Minnesota United fans feel this is the season to achieve a playoff berth. Darwin Quintero is a legit star. But he can plough the Loons’ playoff furrow?
It has been a tough couple of years for Minnesota United. The Loons have now settled in their own home arena, filled out their three Designated Player slots, and built a team capable of challenging at the elite end of MLS. Head coach Adrian Heath has a mandate to christen Allianz Arena with a playoff game. There are plenty jumping on the Minnesota United bandwagon.
Darwin Quintero proved he can pull his weight for that bandwagon, leading the team with 11 goals and 15 assists in only 20 games. Nevertheless, much like Kevin Garnett, Kevin Love, and plenty of NFL stars, Quintero may find it hard to win in the land of 10,000 lakes despite the front office bringing in reinforcements.
How many new players are needed to fix Minnesota United’s problems? The Loons had MLS’ worst road record, leading to 20 total losses. Five points from road trips is abysmal. That cannot happen this season, but even the home record needs a boost. Minnesota had the seventh-best home record in 2018, but a dedicated space should help the team finish higher in the standings.
Joining Quintero is new DP signing Jan Gregus from FC Copenhagen. Gregus should help with possession playing above former Sounder Ozzie Alonso. Rasmus Schuller will be pushed to the bench or out wide. The midfield will be significantly improved, depending on Father Time and an unknown Europa League player.
Minnesota United also made Sporting KC a $900 TAM godfather offer to acquire perennial Defender of the Year candidate Ike Opara. The defense should give up less than two goals per game just with his presence. Angelo Rodriguez is also a new DP attacker with a few more games under his belt. Perhaps he will attract attention from Quintero with a few highlight goals.
Alonso and Opara were deemed surplus to requirements by MLS contenders. They will be keen to lead Minnesota United to the playoff promised land, but are just as likely to show their age. Any drop off from either leaves Minnesota lacking in depth once again, which likely means no playoff appearance and the feeling of buying spoiled milk.
Quintero is trying to lead from the front, an approach this season separate from last year’s experience. Quintero told MLSsoccer.com:
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“You have to work a lot harder, so we could be able to have a better year… When we’re looking at last year, we have to move on from that and not look back. The team is getting better. We’re working a lot on the defensive parts, which really hurt us last year, and I think in that regard, we’re progressing…We’ve only conceded two goals so far in preseason and that should say a lot about the job we’re doing, which I think it’s good.”
Preseason results against lower-level competition and experimental squads aside, Micheal Boxall still has yet to prove he is a capable MLS center-back. Opara will only be able to stem the tide so much. Minnesota gave up 71 goals last season. The tide is strong Francisco Calvo was at fault for several. Now deployed at left-back, he will be stretched even further on the wings.
Bobby Shuttleworth or Vito Mannone start in goal. Neither would make a top 10 keepers list. Neither Romario Ibarra nor Miguel Ibarra are going to bother top MLS defenses. Kevin Molino and Ethan Finlay are replacement-level MLS midfielders. Those four are interchangeable and will give Minnesota more consistency from game to game.
All told, the offseason signings were all risky gambles. Quintero, meanwhile, has proven he will be entertaining no matter his supporting cast. Small incremental upgrades through the spine of the roster is encouraging. The Loons faithful feel they have a chance at the playoffs this season. However, that will still be difficult, even with Quintero at the helm.