In Seth Rogen and James Franco’s 2014 box office flop The Interview, Franco uttered the now internet-famous phrase “We are same-same, but different, but still same.”
This sentence feels like the perfect way to describe Minnesota United’s midfield setup heading into the 2020 campaign.
On the surface, the Loons’ middle third may look the same as it was in 2019, with Ethan Finlay, Jan Gregus, Ozzie Alonso, Kevin Molino and Robin Lod among the starting 11. But a deeper dig reveals a completely retooled group of backups and reserves who provide a level of depth and support that the squad was lacking in that part of the pitch last season.
After spending a decade in Seattle as the heart and soul of the Sounders, Alonso signed with Minnesota United last offseason. The Honey Badger’s ability to win the ball in the open field and kickstart counter attacks makes him a perfect fit for Adrian Heath’s offensive vision, and that showed in his first season in Minnesota, as he was given the armband after the Loons traded then-captain Francisco Calvo to Chicago.
Alonso went on to start all 27 matches he played in, playing a major role as the team’s leader on and off the field.
Mark Watson and Co. thought extremely highly of Gregus as they pursued him last offseason, so much so that they offered the Slovakian one of the team’s coveted designated player contracts, pulling him from FC Copenhagen.
Gregus provides a level of big-match experience that’s mostly unmatched in MLS, having competed in the UEFA Champions League with Copenhagen and on the international stage with the Slovakian senior team.
In his first campaign with the Black and Blue, Gregus brought a level of physicality the team lacked in its first two MLS seasons. He also made an impact on the attack as well, tallying 12 assists on the year and being the squad’s main corner kick threat.
Finlay, a major Loons fan favorite, returned from an ACL injury early last year and immediately stepped back into the impact role he was forced out of in 2018. Playing in 33 games and starting 22, the former USMNT call-up provided a spark to the team’s offense, helping create goal-scoring chances while also finding himself in plenty of those opportunities as well.
Unfortunately, finding the back of the net seemed to be the kryptonite for Finlay. Taking an astounding 36 total shots on the season, only 11 were between the posts, and seven beat the keeper. If Finlay can add that finishing touch to the off-ball success he had last year, he could be one of the most important pieces for the Loons this season.
Lod was picked up via transfer in July of last year, and Heath immediately took advantage of the skills and versatility he provided. After being acquired, Lod appeared in 11 of Minnesota’s final 13 games, starting seven of them. The Finnish national spent a lot of his time on the left wing but has the ability to transition to the middle or even the right side if need be.
He will be called away on national team duty for Finland on a few occasions this year, where he’ll play alongside former Loon Rasmus Schuller.
One of the few remaining members from Minnesota United’s MLS inception, Molino returned to the pitch in April of last year after tearing his ACL the previous season. While he wasn’t the everyday starter like in 2017, Molino was still a frequent selection for Heath both in the starting 11 and off the bench. The 29-year-old tallied three goals and four assists in 17 appearances.
Molino is the odds-on favorite to start in central midfield.
The 31st overall pick from Oregon State in last year’s SuperDraft, Dotson put together a rookie campaign for the ages.
After two short stints off the bench early on in the season, the Federal Way, Wash., native received his first shot in the starting 11 May 25 against Houston and scored his first MLS goal two games later. Dotson went on to appear in 19 of the Loons’ final 22 matches,
The Rookie of the Year candidate capped off his wonderful year by scoring the game-winning goal against Sporting KC to clinch Minnesota’s first ever MLS Playoff spot.
At just 18 years of age, Chacon signed a designated player contract with the Black and Blue back in August. Watching the Uruguayan on the pitch, it doesn’t take long to see why Minnesota’s front office would invest so heavily in such a young talent.
Chacon has the ability to play on the left, right or middle, and ideally would develop into an elite No. 10. If this week’s preseason tilt with Portland is any indication, the 19-year-old will play a big-time, flexible role for the Loons in 2020.
Another new face in Minnesota, Hairston was acquired in the Darwin Quintero trade with Houston and is just two years removed from a breakout season with Colorado in 2017.
The Loons traded CB Wyatt Omsberg to Chicago for Edwards in early February, and the midfield/defensive flex option has wasted little time making an impact. Edwards made his first preseason start against the Portland Timbers earlier this week and notched a goal in that appearance.
Musa was signed on a free transfer from USL’s Phoenix Rising in January. With defensive depth being a primary need for Minnesota at the moment, the Englishman could be spending a majority of time at backup CB, but he’s more than capable of playing an impact role in the midfield as well.
Depth was a major priority for Minnesota United this offseason, and Hayes provides even more of it. The Black and Blue sent a third-round SuperDraft pick to FC Dallas for the 24-year-old and hope he can compete in camp and work himself into a backup role as the season goes on.
FC Madison is likely the initial destination for the 2020 SuperDraft pick. But, if the past is any indication, a rookie who starts the year in a Flamingos uniform could still very well finish the year as a major contributor in a Loons uniform.