Robin Lod and Joseph Rosales…. It’s been bleak and uninspiring. The lone bright spot, however, has been Hlongwane. He leads the team in scoring with six goals in all competitions and has one assist under his belt in league play as well. The South Africa international has expressed versatility when needed, too, playing on both flanks as well as down the middle as a lone striker or in a two-striker system.
The numbers aren’t stunning, they’re not even All-Star candidate worthy. Though, Hlongwane has inspired this Loons side to earn results across the first stretch of the campaign. From a brace in the U.S. Open Cup against the Philadelphia Union to back-to-back winning goals against the Houston Dynamo and Portland Timbers in league play… he has been the Loons’ most crucial player so far this campaign.
With the introduction of talisman Emanuel Reynoso and a new forward inevitably arriving in July, this could be the start of something special for the South African, and hopefully for Minnesota’s attack as a whole.
How Reynoso Can Spark a Season Turnaround
This is going to be simple and sweet: Emanuel Reynoso is back, and has a full half of footy under his belt now. The Argentine’s absence from the team this Spring has been well documented, but it’s good to see him back wearing the Loons’ crest.
When at his best, it’s well noted that Reynoso is one of the top players across the entire league. He’s a player who can turn nothing into something, the one person on the field who could carve up an entire defense without even breaking a sweat.
Reynoso has 17 league matches and the 2023 Leagues Cup to make up for time that’s been lost. He needs to start and start fast, now.
Ideally, the Loons would be looking at a minimum 6g 10a season from him going forward. Who knows if that comes about, but Reynoso could be the key to unlocking this group. With those around him underperforming, he might be the spark that gets everyone going. That includes reported incoming forward Teemu Pukki, who is rumored to join via Free Agency from English Championship side Norwich City in early July.
The Loons need the best version of Bebelo to take the pitch every single match now. Too much time has been wasted, there’s no room for error or excuse.
Allianz Field No Longer a Fortress
The Loons have won just one game in league play at Allianz Field this season. Wonderwall has only rang out twice, with the other being a victory in the Open Cup over the Union in front of a crowd of less than 5,000.
Overall, Minnesota’s record at home this season is 1-1-5 (WLD), with frustrating and bleak performances at home in front of their fans. For context, the Loons went 8-5-4 at home in 2022. A little over one-third of the way through the campaign and the Loons have already drawn more matches at home than they did throughout the entirety of the season last year.
If MNUFC want to climb back to the top and be considered one the elite teams in the Western Conference, it starts with finding results at home. They need to give their fans something to be excited about, the fans need a reason to continue to keep coming out. The results have not been awful by any means, but the theme of uninspiring has taken over what is being watched week-in and week-out at the moment.
There are only 10 matches left at home this season. If Minnesota United wants to surpass their win record at home from 2022, they’re going to have to win seven out of those 10 matches. It’s a big task, and as things stand, it’s tough to believe they’re up for it.