Minnesota United brought 7 players with them to MLS from their 2016 NASL roster (2nd division.) They also added a former player who had thrived for United, then left for the greener pastures (and pesos) of Liga MX in Mexico, only to return “home” to where he had made his biggest impact. When the new 2017 season kicked off only 1 of those eight was in the starting lineup – left fullback Justin Davis.
Let’s take a few minutes to review the progress of those “minor league” players as we are about 1/3 of the way through this season:
Bernardo Anor – Injured almost all of the 2016 season and has been injured and out completely this season. At this point they would have to make room on the roster for him.
Kevin Venegas – Since he started game 2 at New England and they gave up 5 goals with Viva looking kinda lost, he has nothing else to show us. Many games he has been in the stands watching. In MLS almost every single player gets a chance at some point. Here’s hoping that wasn’t it.
Justin Davis – Started game 1 at Portland and again in 3, but in that second game he got a red card in the 70th minute after scraping the bottom of his cleats across an opponent’s knee. Bad move. Luckily the guy wasn’t hurt. Davis came back into the lineup after his suspension for all of game 5, then as a sub for the final 6 minutes of game 7 at Houston – a big comeback tie that needed extra defense late in the game to park that bus. Unfortunately he hasn’t played since. With the lack of depth all over the field he should play again at fullback at some point. I would also very much like to see him get a shot further up the field in a more attacking role. Defense has never been his best trait, although the slide tackles are formidable. So maybe a chance up the wing and helping out a little on defense could be make him a key late-game sub option.
Christian Ramirez – CR had a lot of doubters about his ability as a top division striker coming into the new league, including me. I wasn’t vocal about my doubts, but they were inside me. There was also the matter that it took a while before they finally gave the man a proper contract to remain with Minnesota United. Yes, there were other options for him. To repay the team he came on in the 69th minute of the very first MLS game away to Portland, and instantly lifted a lifeless team and scored a huge goal just 10 minutes later, making the score 2-1 at the time. It’s very fitting that he was the guy to get that first MLS goal for the Loons. And to make the story even better: he hasn’t left the field since that moment, playing every minute of every game, racking up an additional 7 goals. (By the way, that’s 71 goals in 129 games since he turned pro in 2013. Yeah!)
Miguel Ibarra – Played sparingly at first, mainly because he had barely played in 18 months (since he left Minnesota for Leon,) then worked his way in and began to contribute. The first sign was on the road at Colorado after Justin Davis had been ejected, Ibarra moved back to right fullback and with the help of Abu Danladi in front of him the kept the Rapids from building any attack on their side of the field. You could see that Miguel was a quality soccer player. A couple weeks later against the same Colorado team Ibarra struck gold. He was on the flying end of a double diving header past a stunned Tim Howard. His fitness has built week by week, now he just needs that supreme confidence to go with it. He can do this.
Ibson – Like too many of these guys he played a little at first, but he has stepped up in BIIIIIG way and become the linchpin that moves the ball from defense to offense the way very few players in all of MLS can. For the previous 2 years in the NASL, I kept saying that his skills were not being maximized and that what he needed were better teammates. We see now that he thrives with better players around him. Imagine what he could do with a couple more serious talents in front of him. And the coach has been raving about Ibson every chance he gets. I have said it before: he would start for every team in the league.
Brent Kallman – The lowest paid guy on the roster has started 11 games after sitting out the first 2. Steady, strong, simple, and up to speed. A few years ago GM Manny Lagos told a few of us that Brent could play in MLS. We rolled our eyes in unison, because it seemed ludicrous. But boy oh boy, were we wrong. And has his older brother and former Minnesota player Brian Kallman said to me, “All he needed was a chance.” I could not be more proud of Brent of happier for any player.
Ismaila Jome – The biggest surprise of them all, seeing as he barely played in 2016 for the NASL team. He made 3 substitute appearances consisting of about 10 minutes total, and probably about that same number of touches of the ball. Looked a little beyond his limits. But then out of nowhere he gets a start with Abu Danladi injured and Kevin Molino and Baskim Kadrii sick. Everyone was shocked, and frankly expected the worst. But Jome did his very best. Kept things in front of him, made no weak passes, gave every bit of focus and effort, and even laid in a gorgeous cross-field pass to Christian Ramirez that ended with a clean shot on goal.