As we tread deeper and deeper into uncertainty regarding the status of the 2020 MLS season, it’s difficult not to acknowledge the glaring financial trouble this causes every club and the league itself.
As the other “big four” American sports leagues have the longevity and built up revenue to experience relatively limited impact from COVID-19, Major League Soccer is in a different boat.
Many of the league’s clubs, Minnesota United included, don’t have local paid TV contracts to fall back on. Their games are simply allowed to be broadcast locally with the assumption that the exposure will lead to more merchandise, attendance and concession revenue, which these organizations rely upon.
With each passing missed home game, these clubs sink deeper into unprecedented waters, and empty stadium games will be felt much more in MLS than other leagues.
The ongoing talks between the MLS Players Association and the league regarding salary percentage and how much money the players can expect to see this year are well documented, and the potential for a season without fans, or no season at all, has been forecast as well.
But let’s stray away, for a moment, from the off-field doom and gloom of Coronavirus’ impact on the league and talk about what a shortened MLS season will look like for Minnesota United on the field.
When you examine the Loons’ roster construction from top to bottom and compare that to what kind of team would benefit most from a condensed schedule, you’ll see that the Loons may be built to thrive in this scenario.
Any version of an adjusted 2020 MLS schedule calls for multiple games per week, multiple weeks in a row. Enduring that amount of minutes in such a short time requires an abundance of depth within your roster. In this scenario, the guy on the end of your bench is realistically just as important as the one who’s wearing the captain’s armband.
Just glancing at the MNUFC depth chart, you can see that every player in the dressing 18 over their first two regular season games is a more than serviceable option. The additions of “Big Celery” Aaron Schoenfeld and flex-piece Raheem Edwards were just two of the many moves made to bolster the bench. Even the addition of starting striker Luis Amarilla allows for wonder-kid Mason Toye to transition into being that “go-to” late-game option every team needs.
With players like Thomas Chacon, Jacori Hayes and James Musa among those on the outside looking in, the depth extends far further than just those who have walked through the tunnel so far in 2020.
We also haven’t even brought up Brent Kallman, who needs to sit out three more games to fulfill his suspension dating back to last season, but will be a crucial depth-piece within the Loons’ backline when he returns.
Sure, consecutive multi-game weeks will call for occasional “rest days” for every player on the starting 11, but what about when one gets injured?
It’s naive to think, especially when playing a condensed schedule, that every core player will magically remain unscathed through the entire season. Depth is obviously important here, but so is being able to mix and match your lineup, and that to me is where Minnesota United finds its biggest advantage.
It’s clear the Loons’ emphasis this offseason was to build options off the bench, but they also did so with pieces that can play multiple positions and play them well.
- Hassani Dotson showed the ability to excel in every third of the Minnesota United lineup last year.
- Marlon Hairston, acquired in the Darwin Quintero trade, can play both midfield and attack.
- Nineteen-year-old Thomas Chacon is an attacking midfielder who can play flexibly on the outside.
- James Musa served as a midfield/defensive hybrid player for USL’s Phoenix Rising and looks to take on the same role with Minnesota.
- Raheem Edwards has a history of being able to thrive anywhere on the left side of the field, whether that be in the front, middle or final third.
- Robin Lod got the monkey off his back, scoring his first MLS goal in Minnesota’s March 7 win at San Jose. The Finnish international provides a ton of versatility to the Loons’ frontline, being able to play on the left, middle or right side of the formation.
Depth and flexibility are great, but if too much pressure is put on one portion of the field to make up for the rest, then you’re not going to be successful, especially in a short-season scenario.
You could argue that this year, Minnesota has one of the most well-rounded starting lineups in the entire league.
You start up front with Amarilla, who’s already shown his 25 goal prediction might not be unreachable. His finishing touch is arguably the best Minnesota United has seen in its short MLS tenure.
In the middle, Ethan Finlay and Kevin Molino are the team MVPs through the first two games, while Jan Gregus continues to provide A+ service from outside the box, and Ozzie Alonso brings the leadership and consistency you expect from a veteran.
The Loons have a top-tier backline. Chase Gasper’s a USMNT call-up, Ike Opara’s the reigning and multiple time MLS Defender of the Year, and Michael Boxall and Romain Metanire are both All-Star caliber defenders.
Last, but not least, Tyler Miller spent last season guarding the goal for one of the greatest teams in MLS history (LAFC), and now finds himself doing the same in Minnesota. While the loss of Vito Mannone is still felt among the Loons’ faithful, there is a lot of confidence that Miller is the one to fill those shoes and help propel his squad to the next level.
From an organizational standpoint, a limited schedule likely in front of empty seats hits hard. But Minnesota United’s on-field potential may still provide a boost to those watching from home.