Getting fans to cheer again would be Emanuel Reynoso's hardest task

MNUFC number 10 Emanuel Reynoso
Image credit: Daniel Mick

On the field, Emanuel Reynoso is a magician. He sees spaces that others don’t see, and the ball appears in those spaces seemingly without being touched. Faced with impossible situations against defenders, he’ll pull a trick or two - a dip of the shoulder here, a fake cross there, a turn to the left and then back to the right - and somehow shimmy through a space that doesn’t seem to actually exist.

He provokes delight, on the field, the same way as watching a card or coin or person be produced from thin air on a Las Vegas stage provokes delight.

After his latest unscheduled absence, though, his most difficult trick of all would be getting Minnesota United fans to love him again.


Back in the MNUFC game

MNUFC number 10 Emanuel Reynoso
Image credit: Daniel Mick

I’m delighted to say that I’m back in the MNUFC coverage game, subbing in* for the Star Tribune’s Loons beat as they ramp up their Timberwolves coverage.

*I made a joke about substitute teachers in front of Loons head coach Eric Ramsay; it turns out they do not have the game “heads up, seven up” in Wales.

I started the day with a look back at last Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Real Salt Lake, looking at four things about the game that affected the result - and will affect the team going forward.

I figured I had better show my face at team training, too, if I’m going to start being around more, and so I went up to the National Sports Center today for the first time in a decade or so. When I got there, I found out that the team was about to release a statement regarding Emanuel Reynoso’s absence for the team, and so I also got to rush home afterwards and dash together a story about the statement, with a bit more context.

If this is the kind of excitement I’m going to get every day, I don’t know what I’ll do.

For the readers of this blog, thank you in advance for putting up with me as I talk Loons over the coming weeks. And thank you in advance for clicking on every link I send out and reading all of this coverage. It would mean a lot to me.


MNUFC2 in the US Open Cup: I get what MLS is doing, but it's so unnecessary

MNUFC2 takes on the Michigan Stars
Image credit: Minnesota United FC

I covered last night’s US Open Cup game at Allianz Field. Minnesota United 2, the Doubloons*, lost 2-0 in extra time to the indy-league Michigan Stars.

*The team refers to itself as the “Twosies”; I will not do this for any team above U9 level. There have to be a half-dozen better nicknames, including the one above.

In the record books, it’ll go down as a third-division team losing to another third-division team; as far as US Soccer is concerned, both MLS NEXT Pro (the MLS reserve league) and NISA (the only sanctioned non-USL, non-MLS men’s professional league in the country) count as third-division teams. (And as anyone with a passing familiarity with American soccer knows, the divisions themselves are a fanciful construct anyway, since there’s no system of promotion and relegation between them.)

But there was so much more going on this year, after MLS fought to exclude its teams from playing in the Open Cup. Commissioner Don Garber called the competition a “poor reflection on what we’re trying to do” in 2023, and in December, the league announced that they were pulling all of their teams from the 2024 edition, and playing MLS NEXT Pro teams instead.

After predictable backlash, MLS and US Soccer reached a compromise. Eight MLS teams are in the tournament, along with 11 MLS NEXT Pro sides - and so MNUFC’s only entry was not their first team, but MNUFC2.

Having been at the game last night, I guess I get why MLS didn’t want to be there. But I also know that taking first teams out of the competition just seems completely unnecessary.


College sports have to collapse

You can’t read much about the “Name, Image, and Likeness” era of college sports without the terms “Wild West” or “chaos” popping up. The Star Tribune has published an excellent series of articles about NIL, and maybe the only thing that’s clear is that nobody is willing to say the thing that seems obvious to me.

This whole thing is going to collapse.


MNUFC 2, Los Angeles FC 0: Good vibes only

MNUFC defender DJ Taylor
Image credit: Daniel Mick

There are road games, there are bad road games, and then there is what happened last time Minnesota United played Los Angeles FC.

