Minnesota’s sports feel very familiar, at the moment. The Vikings missed the playoffs, and the only thing fans can’t quite decide is whether everyone involved should be drawn and quartered, or merely fired. The Wolves are inconsistent. The Wild were briefly the NHL’s top team, and have lost five in a row since, returning to their usual state of mild, basic competence.
With the present so unexciting and the past mostly barren, it’s understandable that fans get excited about the future - and right now, Minnesota’s teams do seem to have a bumper crop of hope. The Lynx have Napheesa Collier and Crystal Dangerfield, the 2019 and 2020 Rookies of the Year. The Wild have Kirill Kaprizov, who won the Calder Trophy in 2021. The Wolves have Anthony Edwards, who should have won Rookie of the Year in 2021. The Vikings have Justin Jefferson, who was on the 2020 NFL All-Rookie Team. Even the Twins have a passel of prospects that, increasingly, seem like they’ll have to shoulder the load next year - you know, if baseball plays any games in 2022.
And then there is Minnesota United.
When making these “Minnesota’s youth movement” lists, Emanuel Reynoso’s name occasionally pops up, but Bebelo turned 26 in November. This makes him young, for the Loons, but comparatively old; he’s one day younger than Karl-Anthony Towns, for example. And soccer is not like baseball, where most players need several years of professional experience before being ready for the big leagues, where 25 is still quite young. Soccer is a young man’s game. Major League Soccer made two major player sales this week; Orlando City sold Daryl Dike to West Brom for $9.5 million, and FC Dallas sold Ricardo Pepi to Augsburg for $20 million. Dike is 21, Pepi is 18.
The Loons have none of that type of teenage star. Every year, MLSSoccer.com does a list of the league’s best players called 22 Under 22. The league even has an entire “U22 Initiative”, with special roster designations and statuses, all designed to bring more young players through the league (and, potentially, turn them into players that can be sold, the same way as Dike and Pepi.)
Here is the Loons’ entire list of U22 players from last season, along with the number of minutes they played:
There is one player to highlight, though - not in that U22 group, but younger than Reynoso. He didn’t make the MLS 22 Under 22 list in either year he was eligible, but while other players got the hype, he was getting minutes, and now, he’s become a key piece of Minnesota’s plans: Hassani Dotson.
Dotson joined the Loons out of Oregon State in 2019, a second-round pick in the MLS SuperDraft. If you’re not an MLS fan, that probably sounds better than it is; a second-round pick in most other sports is a key prospect, a piece for the future. In MLS, a second-round pick is “a guy who will almost surely never play for your team.” Mostly, you don’t bother to learn the names of the second-round picks.
Confounding expectations, Dotson was immediately thrown into the mix for the Loons, and in the starting lineup by May. Since then, his role has been to provide depth at seemingly every position on the field. In 2021, he started games at left back, right back, defensive midfield (6), central midfield (8), attacking midfield (10), and at both left and right wing - seven out of the eleven positions in the Loons’ preferred 4-2-3-1.
Here’s a list of the United players who’ve played the most minutes over the past three seasons:
That speaks to how important Dotson is already for the Loons - without a set position, he’s still played the fifth-most minutes for the team over his career.
With Greguš and Alonso departing, however, it does seem like it may be time for Dotson to take a step forward, at the age of 24. If the season started today, he’d be a starting midfielder, the place that he appears to be most comfortable on the field. He’s been fine as a fullback, less so as a winger, but that number 8 spot seems like it fits his particular skillset the best.
Plus, it gives him a chance of adding to his “Bangers Only” tally.
He doesn’t have the trophies of Collier or Dangerfield or Kaprizov or Jefferson, or the highlight reel of Edwards. But as Minnesotans latch on to any hope they can find, I’ve got hope for a breakout season from Dotson - still young! - in 2022.