To get everyone ready for Atlanta United’s first away match of the season against fellow expansion side Minnesota United, we spoke with E Pluribus Loonum’s Garrett Denney to get his take on their opening match against Portland, MNUFC’s roster makeup, and expectations for the season.
DSS: As a fellow expansion side, what are Minnesota United’s expectations for this season?
EPL: The same thing we expect from all Minnesota sports teams: a glimmer of hope followed by total failure and heartbreak.
I’m kidding, of course. I think cautious optimism is a fair characterization of the vibe in soccer circles right now. A lot of the fans that will be attending matches this year will be carryovers from the thousands that have been attending lower-division games in Minnesota for years. Minnesota has a very unique sports culture that values teams for being ours. Sure, we all want to see championships, but that isn’t a condition for our fandom. I’ve followed this team for a few years now but there will be an entire supporters section full of fans that have followed the team for a decade.
All of that to say, we don’t need to light the world on fire this season. If we can put together a solid season that can be built upon next year, that will be a massive win. Don’t forget: we have all three DP slots still available and are 18 short months away from a shiny new soccer-specific stadium. Playoff contention will come in time.
DSS: MNUFC re-signed multiple players from their time in NASL. Will those players be looked at as key contributors or simple squad depth?
EPL: The answer is somewhere between the two. We brought up a fair number of players from our time in NASL: defenders Justin Davis, Brent Kallman, and Kevin Venegas; midfielders Ibson, and Miguel Ibarra; and forward Christian Ramirez. Of those, Justin Davis, Miguel Ibarra, and Christian Ramirez saw time in our first MLS match last week in Portland, though Ibarra and Ramirez only saw time as late-match subs.
Davis looks like a lock to continue starting at left back, while both Ibarra and Ramirez should have earned more minutes or a starting spot with their solid performances in Portland last week. We’ll see if that holds true come match day on Sunday against Atlanta for our first MLS match at home. We have a deep midfield this season, so I won’t be shocked if Ibarra continues to be a sub / super sub due to an abundance of quality at that position. If I were a betting man, I’d wager Ramirez works his way into the starting XI sooner rather than later. He’s a quality player with a lot to offer a team that needs to be able to finish on deep runs into the opponent’s third.
DSS: Though a disappointing result, what were your major takeaways from the opening match?
EPL: Any 5-1 loss is a tough one to swallow. There were plenty of positive takeaways from the match, but even the most optimistic fan needed a minute to lick their wounds after that thumping on national TV. That said, Minnesota showed a more well rounded and creative team than many expected. Portland was always going to be a tough match, particularly with how effective their attacking corps appears to be this season.
I’m thrilled that forward Kevin Molino - whom we paid a king’s ransom for this offseason - continues to look like the spark that will take our offense to the next level. I would argue that tactical formation dampened his impact until coach Adrian Heath made adjustments late in the match and subbed on Ibarra and Ramirez, but even so Molino was a solid attacker that was able to give a weakened Portland defense something to keep tabs on.
Another shining bright spot was defender Francisco Calvo, one of the many players that left Costa Rican club team Saprissa for MLS over the offseason. Calvo was aggressive, showed stamina late in the match, and consistently positioned himself to break up dangerous attacks as they developed. He seems to have great vision and a good read on offensive tactics, which will be keep as he anchors our defense as a center back.
Thanks for the chat, Haris. Even though we’re meeting to compete, I know a lot of Minnesota fans are excited to show some Minnesota Nice and welcome any Atlanta fans the see to our neck of the woods for a fun United-United match.