Minnesota United didn’t make the playoffs in 2017. It won’t make the playoffs in 2018 either. The nicest thing you can say is that, with 29 points on the season and seven games to play, the Loons are likely to exceed last season’s total of 36 points, and probably won’t give up 70 goals again.
With no playoffs on the horizon, it’s time to look back and assess how the team’s decision-makers have done during the franchise’s two-year MLS tenure. Here are the ten most important moves that Minnesota has made, since early 2017, with a grade for each on how well things have worked out on the field – including both the move itself, and how the coaching staff has responded.
December 2016: Signed Francisco Calvo from Deportivo Saprissa
The Costa Rica international’s 2017 season was excellent. His 2018 season has been less so, and his future as a central defender is in doubt. His curious crusades for media respect make you wonder if the team captaincy is weighing on him. Nevertheless, he’s still only 26 and still has lots of potential – the kind of signing that made perfect sense for an MLS expansion team.
January 2017: Signed Miguel Ibarra from Club León
Bringing Ibarra back was almost a no-brainer; it allowed the Loons to reunite him with striker Christian Ramirez as the tandem of “Superman and Batman,” a duo that Minnesota fans knew and loved. Unfortunately, coach Adrian Heath rooted Ibarra to the bench for the first half of 2017, and likely would have done the same in 2018 had the team not endured several injuries. Ibarra’s been excellent, and bringing him back was a great move, but Heath’s reluctant usage makes this grade lower.
January 2017: Sent $650,000 to Orlando City for Kevin Molino
At the time, it was the record amount of money paid by one MLS team to another for a player. It made sense, given that United had lots of questions about its attack heading into 2017, and gave Heath a player that he knew well from the coach’s days in charge of Orlando. Heath never quite decided how to use Molino, though – as a winger? As a playmaker? – and Molino has been injured for all of 2018. Still, Heath really seemed to enjoy having a known commodity to call on.
January 2017: Signed Vadim Demidov
Demidov was named team captain before the season started. He was going to be the Norwegian rock in central defense that the new team was built on. He lasted three games, during which United gave up an astonishing 16 goals. For this, he was paid $550,000. Signing Demidov was not only the worst move in Minnesota United history; it legitimately might be the worst move in MLS history.
Grade: F, zero, or whatever the lowest possible score is
February 2017: Traded Femi Hollinger-Janzen to New England for goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth
Shuttleworth was available in the expansion draft; the Loons picked Hollinger-Janzen instead, then two months later, swapped him to the Revolution for Shuttleworth. (I still don’t understand why.) That said, Shuttleworth has performed admirably for two years and has probably earned several extra points in the standings for United, which isn’t bad for the prize in a game of three-card monte.
March 2017: Traded Josh Gatt and Mohammed Saeid to Colorado for Marc Burch and Sam Cronin
With the defensive house in flames, post-Demidov, United needed any defensive help it could get, while Colorado wanted salary-cap space. Burch, at fullback, and Cronin, at defensive midfielder, plugged the leaks. Cronin’s absence in 2018, due to a pre-season concussion, has been a huge reason United’s defense has been porous this year.
August 2017: Signed Ethan Finlay from Columbus for $450,000
Finlay, along with Molino and Ibarra and others, appeared to be part of a not-so-secret team strategy to corner the market on wingers. He was a regular for Heath in 2017 and before getting hurt early in 2018, and was one of the reasons that United’s final few games in 2017 offered promise for this season.
March 2018: Signed Darwin Quintero from Club América
Quintero is one of the best signings in Minnesota pro sports history. That the Loons were ever in the 2018 playoff discussion is a testament to his attacking skills; he was deservedly an all-star, and is now unequivocally the team’s best player.
May 2018: Traded Sam Nicholson to Colorado for Eric Miller
United again needed defensive help, but Miller has been injured – and even when he’s been healthy, hasn’t been a regular starter. Meanwhile, the Loons haven’t found anyone to replace Nicholson on the left wing, though new signing Romario Ibarra looks promising. If Miller wasn’t going to be a key starter, why give up Nicholson for him – and, reportedly, pay both players’ salaries for this year?
July/August 2018: Signed Ángelo Rodríguez; traded Christian Ramirez to LAFC for $750,000 (plus as much as $200,000 in incentives)
I said my piece on this; these moves are so intertwined as to be the same move, even though they weren’t part of the same trade. It’s probably too early to give this grade yet. Ramirez has scored twice for LAFC in three starts; Rodriguez hasn’t found the net in four starts for Minnesota. I’d place a wager that Ramirez will end the season with more goals for LAFC than Rodriguez scores for Minnesota, but time will tell.
Overall, this is an uneven report card. There are excellent moves, like Quintero, and outlandish disasters, like Demidov. Most of the moves are average, some of them above-average. Space prevents a full review of all the team’s moves, but most of the rest are either draft picks that were never developed, or loan moves that didn’t quite work out.