For pretty much all of the 2021 season, Minnesota United’s goalscoring - or lack of it - was a pretty heated topic. It wasn’t a lack of offensive talent or even a lack of offensive creativity; the team, as a whole, simply could not find the back of the net.

According to the Expected Goals numbers from the venerable American Soccer Analysis, the Loons had the sixth-best offense in the league last year, as well as a top-10 defense. Yet by the end of the year, the scoreboard showed that Minnesota had actually allowed one more goal than they’d scored, tallying 41 and giving up 42. Their Expected Goal Difference was just above 9, meaning that they underperformed the xG by ten goals - the fourth-worst mark in the league, behind only Toronto (a disastrous tire fire), Cincinnati (saddled with the worst goalkeeping of all time), and LAFC (apparently cursed by a jade monkey’s paw).

Not converting chances was almost a team-wide thing. Striker Adrien Hunou underperformed expectations by nearly two goals, a mark somehow almost tied by backup striker Juan Agudelo (who only played 307 minutes). Robin Lod, who exceeded his xG mark by a rounding error, was the only blameless attacking player.

The lack of goals became one of the defining storylines of the season. In 34 games, the Loons were shut out eight times, and only scored more than two goals in a game twice (in a third, they got three, but one of them was a Los Angeles Galaxy own goal). Especially in the second half of the season, the consistent refrain was “MNUFC had chances, but just couldn’t finish.”

Minnesota brought in Abu Danladi in the offseason, and is on the verge of bringing back Luis Amarilla too, in the hopes of correcting this. And so it’s all the more frustrating that the story of Minnesota’s preseason so far is “Well, they’re having some trouble scoring goals.”

In four preseason games, the Loons have been shut out three times. They did get five goals in the other game, but only one of those came from a recognized first-team striker (Danladi).

Once again, on Wednesday against Real Salt Lake, Hunou was conspicuous by his absence from the starting lineup. The coaching staff has publicly praised Danladi more than any other player, too, and Danladi has started both games of the Portland tournament so far.

It’s starting to seem obvious, to me at least, that Danladi was not only cover at an important position, as well as being a still-young player for whom the Loons coaching staff still thinks the best is yet to come. Danladi is also a warning shot across Hunou’s bow, a message that I would imagine is being received loud and clear.

Sure, Hunou may be a designated player; according to the MLSPA numbers, he’s the highest-paid player on the team. But this is a message being sent, that apart from any contracts, minutes on the pitch will have to be earned.

Which makes his second-half miss against RSL even more of a match to dry tinder.

(By the way, this whole Twitter thread of clips from the RSL game, from Eli Hoff, is worth your time.)

At the moment, if the fans made a depth chart for the team at striker, the top two choices would likely be Amarilla (who doesn’t actually play for the team right now) and Lod (who is the starting right wing). If you asked social media, the correct answer would be Bongokuhle Hlongwane, and the team did post a clip of him finishing in training and eating an enormous steak, so I’m sold. Yebo!

All I know is that the team had better score some goals tomorrow against Viking FK, or the PANIC buttons will be in use across MNUFC fandom.

In other MNUFC news, it’s kit release day, one of those days that brings out the true cynic in me. I recognize that this is pretty much a sports-wide thing nowadays, to have a new jersey every year. It just bothers me that every year there’s an expectation that you give monopolist behemoth Fanatics a huge wodge of cash for the newest thing.

If it cost $20, I’d be on board. But then again, my most deep-seated and heartfelt belief is that absolutely nothing should cost more than $20.

MLS as a whole has been dumping a few new kits every day, and my favorite thing is that they all have faintly meaningless names. Vancouver: “The Hoop x This City Kit.” LA Galaxy: “City of Dreams” kit.

The very best part is that Colorado, a team that gives every impression that they have forgotten to sign any players or remember which city their stadium is in (yes, except when they win the Western Conference, it’s confusing), does not seem to have bothered to name their kit, which is referred to just as “2022 club jersey.” Just perfectly on brand for them.

I’m sure this year’s MNUFC jersey will look cool. I’m hopeful that it will have the wing from the NASL days, which last year’s jersey did. But I can’t help but be a grump about how much it costs.

This has been the “everybody’s dad grumbles about the price of things these days” section of the blog.

Reading material: