by OSC Special Edition
March 1, 2017 - Major League Soccer (MLS)
Minnesota United FC's debut MLS club might not be the sexiest team in the West, but Head Coach Adrian Heath could work some magic with the solid players that the club has picked up in the expansion draft and brought along from it's NASL days. The Loons have their work cut out for them, but an outside shot at the playoffs isn't out of the question.
Heath knows his way around an expansion team. He helped Orlando City make the transition from USL to MSL in 2015. Minnesota has the same tight budget constraints that Heath is familiar with. Most of Minnesota's roster is comprised of newcomers, except standouts from the club's NASL side like Justin Davis, Kevin Venegas, Christian Ramirez, Ibson, and Brent Kallman.
With the No. 1 overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft, MNUFC took Abu Danladi out of UCLA. The 21-year-old's raw talent is undeniable. How quickly he adjusts to MLS will be a big factor in the club's offensive success in 2017.
Minnesota paid $650,000 in allocation money for Kevin Molino, who, along with former Montreal attacker Johan Venegas, gives the team some much-needed MLS experience in attack.
Defensively, Francisco Calvo was the crown jewel of the club's signings. The 24-year-old center back joins from Saprissa with plenty of international experience for Costa Rica under his belt already. Experienced Norway international, Vadim Demidov, joined from SK Brann to partner Calvo in central defense.
Miguel Ibarra, whose excellent performance with the Loons in NASL resulted in a surprise call-up to the U.S. national team in 2014, comes back to the club after struggling to find playing time for much of his time with Liga MX side Club Leon.
Defensive solidity will be crucial to the Loons success, with Finnish international Rasmus Schuller and MLS veteran Collen Warner holding down the defensive midfield in a 4-2-3-1. Mohammed Saeid and Collin Martin are candidates to see time in the middle as well.
Francisco Calvo and Vadim Demidov will be expected to lock down the center back roles, but there are plenty of question marks at outside defense. Justin Davis and Swiss veteran Jerome Theisson are chief among them.
Starting out wide will be Kevin Molino, but he'll likely drift inward and interchange with Johan Venegas to find the ball more. On the other flank, on-loan attacker Bashkim Kadrii and U.S. national teamer Miguel Ibarra will battle for a starting spot. Watch out for Josh Gatt as well. The former U.S. international could be a factor out wide if he's fully recovered from a nightmare string of injuries.
Christian Ramirez, who lit up the NASL with the Loons, will get the first crack up top but No. 1 overall draft pick Abu Danladi should see time as well.
All of these moving parts could absolutely come together to form a more perfect United, but that isn't likely. There should be some success on the pitch that comes with the solid foundation of players that Adrian Heath has at his disposal. However, don't expect a Cinderella story from the inaugural Minnesota United FC club. There are just too many unknown factors of youth and foreign play to give them higher than 8 or 9 in the Western Conference.