MNUFC has one point after one game of the 2022 season. I don’t think that’s disappointing, because that point came on the road against Philadelphia, a very good team - and also because that point means the Loons have already exceeded their point total from the first four games of 2021. Here are a few things that I think we learned from the 1-1 draw.
1) This already seems like the deepest MNUFC squad of the MLS era. At the last minute, the Loons ended up with three key injuries. Left back Chase Gasper, right back Romain Métanire, and defensive midfielder Wil Trapp all missed week one, forcing the Loons to already dip into their bench. And you know what? It was fine. Brent Kallman came in at center back, Bakaye Dibassy slid over to left back, new signing Oniel Fisher started at right back, and new signing Kervin Arriaga slotted into the midfield (according to Adrian Heath, his clearance to play came through while the team was on the plane - they flew him to Philadelphia solely in the hope his paperwork might come through.)
Both Dibassy and Fisher did fine at outside back. Arriaga was good in his first MLS game, showing an impressive motor and the ability to link play from back to front. And the one Philadelphia goal came from a comedy of defensive mistakes - Emanuel Reynoso not clearing a corner and giving the Union a second chance, two MNUFC players failing to close down a potential cross, Tyler Miller misjudging the ball’s flight, Cory Burke popping up for a header between two Loons defenders who were marking nobody.
Okay, a comedy of errors is bad, but apart from that the defense was just fine, even though it was missing two of four starters in the back line as well, as the team’s captain and starting defensive midfielder.
2) Rumors of a lack of team grit have been greatly exaggerated. The Loons won more tackles than the Union did (10 to 9) as well as almost as many duels (63 to 60 - this according to the official MLS stats). It was a day for 50-50 balls and a day for battles in the midfield, and the Loons kept coming out with the ball and starting counter-attacks - in fact, at times it looked like nothing so much as board battles for the puck in hockey, with the Loons winning the battle, digging out the puck and getting it to the net.
Minnesota also kept things tight for the final half-hour when Philly was looking for a winner, and actually was the stronger team at the end, waiting for stoppage time for the single best chance of the match - an Adrien Hunou breakaway that Andre Blake tipped over the crossbar.
3) Adrien Hunou 2022 looks like Adrien Hunou 2021 so far. Of course it is unfair to talk about him missing a single chance, the smallest of all possible sample sizes, but it’s not like Hunou made things particularly difficult for Blake. His shot was directly at the keeper, and may even have been going over the net; depending on where you look, this chance was somwhere in the region of 0.25 expected goals. So after one game, and one attempted shot, Adrien Hunou is again leading the Loons in not finishing chances.
4) Bongokuhle Hlongwane may not be destined for MNUFC2 after all. According to the broadcast team, Hlongwane was even set to start the match at one point. Instead, the young South African settled for a first 20 minutes in a Minnesota jersey, including one extremely exciting moment in stoppage time where he picked up the ball on the edge of the penalty area, beat one defender, went past another, drew back his right foot to give MNUFC’s social media team an easy way to reach all of its engagement metrics for an entire year… and saw his shot go so wide it was nearer the corner flag than the far post. Such is life, I guess. But right now it seems like the coaching staff considers Hlongwane a player for now, not for later.
5) Emanuel Reynoso really could pick up more than 15 yellow cards this year. One match, one card. Reynoso had eight yellows and a red (later rescinded) last season, tied for the team lead with Chase Gasper and one ahead of the eternally-belligerent Ozzie Alonso. As time goes by, Reynoso raises his card game in MLS. The team record appears to be Francisco Calvo’s 11 cards in 2018; the league record is the 15 yellows that Leandro González Pirez picked up for Inter Miami just last season. Let us note that David Beckham once led the league in cards (2011), and just say that Reynoso has much to live up to in the talented/irritable department.
For more reaction from Saturday, I was on a live-stream / podcast / whatever kind of thing for Sota Soccer after the match.