Thursday was a travel day for MNUFC, as the Loons’ final leg of their preseason preparations is in Portland. Minnesota will play three games in seven days, two against MLS competition and one against Viking FK of Norway. By the time next Sunday rolls around, we should have a better idea of what this team is going to look like - especially since good sense has finally prevailed, and Loons fans (the ones in Minnesota at least) can watch at least two of the three games.
Among other things, by the times the games kick off, we may have a better idea of who’s officially on the team. Reports have indicated that Kervin Arriaga is finally allowed out of Honduras and can get to the United States to officially sign with MNUFC, though it remains to be seen whether he’ll meet the team in Portland or just train in Minnesota. Questions still remain about Luis Amarilla and Bongokuhle Hlongwane, as well.
In terms of what will be decided on the field, though, here’s the top questions in my mind.
1) Who will start in goal? Despite rumors and expectations, both Tyler Miller and Dayne St. Clair are still on the roster, and now for a second straight year, Minnesota has a decision to make. St. Clair, signed long-term and still young, seems to be the keeper of the future. Miller, who started 30 straight games last year and only missed the playoff game due to Covid, is the incumbent starter. Do the Loons decide it’s time for the youngster to be the man between the sticks? Do they keep Miller, signed for one more year with a team option for the following year, as the steady, safe choice at the back?
2) What will the front three look like? The Loons certainly have plenty of options. Franco Fragapane seems likely to stay at left wing, but beyond him, Minnesota can mix and match. Robin Lod is the returning starter on the right, but at times he’s looked like the team’s best option at striker. Do they dare move him there and give someone else - Niko Hansen, perhaps, or someone like Abu Danladi, a chance on the right? Adrien Hunou ended up being the default choice at striker last season, but if he struggles again, do the Loons dare put their Designated Player striker on the bench and let Luis Amarilla or Danladi or Lod lead the line? Is there somehow a way for Amarilla and Hunou and Lod and Fragapane to all fit into the same att- no, I can’t even keep going with that thought, since none of those guys are going to track back even a little bit. Throw in Emanuel Reynoso and you’d have five guys standing in the opposing six-yard box, idly watching five beleagured teammates defend against ten opponents. Actually, maybe that should be its own question.
3) Will anybody track back even a little bit? Reynoso and Fragapane are amazingly talented offensive players, and a certain amount of energy conservation is expected from offensively creative players. But there were games last year when both refused to do any defensive work at all, especially in the second halves, which put a huge burden on the Minnesota defensive midfield to somehow cover most of the field.
4) Is Romain Métanire healthy? The right back injured his hamstring in the playoffs against Portland, barely three months ago, and the Loons have said consistently that they are “hopeful” he’ll be ready for the beginning of the year. If he plays at all in the Rose City, then maybe he’ll be ready come February 26. Then again, Minnesota’s first few games are in the frigid north, so maybe they’d be better off keeping him out of the deep freezes, especially since they have both Oniel Fisher and DJ Taylor ready to deputize.
5) Will Hassani Dotson get a chance to be the man in central midfield? 2021 wasn’t a lost year for Dotson, exactly, but he certainly never got a chance to make any particular position his own. My notes may be off, but I don’t think he ever started more than three games in a row last year in a particular spot on the field, even though he started 26 times. With Ozzie Alonso and Jan Gregus gone, and Wil Trapp set to be the stay-at-home defensive midfielder, Dotson has a chance to be the ball-carrying link between defense and attack for the Loons.
Starting on Sunday at 2pm, against Portland, we should begin to get some answers about these open questions.