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Mailbag: Bruce takes reader questions, with a look at the 2nd half of the MLS season with Minnesota United

At the current time Minnesota United is taking a short summer break in the schedule, while sitting uncomfortably in last place in the MLS Western Conference, and 2nd to last overall in the 22 team league.

Their most immediate chance to improve comes in the form of an open period in the middle of the season (the Summer Transfer Window) in which they can sign and trade players.

So far they have signed Sam Nicholson (winger from Scotland) and Michael Boxall (center & full back from New Zealand), and they got minor league forward Brandon Allen on a loan from New York Red Bulls II. The team has gone on record saying there could be 1 or 2 more after that as well. Some players currently on the roster will most likely have to be jettisoned in order to make room for the new guys under the salary cap and number of player limits.

So what do these player moves mean? With the first two, Nicholson and Boxall, we won’t know for a while, but they will get an immediate shot to make the starting 11. The third, Allen, is from the USL (2nd division) and has only gotten 1 tiny sniff with the senior Red Bulls team after 3 seasons. So no one expects an immediate impact. But Allen does have 9 goals in 1,100 minutes this year at RBNY II, and had 21 goals in 2,700 minutes last year – impressive numbers. Are these 3 high-quality additions? Can they contribute anything? Starters? Depth? Are they a step up from the typical Euro players that were signed by the team in January and mostly failed? We just won’t know until the time comes for them to perform. What we do know is this: the team doesn’t need more depth players. They need genuine starters who can push several of the current guys to the bench where they belong. In other words, the team already has the depth players, so what they need is real quality to put on top of what they currently possess. None of these 3 is setting off alarm bells that tell us they are likely to pop big time soon, though. We’ll just have to give them time, while also keeping an eye open to see who else the team brings in.

One thing we all know is that everyone — ownership, management, coaches, players, fans and sponsors — are anxious to see if this team can take a step forward in the 2nd half of the season.

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I posted a note on social media this week asking followers to send me questions that they are seeking answers to. They sent then in big numbers, I picked my favorites, and will attempt to enlighten.

CURRENT STATUS OF MNUFC:

Steve Lindley, Twitter @stlindley

What are your thoughts on the rest of the 2017 season? Play older guys to avoid “worst team ever” status or give more time to young players to hopefully be ready for 2018/2019 realizing that it might hurt results in 2017?

A: I have no idea what to expect the 2nd half of the season. The end of the 1st half was rough, so I hope there is a master plan behind the scenes to lift things. There only 4 “younger guys” (I consider that to be 23 or under) on this roster: Danladi is 21, and Jome, Martin & Nicholson are 22. Besides, if you ask me to pay full price for tickets then you have to play your best players at all times no matter what their age.

Bill B, via Email

Adrian Heath was hired, at least in part, due to his experience with expansion teams and man management expertise. Considering that, how do we evaluate his performance halfway through the expansion season on these two fronts? Does his expansion expertise continue to count as a positive in year 2 or have we already received the benefits of said experience?

A: It’s always a tricky combination between the coach, the assistants, the players and the organizational management, and it is the secret formula to success no matter how you define it. On the other hand its Chicken-And-Egg stuff, really. You can theorize all day long but then the answer is always shifting, too. Some of the poor results this season have been on the players, mainly because they aren’t good enough. So that means it’s on the organization for bringing in players that aren’t good enough. And then it is the coach in about equal fashion. Not good enough, or poor decisions, or gambles that don’t pay off. Same with the good parts of the Loons game. You hire the coach for that exact experience. You sign players who have certain experiences. And you hope you can fit it all together.

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Dave Williams?, via Twitter @66_peep

Where do you feel Molino is most effective? With Nicholson and Ibarra, it feels like he will play more as the 10?

A: Molino is NOT a number 10, attacking midfielder, creator, playmaker, quarterback type. He is stuck between a wide midfielder, a forward, and a maestro – he does some of all three. I would like to see him as far up the field as possible connecting much more with forwards. Maybe you have to let him free form it.

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Mark Nissen, via Twitter @mnissen3

Can you give me hope on the signing of Boxall? Any hope at all? Just doesn’t make sense to me using an international slot simply for depth.

Steve Krahn, via Facebook

When will Nicholson suit up and play? Was anyone cut from team?

A: Nicholson, Boxall and any other new summer signings are pretty much unknown qualities to us at this time. Some guys click immediately, some take longer, some never fit in. We just have to hope that they were scouted and vetted properly and are an upgrade in quality from some of the higher-priced winter signings that have failed so badly.

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The North is Rising, via Twitter @SteadyDrifter13

What’s the best way forward with J. Venegas? Disappointing first half of season.

A: To be blunt, I would like to see them find a way to move him out. I bet he has decent value for trade, too.

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Nathan Duin, via Facebook

How many of the current Minnesota United FC internationals will still be Loons when this window closes?

A: It’s all about the players contracts and whether or not they can be moved. Many times it’s next to impossible to get someone off the books until a contract expires. The first place to start is always with loan deals. When do the loans end? Can they be cut short? Etc. Or does a player have interest from a team in another league. Even in that situation sometimes you have to eat the cost of a high salary to make someone moveable.

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LONG TERM AND PHILOSOPHY AT MNUFC:

Kidd Video, via Twitter @kidd_video

When will we see DP’s?