The Loons scored three minutes into the game, gave up the lead 90 seconds later, and from there, the entire match was one-way traffic. Denis Bouanga had a hat-trick before halftime. Miguel Tapias scored an own goal. Dayne St. Clair had to make ten saves - one off the franchise record, and one of only six double-digit save performances in the entire league last year - and he STILL gave up four goals and lost 5-1.

It was an exercise in damage control, in saving face. Both Loons fullbacks were substituted at halftime. Asked why, manager Adrian Heath said, “I think it was pretty clear if you watched the game.” The next day, MNUFC ownership showed that they’d been watching - and let Heath go too.

Since then, the Loons have floundered to right the ship. It took them months to hire their new “chief soccer officer,” a hiring complicated by the fact that even after they hired him, he still had a different job. Their interim coach quit, and so they moved on to their second interim coach, mainly because he was one of the few people who still had a key to the building. They went the whole off-season without making major on-field changes to a team that had missed the playoffs and, by the end, possessed some of the sourest vibes you’ll find.

I was not alone in doubting them. But they are clearly geniuses and I am cleary dumb, because this team now has ten points - the best four-game start in team history - and leads the conference standings, having beaten LAFC 2-0 on Saturday night.

The very team that sent them into the tailspin has confirmed that they’ve somehow come out of it just fine.


MNUFC 1, Columbus Crew 1: Youth movement

Jordan Adebayo-Smith and Hassani Dotson react to Tani Oluwaseyi's late goal
Image credit: Daniel Mick

During the week, MNUFC chief soccer officer Khaled El-Ahmad met with the media, and made things overtly clear: youth is not an obstacle to overcome, with Minnesota United FC. Not anymore.

To underline the point, one of El-Ahmad’s first acts* at the National Sports Center was to tear down a wall that separated the first-team space from the academy space.

(*He probably hired it out, but I prefer to imagine him smashing through it like the Kool-Aid Man.)


The one-game wonders of Minnesota sports

I’ve spent a lot of time recently fooling around with the searches at Stathead, the indispensable statistics site, because it just introduced tools to search the FBRef data. I can now tell you, for example, that there are seven MNUFC players who made exactly one regular-season MLS start in their careers.

There are some fascinating memories in that group, but the most unexpected might be the tale of Cameroonian international Frantz Pangop.

He was already an international for Cameroon when he arrived before the 2018 season, and had even scored for them in a World Cup qualifier. Cameroon wasn’t some second-rate pushover; they won the Africa Cup of Nations in 2017, and had qualified for the previous two World Cups.

He also had never played outside Cameroon before joining MNUFC, except for a stint in the Swedish third division (?), which seems like it could be a typo on somebody’s part. Former assistant coach Ian Fuller was the one who scouted Pangop, but from what the player said about joining the Loons, it sounded like he’d been tricked by his agent. According to the inimitable Andy Greder of the Pioneer Press, he said - via translation from teammate Jerome Thiesson - “The offer my agent got me was from Minnesota, and I wanted to stick with my agent. He forgot to tell me it was really cold here.”

From the team’s perspective, his arrival - alongside countryman Bertrand Owundi Eko’o, who never played for Minnesota - was a case of “for this cheap, why not try something crazy?”. “We’re excited about what we’ve got with [the two],” said head coach Adrian Heath. “We felt it wasn’t a gamble, but an opportunity to bring in two young pieces for not a lot of financial output.”

He had visa and transfer problems - sound familiar? - but by the end of March, he was available for selection. He ended up playing nine times for the Loons in the league, of course starting once. He even scored a goal, albeit in a friendly against Deportivo Saprissa.

Minnesota talked about sending him on loan to the USL, but nothing came of it, and they declined his contract option after the 2018 season. After he left the Loons, he played two years in the Austrian Bundesliga… then popped up in 2023 playing for a semi-professional team in Ontario, Canada. I am not sure I understand this career arc.

Pangop will, I think, be remembered as an excellent example of a certain era for the Loons - one where they thought that they might be able to find players in places that other MLS teams might have missed.

At any rate, this got me thinking: which other Minnesota athletes were one-game wonders?