Minnesota United has two more home games and two more road games left this year, so let’s just chalk them up for two more home wins and two more road losses.
(Quick statistical aside: if that split comes to pass, Minnesota would have 12 home wins and 14 road losses. This would make them only the second MLS team ever to win 12 or more home games and also lose 12 or more road games; the first was New England in 2017, which was 12-2-3 at home but a dismal 1-13-3 on the road.)
(Another statistical aside: 14 road losses would also tie the all-time MLS record for away losses, which is jointly held by Chicago in 2016, DC United in 2013, Real Salt Lake in 2005, and Kansas City in 1998. RSL will keep its record for away futility; somehow, the 2005 squad went 0-14-2 on the road that year, the worst road record in league history.)
With the rest of the season out of the way, then, we can do the only thing that still feels worthwhile at the moment and that’s look toward 2019. The team will have its new stadium, and it’ll finally feel like the “soft launch” is over.
With that in mind, here’s my best guess at which members of the 2018 Loons can bet on being in the starting lineup for that first game at Allianz Field, in descending order of likelihood. (Note: this also does not take into account potential lingering injuries or other impossible-to-predict factors like unforeseen trades.)
Darwin Quintero – MF: The attacking midfielder was Minnesota’s first Designated Player, and he’s lived up to the billing. Quintero has absolutely been the best thing about the Loons in 2018, and you can all but count on him being the focal point of the first St. Paul edition of Minnesota United.
Kevin Molino – MF: Again, this assumes that he’s healthy, after a knee injury ruined his 2018 season. Molino was supposed to be the player that Quintero became, the focal point for the Minnesota United attack, and regardless of whether he fits well with Quintero – they’ve never played together – coach Adrian Heath loves Molino, and so you can bet on him being in the lineup.
Francisco Calvo – D: Lately, Heath has been deploying the United captain at left back, instead of center back, and it’s become fairly clear that left back is where Calvo belongs. His skills on the ball and left-footedness make him a perfect fit for the position, whether it’s as part of a back four or a back five. Calvo struggled as a center back – that experiment may be over for good.
Ángelo Rodríguez – F: When Heath and general manager Manny Lagos signed Rodríguez for the team’s second Designated Player spot, and then traded Christian Ramirez, it effectively put all of the team’s eggs in the Rodríguez basket. The team has other, younger options at striker, like Mason Toye and Abu Danladi, but at least for the beginning of 2019, I can’t see the team playing anyone but Rodríguez.
Bobby Shuttleworth – GK: It seems unlikely at this point that Shuttleworth won’t go into next year as the number one keeper, in part because he’s been basically Minnesota’s only keeper for their entire MLS tenure. I don’t see the team spending its resources trying to upgrade between the pipes, not with so many other areas of need.
Miguel Ibarra – MF: Ibarra has been a bright spot for the Loons this year, especially via his partnership with Quintero, but it remains to be seen whether Heath will finally make him part of the trusted starting eleven. Plus, if Molino is back in the lineup, can Quintero, Molino, and Ibarra all fit together?
Romario Ibarra – MF: In limited action so far, the “other” Ibarra has looked like he might be a potential solution on the left side of midfield. But with a wealth of choices, it’s hard to see any of the wings being a certainty, besides Molino.
Ethan Finlay – MF: See also: Ibarra, Miguel; Ibarra, Romario. Another winger. Who’s going to start?
Brent Kallman – D: Like Miguel Ibarra, Kallman would seem to have earned his way into the Loons’ future plans. But I could have said the same thing after 2017, and Kallman started 2018 on the bench.
Michael Boxall – D: He’s now on the wrong side of 30, which is the only reason he’s down here in the pencil section. He and Kallman seem like a decent partnership to begin 2019, but this could also be an area in which United looks to upgrade in the offseason.
Eric Miller – D: When United signed him, I thought they’d plug him in at a fullback spot and let him stay there unchanged for ten years. It hasn’t happened, so maybe he belongs with Ibarra and Kallman in the category of “younger guys with local ties that the coach doesn’t seem to like very much.”
Wyatt Omsberg – D, Abu Danladi – F, Mason Toye – F, Collin Martin – MF: All of these guys have future potential, but I can’t see them in the starting lineup unless there’s an offseason decision that clears out players ahead of them AND Heath decides to give them a legitimate shot. And if that hasn’t happened yet, in this lost season, it’s not going to happen before the first game at Allianz Field in 2019.
I would be remiss if I didn’t take all of this and offer you my Predicted Starting Eleven for the first game at Allianz Field, lined up in a 4-2-3-1. Feel free to bookmark this post and laugh at me next March.
Miller – Boxall – Kallman - Calvo
Player A* – Player B**
Molino – Quintero - R. Ibarra
*Where Player A is a desperately needed defensive midfielder that the Loons sign in the offseason
** And Player B is one of the midfielders left over from this year
The first game at Allianz Field is only five or so months away. We may as well look past 2018, and start lining up the Loons for 2019.