It’s one of the largest payoffs any sports fan can receive. You’ve been loyal to a franchise from the very beginning. You’ve sat in the stands, sometimes in sub 30-degree weather, and endured loss after loss. Then finally they break through and put a consistently competitive product on the court/field/rink.
In year three of the well-known “3-Year Plan,” Minnesota United achieved that breakthrough and made the MLS Playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
From Angelo Rodriguez’s volley for the opening goal of the stadium’s first game to Vito Mannone’s penalty kick save to seal a home win over FC Dallas. The inaugural season of Allianz Field was filled with more memorable moments and highlight-reel worthy plays from the home squad than any supporter or expert could have dreamed.
In fact, the Loons were a Decision Day win away from earning the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference.
The team exceeded so many expectations that even a sloppy 2-1 home playoff loss to the LA Galaxy couldn’t sour the impressive season Minnesota achieved.
Now they’re a contender, and now comes the pressure.
If you’re to ask any knowledgeable supporter of the team or analyst of the league, the expectation is that the Loons take yet another step forward and get themselves further into the playoffs in 2020. But it won’t be easy, as the question marks regarding next year’s roster are piling up.
This offseason, star forward Darwin Quintero has been dealt to Houston, Miguel Ibarra is a free agent and assuredly not returning to the black and blue, 2017 first-round pick Abu Danladi was picked up by Nashville in the expansion draft, and Vito Mannone – the 2019 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year – has yet to re-sign, despite reportedly being offered a contract that would make him the highest paid keeper in the league.
Furthermore, more reports indicate a strong likelihood that Mannone either goes back to his home country of Italy to sign with a Serie A club or joins a team in England’s EFL Championship, one tier below the holy grail Premier League.
With all of this movement and uncertainty regarding next season’s roster, who will the Loons lean on in 2020 and what needs to happen to maintain their current trajectory?
- The defense – a huge reason for their success last year – remains unchanged in 2020. MLS Defender of the Year Ike Opara, rookie sensation Chase Gasper, veteran Loon Michael Boxall, and Malagasy national Romain Metanire are all back along with the defensive midfield presence of Ozzie Alonso.
- The young studs on this squad are primed to take the next step in 2020, and they’ll need to do just that. US U23 nationals Mason Toye and Hassani Dotson will take on much larger attacking roles in the absence of Quintero, 19-year old DP Thomas Chacon will have the opportunity to show his value, Gasper is one of the best young defenders in the league, and Marlon Hairston – acquired in the Quintero trade – is just 25 and only two years removed from a breakout 2017 season with Colorado.
- If Mannone turns down Minnesota’s reported offer and opts to return to Europe, finding a replacement of equal or greater value will be difficult but not impossible. Bobby Shuttleworth has plenty of MLS experience, but the difference between Shuttleworth and a keeper of Mannone’s caliber was very apparent when comparing 2018 to 2019. Twenty-two-year old Dayne St. Clair could be a major part of this organization’s future, but he’s very green and likely not ready for the challenge of being this organization’s backbone in 2020. This means next year’s keeper will likely either be Mannone or a new signee. Mannone was arguably MNUFC’s most impactful piece in 2019, and finding another piece just as impactful could be the front office’s most difficult task in their three seasons as an MLS organization.
- With the losses of Quintero and Danladi, the current roster setup is extremely thin on the attacking front. Toye, Dotson, Ethan Finlay, and Angelo Rodriguez are the only attacking-oriented players on this roster. Finding another true forward, or at least an additional piece who can play primarily in attack will take a ton of pressure off the midfield, which will have to stretch itself into the attacking third more than occasionally as it stands right now.
No matter what happens between now and the March 1 season opener in Portland, there will be more memorable moments, more jaw-dropping plays and more Wonderwall in 2020. Will there be enough of each to get back to and advance further in the playoffs? That could be decided in the next two months.