Minnesota United will always have a connection to Atlanta United for the simple fact that both clubs entered the league in 2017. While Atlanta was a hit from the very beginning, Minnesota has taken a little longer to get off the ground - finishing ninth in the West in back-to-back seasons - but are in the playoff discussion a little past the third of the way through the 2019 campaign.
I had a chance to connect with Eli Hoff, the managing editor of E Pluribus Loonum, to get his thoughts on how Minnesota’s trending and what to expect from the Loons on Wednesday.
Minnesota United have found itself in the middle of the table with a few games in hand over the teams below them. What’s gone well for them, and what hasn’t gone as well throughout the first portion of this season?
Over the last few games, it’s (shockingly) been the defense that’s going well and the offense that’s struggling. There were five additions (all central midfield or more defensive) to the team this offseason, so improvement there was expected, but we just weren’t seeing it. After a 4-3 loss in a goalfest in Toronto, though, things have really calmed down -- just 3 goals allowed in 6 MLS games since that match, 4 of those being clean sheets.
The offense has stalled a bit, but it hasn’t been a major issue. It seems like the Loons can always muster just enough in terms of goal scoring to get a result.
Romario Ibarra has been loaned to Pachuca, with the Liga MX side having an option to buy on the completion of the loan. What went into that decision - was it him falling out of form or something deeper from an organizational standpoint?
There were some extremely understandable off-the-field concerns for Romario. Due to some immigration issues, his family (in Ecuador) was unable to be here with him. That’s obviously tough for anyone, especially someone trying to learn a new language and culture while playing a sport at a high level. This is speculation, but I don’t think the team saw the level of play they hoped for from him -- probably because of the off-the-field situation. Romario’s said that he’ll be able to be with his family in Mexico, so I think that will be good for him. His brother also plays in Liga MX, so there’s that too. There’s obviously a chance of a return, but I would guess that Mexico ends up being a better fit.
Darwin Quintero leads Minnesota with 5 goals, but only one of them has come from open play with the rest being from the penalty spot - he’s also scoreless in his last 6 matches. Does that lead to a bit of concern in regards to his overall contribution or has he been able to make his mark in other ways?
It’s starting to become a concern. Early in the season, he was getting all of those PKs to pad his numbers and he generally looked like the Quintero of last year. Then came a couple of knocks that took him out of games early or sent him to the bench, and of course a recovery period from those. Injury-wise, he seems to be fine now, but production-wise, he certainly isn’t. When we look at how strong this team could be in a 3-4-3 formation -- sans a number 10 -- well, there’s a case to be made for leaving him out based on form. That’ll be a hard pill for a lot of people to swallow, though.
Quintero definitely looks to be trying to break his slump for his part. He managed to make a chance for himself out of nothing by flicking the ball to himself and volleying it into the crossbar on Saturday, so his lethal abilities are in there somewhere.