Last week I wrote about the questions the Loons needed to answer during their preseason tournament in Portland, so we might as well start with those five topics, following MNUFC’s 1-0 loss to Portland in the team’s first televised game of the 2022 preseason.
Topic #1: Goalkeeping. Tyler Miller started in goal and Dayne St. Clair wasn’t even on the bench, so that (temporarily) settled the question of who’ll be the keeper for this team. I think we can all rest assured that if only one of them is available, the other one will absolutely be the starter.
Topic #2: The front three. Abu Danladi started up front. On the one hand, this is not notable, since Danladi is the team’s only striker that’s been in camp for the entire preseason, and the coaching staff has been raving about how prepared he is. On the other hand, it feels like a signal that the job is up for grabs, and isn’t guaranteed to Adrien Hunou or anyone else.
That’s not totally true elsewhere on the field; for example, Robin Lod was a late arrival, but started at right wing. Once Luis Amarilla arrives, you can absolutely see Adrian Heath swapping out strikers as the season goes along, depending on who’s playing well and who’s not playing well.
It’s a luxury that Heath didn’t have last year. For much of the season, he had Hunou and the not-exactly-in-form Fanendo Adi, so it’s no wonder he stuck with Hunou all year and did his best to try to build him up. This year, if Hunou’s not producing, Heath has options. That’s good for the team, and certainly a sign that Hunou will have to settle in and earn his minutes this year.
Topic #3: Right back. Romain Métanire started the game at right back, which was a surprise, and for 30 minutes I figured that the question of whether Métanire was healthy was therefore a settled issue. Then Métanire sat down on the field and headed straight for the bench when the ball went out of play, so like everyone else, I assumed the question was still settled, but in the other direction: no, obviously he is not healthy, he couldn’t even last 45 minutes. Then Heath said postgame that he wasn’t hurt after all, just not over-extending himself.
So Romain Métanire’s health is now, if anything, an even more confusing question.
Topic #4: Winger defense? I put a note in that Friday blog, questioning whether anyone will actually track back on defense, but as I was watching on Sunday, I realized that the question really boils down to whether Franco Fragapane will track back. The Loons usually seem to drop into a 4-4-2 when the other team has the ball, with the striker and Reynoso in the opposition half. Lod isn’t exactly Mr. Defense either, but Fragapane is more likely to get caught upfield, or to lose the ball in his own half. It’s something to keep an eye on as the season progresses.
Topic #5: Hassani Dotson. I refuse to draw any conclusions after one preseason game. Watching him, there’s just a lot of responsbility on the role that he’s being asked to play. When the Loons are passing out of the back, Wil Trapp will be the one that drops in between the center backs, and Dotson is going to be the one that’s in front of Trapp in the center, and there’s a lot of skill required in that role, to get the ball from Trapp or a center back and then make a good pass to get the attack started. With the Loons, the default option is always “turn around and find Reynoso,” but there’s obviously more to it than that, and it’s maybe the key pass in the Loons offense other than any magic that Reynoso comes up with.
So to do that, and to defend in transition (which was more important on Sunday, giving the counter-heavy setup the Timbers love), and to try to win the ball in the center of the Loons defense… that’s just a lot. Heath and company have consistently said that they believe in Dotson, and they backed that up by not making a splashy DP-level midfield signing to replace Ozzie Alonso and Jan Gregus. Watching on Sunday, it feels like more than anything else, Dotson’s development is going to be the key to the early season for the Loons.
Give the brass credit, though, for also signing Kervin Arriaga, another young midfielder who could conceivably fill a similar role. Both he and South African forward Bongokuhle Hlongwane joined the team in Portland, and it sounds like both may well see the field on Wednesday against Real Salt Lake.
As for the macro picture, losing a preseason friendly means absolutely nothing, of course. Aside from the mixup that lead to the Timbers goal, the Minnesota defense did an excellent job of shot prevention, especially in transition; I don’t think Miller ended up making a single save. On offense, the Loons created some excellent chances - especially from set pieces - but couldn’t score, and the only thing bothersome about the not-that-newsworthy statement of “a team in preseason lacks sharpness” is that the story of the entire second half of last season was “the Loons created some excellent chances but couldn’t score.”
I still think the most encouraging thing, though, is that the Loons have options up front this year, in a way they did not during their second-half struggles last year.
Maybe they can score a bunch of goals a friendly against a team that plays with 10 men for 70 minutes, just so last year’s hangover can entirely be worked off.
Recent reading material:
- Two newcomers sit out Loons’ preseason loss in Portland - Jerry Zgoda, Star Tribune
- Minnesota United draftee Nabi Kibunguchy embraces Kenyan heritage - Jerry Zgoda, Star Tribune
- Hassani Dotson ready for next step: Loons’ No. 1 central midfielder - Andy Greder, Pioneer Press
(I’m always on the lookout for new reading material, send on Twitter if you have more.)