Minnesota United entered the 2013 season with an enormous amount of hope and potential for a Soccer Bowl berth after a dominating offseason in which they acquired 2012 MVP, Pablo Campos and Golden Gloves winner Daryl Sattler. Unfortunately for United fans, even with such big additions they had a terrible Spring Season when they finished second to bottom in the standings. Although they had a much-improved Fall Season, United could only finish fourth in the second half, giving them no hope of a Soccer Bowl appearance.
United had some rotten injury luck during the course of 2013, and saw what was supposed to be one of their star players, Etienne Barbara, struggle for form and traded before the end of the season. Also, their big goalkeeper signing rarely played in 2013 due to injury as well. It was no excuse for their inability to finish off games, but perhapsa healthy and consistent starting eleven during the majority of the season would have seen them do better.
Their defense was not as consistent as it should have been despite the solid play all year from Connor Tobin and Aaron Pitchkolan. They leaked 23 goals in the Spring Season before improving in the second half, conceding only 19. With an underwhelming season put behind them, Minnesota has had another decent offseason coupled with a fantastic preseason to help skyrocket hopes again.
However, those hopes have come back to earth a little bit this week with the news that star striker Pablo Campos will miss the majority of the season with an MCL/ACL tear. This is a big blow for United whose stylish play in 2013 ran almost exclusively through Campos as the end product. With their true striker sidelined, United will have to have a couple of players step up in 2014.
There are a couple that come to mind. Can Minnesota live up to their potential that the squad dictates? This is a really talented roster on paper, but they didn’t seem to put it together last season. With some new players in and some wasted players out, can United put it all together and be one of the more dominating teams in the league? Also, how do they cope without Campos? Yes his injury will be blown out of proportion and its about a team and not one player and blah blah blah, but this is not just any player we are talking about. This is one of the best strikers in the league, and Minnesota needs to find goals without him. The addition of Daniel Mendes on loan from Sweden is a start.
Julian Vincentini– Vincentini has played for many years in Brazil and Italy and profiles as a box-to-box midfielderwho could serve as Minnesota’s engine room. He has a knack for connecting the defense to attack and running all over the pitch throughout the match. Vincentini is just one of many Brazilians on United’s roster for 2014.
Tiago Calvano – Calvano is a central defender who is also well traveled. The Brazilian has played in Germany, Switzerland and most recently Australia among other countries. The 32-year-old brings experience to the club and could become a regular partner with Aaron Pitchkolan at the back.
Jamie Watson – In a move that was well received by United fans, Jamie Watson returned to Minnesota for the first time since he was on loan to United in 2012. Watson just finished a very impressive season with Orlando City in USL Pro, winning the league championship and scoring 10 goals in 20 appearances. He also added seven assists and adds a dynamic attacker for Minnesota.
Connor Tobin – Tobin will be missed in Minnesota after some great defensive performances during the season. He captained the side at times and even scored a dramatic winning goal in San Antonio against the rival Scorpions. Tobin joined NASL rivals, the Carolina RailHawks and will now ply his trade on the east coast.
Calum Mallace – United lost Mallace after an impressive 2013 season, but not because of their own doing. Mallace was on loan with Minnesota in 2013 from the Montreal Impact, but is now back with his parent club where he has made two appearances this season. Mallace scored one goal from midfield in 12 games for United last season.
Potential breakout player
Christian Ramirez – Ramirez was a prolific scorer in college at Concordia University and made his professional club debut in 2013 with the Charlotte Eagles of USL Pro. Ramirez scored 12 goals in 26 games with Charlotte andmoved to United this offseason. He is already showing some good potential in preseason and could be a wild cardup top for Minnesota.
Minnesota United will be fast and dynamic. With players like Miguel Ibarra and Simone Bracalello, United should have quick and creative players taking up the flanks and attempting to create chances. They have a very attack minded roster from defense to their strikers and should always be looking to play it forward. Under the current system of Manny Lagos, United will attempt to pass their way into an opening and feed their attacking midfieldersthrough the final third where hopefully they will find a striker to add a finishing touch. Their attacking style of play has been buoyed with the purchase of the right players that fit the system.
Most Glaring Weakness
Right now, it would have to be their defense. Losing Kyle Altman in the middle of last season was tough, and now they have added Connor Tobin to that list. Tiago will be a decent addition, but its not like he’s coming over in the youth or prime of his career. Cristiano Dias impressed at left back last season, but mainly because of his ability to get forward and join the attack rather than his ability to defend the dangerous wingers in the NASL. Perhaps Minnesota has another addition or two in mind for their defense, but as of now, it remains their weak spot on the roster.
If Minnesota stays relatively healthy and finally lives up to the potential of their talent, there is no reason why theyshouldn’t compete for a Championship place. Losing Campos is a massive blow, and fans will see a difference without him, however if players like Ramirez and Watson step up then United could still find plenty of goals in 2014.
All routes to one of the four postseason spots are available to United. It is conceivable that they have a great Spring or Fall season and finish at the top of the standings, claiming one of the two season-winning berths. It is also possible that Minnesota play so consistently throughout the season that they have one of the two best overall records at the end of the campaign, earning them one of the other two remaining postseason spots. A lot rests of the shoulders of the strikers and attacking mids to make up for Campos’ injury, but the defense will need to step up as well. In this league, you CAN be successful by just always outscoring your opponent in shootout type contests, even if you’regiving up some of the most goals in the league. But if United want things to go a little smoother in their title chase, improving their defense and leaking fewer goals will obviously go a long way.
When all is said and done, I see United grabbing one of the four postseason spots. I don’t have enough confidence to predict how they will achieve that yet, but it seems as if this could be the year they translate their talent on paper to on the pitch success. After a good preseason, they will be excited to open up the regular season in San Antonio against their rivals. A consistent season is important and I think United make strides this year on their way to the postseason. Perhaps Campos even makes an early comeback? Either way, United fans should be excited for 2014.
(image courtesy of Minnesota United)