A: We have been told repeatedly not to expect Designated Player signings any time soon. I believe them.

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Ben Krouse-Gagne, via Twitter @krousega

What kinda scouting is MNUFC doing in the USA? All of our signings and prospects seem to be internationals

A: That is a great question that we would all love to know the answer to. Amos Magee and Manny Lagos are in charge of that. MLS has their own extensive scouting service that scours the globe, and all teams in the league are welcome to use it.

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David Zeller, via Twitter @texaszeller

What is a realistic time frame for MNUFC to compete for MLS Cup, not just make the playoffs?

A: There is no magic formula. It’s one of the things that makes MLS interesting. One day on the bottom, next on the top. Just a couple years ago Toronto was the laughing stock of the league, not making the playoffs in their first 9 seasons, then when they did make the postseason for the first time they got embarrassed by their biggest rivals, Montreal. It’s up to the ownership and leadership at MNUFC to decide just how and when they want to get serious about the future.

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Spencer McGinnis, via Twitter @ginnis_mc

Is it still possible for clubs on a budget (say bottom third in player spending) to win an MLS cup?

A: For sure. But it gets harder every year. The salary cap keeps going up and the tools to buy more players keeps expanding. That means teams will have to try much harder and be smarter if they are going to spend less. If the desire is that and the right people are in place then it’s very possible. But it’s going to take really hard work.

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MINNESOTA SOCCER’S PAST:

Rob Lepley, via Twitter @butlerbob6

What former Kicks, Striker or Thunder player would you want on United in their prime?

A: There are a lot of them, but I would stick with two: From the Kicks, Ace Ntsoelengoe; and from the Thunder, Johnny Menyongar. Ace was so cool on the ball and made it look effortless to charge forward, and he did something I had never seen before, scoring a laser beam of a goal from way outside the box. At the time it stunned me. And it also wanted to make this defender (me) figure out a way to get a lot closer to the goal and shoot like that! I soon became a midfielder and then a forward. Johnny had this magic in his feet, and an uncanny desire to get to and hold on to the ball at any cost. He was tiny but he won headers. He made the pass no one else could even knew needed to be made. And he took great (sometimes sneaky) shots that rarely missed the target.

Very honorable mentions:  Marco Feruzzi, Gerard Lagos, Amos Magee, Alan Willey.

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DIRECTED TO ME PERSONALLY:

High Rant District, via Twitter @HighRantDistric

Do things feel more legit, less legit or no different as a supporter since trading independent club status for life as a franchise?

A: None of it feels any different to me, except it keeps getting bigger and more mainstream. But otherwise I like using the motto “By Any Name, In Any League.” It’s all run by rich guys who do things in ways I couldn’t and sometimes wouldn’t do them. But if I don’t like it I can just walk away. I love our Minnesota team and I am really glad it didn’t go away — like it came so close to doing on several occasions.

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bonfire_weekend, via Instagram

If you could only eat one kind of taco meat for the rest of your life what would it be

A: Mexico City Al Pastor! Hands down. (And I don’t mean Alfred the Minister, either.) I also recently had something called Campechano, which is a mixture of chorizo and shoulder steak – fantastic.

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notorious_t.a.c.o, via Instagram

If you had to start a new Boy Band comprised of MLS players which five would you choose and and what would their name be?

A: How is it that the guy named Taco didn’t ask me the taco question? My band would be called Bald Is Beautiful, and would consist of only bald goalkeepers: Brad Friedel, Tim Howard, Kasey Keller, Zach Thornton and Walter Zenga. They would sing doo-wop and a capela versions of classic metal songs. 

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MLS IN GENERAL:

Spencer McGinnis, via Twitter @ginnis_mc

What’s your favorite and least favorite soccer-specific stadium in MLS?

A: Favorite is Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City. (Special things seem to happen there.) Best is Red Bull Arena in Harrison. (Amazing quality and site lines.) Most sentimental is Stu Hub Center in Carson. (The first real American soccer shrine.) Least favorite is Toyota Stadium in Frisco. (Out in the middle of frickin’ nowhere, on a damned toll road. Otherwise a fine, simple stadium.)

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DJ Jones, via Twitter @dj_jones

How does MLS stop losing youth prospects, without compensation, to foreign clubs? Has to be so frustrating after investment of time & $

A: It happens all over the world. You can’t sign a player to a professional contract until the age of 16. The best way to protect your club is to have a great set up that gives the players the best chance to succeed, and if they are good enough, to win big things and make lots of money. Otherwise you will lose them to a bigger fish. And there are always bigger fish.

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Neal Logan, via Twitter @NealSLogan

how do Designated Player’s affect the ability of a club to attract other top talent … pontificate on this.

A: There so many other factors to this formula that you can’t fully predict a desirable outcome. Is the player only coming for money? For a coach? For teammates? Most likely for success and money? One thing DP’s do show, to not just other players but fans and sponsors too, is that ownership is serious about making their club as big as possible. You don’t have to go nuts and spend giant bags of money – stick within your means – but know that others are watching and listening at all times. Perception is often more powerful that reality.

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Super Rookie, via Twitter @thesuperrookie

Will the new england revolution ever have a new stadium?

A: The day after never, most likely. Or more realistically, when they get a new owner.

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Finally, for your consideration: Stressed spelled backwards is desserts.





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