Analysis

Minnesota United is out of its league: Why everyone in MLS saw this coming

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Eleven goals conceded in two matches is an MLS record, and it was all predictable heading into the season.

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After two games in Major League Soccer, things are historically bad for Minnesota United – and it doesn’t feel like there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Minnesota has been overrun by both the Portland Timbers and fellow expansion side Atlanta United. A 6-1 loss to Atlanta on Sunday followed a 5-1 loss to the Timbers last week, and there are more concerns about this team than there were at the start of the season, which doesn’t seem possible.  

What, exactly is wrong?

After the 6-1 stomping on Sunday night I had conversations with four MLS sources, all of whom cited both a lack of individual talent and the lack of planning that compounded those problems. None of those sources were overly-surprised at the early-season struggles. Why? Because everyone in MLS saw it coming.

Months ago, league sources told SI’s Grant Wahl that they believed Minnesota could be historically bad. The reason was that Minnesota was so far behind in preparing for its move to MLS. It’s tough enough to bring 30 players together in one offseason, but so much of this team was put together last-minute and without a clear plan. The coach was hired in November. Players were joining preseason as it went on. International spots were acquired on the fly. There simply wasn’t time for a group that lacked individual quality to form any sort of cohesion.

Minnesota may not have had the extended timeline of Atlanta, but it did have a year to go and prepare, even if it was during the NASL season. Instead, Minnesota had just two players under contract in mid-December.

The results of the rush job are clear, especially on the back line. Several of the goals scored against Minnesota have been glaring individual mistakes.

The transition from the NASL to MLS is as difficult as it has ever been, yet, Minnesota’s front office waited to look for competition at key spots. At the MLS Combine, there was surprise in league circles that Minnesota was going to stay put at fullback despite reservations from many in the league about the quality of players. Eventually, the Loons caught up to the consensus, but it wasn’t until a week before the regular season that they added Jerome Thiessen, who immediately stepped into a starting role this week. Now, Minnesota is on the market for a starting left back, too.

Jermaine Taylor, who was cut free as a reserve in Portland, has started at fullback the first two games. The move was made out of necessity, but it has not worked out well. To make matters worse, Minnesota’s center back, Vadim Demidov, has looked completely out of his depth against both Portland and Atlanta. A converted defensive midfielder brought in with Targeted Allocation Money, Demidov has been targeted and picked apart. It would be a shock if he remains in the lineup at that spot in Minnesota’s next game against the Colorado Rapids.

My guess is Brent Kallman gets his chance in MLS against the Colorado Rapids next week. Minnesota coach Adrian Heath should also consider moving Francisco Calvo to left back, and Bobby Shuttleworth will likely also need to step into a starting role in goal.

Minnesota opted to wait until winter to finalize its roster. The club didn’t want to spring for a Designated Player, thinking it could spread the wealth with Targeted Allocation Money and scramble enough to get by until the summer, or even until next season. It was loyal to its NASL past, both in depth signings and with big-money contracts for Miguel Ibarra and Christian Ramirez, which are considered by some around the league to be gambles.

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

That philosophy may have worked a couple years ago, but the quality of MLS has accelerated over the past two seasons. The frustrating part is that there were plenty of moves to make within the league that could have helped, and the Atlanta team that trounced Minnesota 6-1 is evidence of that.

You don’t need Arthur Blank money to trade for Michael Parkhurst or sign Jacob Peterson. It doesn’t take millions to go get Tyrone Mears or Zach Loyd, who has yet to even play for Atlanta. Those types of MLS signings were in play this offseason for Minnesota, but the lack of a game plan saw the expansion team fall back on deals in Scandinavia and its NASL roster.

There are questions up and down this team about where and how the money was spent and now what must be done to fix it. It’s a long shopping list, and unfortunately, it doesn’t look too different from the one that existed three months ago.

If Minnesota doesn’t fix things soon, the Loons could live up to the preseason predictions of so many around the league.

THE FINAL THIRD

Columbus locks up its midfield core

Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Columbus announced a contract extension for midfielder Justin Meram last week, and according to a league source, that is not the only move the Crew made to keep its core together.

Columbus also recently finalized a contract extension with homegrown midfielder Wil Trapp that is designed to keep him with his hometown Crew for the next three or four seasons, according to the source. Trapp turned 24 in January and has played 95 regular season games with Columbus. His new deal could keep him in MLS and with Columbus through the 2020 season. Trapp made $178,250 last season, but that number will jump significantly under his new contract. Meram’s new deal required the use of TAM, and Trapp’s is extension may also fall into that category.

Trapp has been on the brink of the U.S. men’s national team pool and is still considered one of the top players in his age bracket in MLS. This season will be an important one for the midfielder, who is growing into a bigger role as he begins his fifth professional season.

Ibra to Galaxy?

Last week, Wahl reported the LA Galaxy has put in a record bid for Zlatan Ibrahimovic and while the league is moving away from older DPs, there are always exceptions.

Ibra is a talent and personality that is worth bringing into the team, even at 35 years old. He’s been the best player this season for Manchester United, and he would fill stadiums and sell jerseys. It’s a smart move for the Galaxy, which knows it will be competing against LAFC in 2018.

Right now, the Galaxy looks disjointed. Two losses in two games, both at home and both against Western Conference rivals, is a fairly rotten hole to dig yourself. We’ve seen early-season slumps overcome – the 2016 Red Bulls are the best example – and if the Galaxy bring Ibra into the fold in the summer window, it could become a playoff team and MLS Cup contender. He’s that type of difference-maker.

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Paul Tenorio is a reporter for FourFourTwo. Follow him on Twitter @PaulTenorio.