It’s week one of the MLS season, which seems impossible, what with the winter storm warnings blaring over today’s airwaves. Philadelphia’s weather is a little less ominous - it’ll be nearly 70 midweek before being mid-30s on Saturday - but still, this is too darn early for soccer season.
The big MNUFC news from the weekend was Luis Amarilla, who officially arrived on Saturday after being some version of “on the way” for approximately a month. Amarilla signed Saturday, played on Saturday evening against Viking FK, and promptly scored a goal, meaning that he quite honestly might be at the top of the striker depth chart for Saturday’s game.
This is an overreaction, but not entirely unwarranted. What little we saw of Amarilla in 2020 showed that he certainly can finish his chances, and Minnesota really hasn’t had someone else at striker who did that since Amarilla got hurt two seasons ago - unless you count Robin Lod, who’s playing on the wing.
It will be utterly fascinating to see who is in Minnesota’s lineup on Saturday - and not just at striker, either. Amarilla’s late arrival means that the Loons have shored up just about every position on the field.
Back at the start of the offseason, I wrote about how the Loons badly needed depth. Last year’s first-choice XI is mostly intact, apart from Ozzie Alonso’s departure: Miller, Métanire, Boxall, Dibassy, Gasper, Trapp, Dotson, Reynoso, Fragapane, Lod, Hunou.
If you were going to pick a second team, outside of last year’s team, here’s what it might look like:
- GK: Dayne St. Clair
- DF: Oniel Fisher, Brent Kallman, Nabi Kibunguchy, DJ Taylor
- MF: Joseph Rosales, Kervin Arriaga
- FW: Niko Hansen, Abu Danladi, Bongokuhle Hlongwane, Luis Amarilla
That’s kind of an exciting team? You’ve got a keeper with MLS experience, including playoff experience. You’ve got a back line that has two up-and-coming young players, and two veterans with 75+ MLS games. You’ve got Honduras’s central midfield of the future. You’ve got a front line with two guys who have been the main guy for the Loons before, plus an unknown South African potential star.
Look back at the Loons’ lineups from 2017 and 2018; you’d probably take this team over almost all of those squads.
Honestly, it’s been a pretty successful offseason for Minnesota. Last year’s team couldn’t finish chances, and went through a midseason period when it was not entirely unrealistic to consider which backup keeper would make the best emergency striker. The team used the offseason to build up depth across the field, and acquire, depending on who you consider a “striker,” somewhere between two and four additional strikers - and not just guys in the “declining veteran” stage of their careers.
Sure, the Loons didn’t make any particularly splashy signings. But they still have Emanuel Reynoso to create offensive chances, their defense was solid again last year and is all back for another go, and they’ve done a lot of work to shore up their biggest weaknesses.
And, lest we forget, the core of this team has made the playoffs three years running.
Last season, the entire year was an uphill slog after MNUFC lost its first four games of the year. That simply cannot happen again, even though the early schedule is not favorable: two road games in the northeast and a home game against one of the top teams in the West.
Unbelievably, we’ll start finding out what the Loons are about in five days.