Minnesota United CEO Chris Wright described the Loons’ game Wednesday, June 23, against Austin FC, the ninth game of the club’s fifth season, as a bit of a “relaunch of our franchise.”
The significance is that it will mark the first time since October 2019 that a full- or near-capacity crowd will be inside Allianz Field. The club is expecting roughly 19,000 supporters at the 19,600-seat venue, only keeping some distance around the players to meet MLS guidelines for the pandemic.
It’s also another opportunity to reach liftoff. After an 0-4 start, United is on a four-game unbeaten streak (2-0-2), but it has been achieved by slim margins: two 1-0 wins and a pair of 1-1 draws.
After the latest draw at FC Dallas last Saturday and with a road trip to Portland set for this Saturday, manager Adrian Heath called Wednesday’s contest a “huge game for us. Now we have to make the most of that.”
That means a win and the three points that come with it. The Loons have eight points through eight games and sit 11th in the 13-team Western Conference, with Austin (2-4-3) in 10th with nine points. On May 1, the expansion franchise came into St. Paul and left with a 1-0 win.
“I want to get the crowd in the game,” Heath said. “The way we get the crowd in the game is by giving them something to cheer. Playing on the front foot, playing in their half of the field, getting the ball in the box, goal-mouth action, putting them under pressure.”
The biggest issue for the Loons (2-4-2) has been a lack of goals; they have only seven in eight matches. Wyscout pegs their expected goals at more than double that (14.02), so their lack of finishing continues to hurt them in the standings.
The Loons are second in MLS in shots per game (16.9) but 15th in shots on target. They’re also No. 1 in the volume of shots coming from outside the 18-yard box, but 21st in shots inside the 6-yard box.
“We’ve got some really good strikers of the ball,” Heath said. “If I was going to be critical, I think we would say we’ve got to be better at what we are doing. I’ll never have a go at players for being positive and having an effort at goal.”
Heath pointed to some great chances against Dallas, including shots from Adrien Hunou and Emanuel Reynoso inside the 18-yard box that finished off target. “We conceivably had five or six great chances,” Heath said.
Their expected goals last weekend was a season-high 3.07, but if they are going to get back into the playoff picture in the Western Conference, more goals will be required.
The Loon’s seven goals this season rank 24th in MLS; Austin FC is one of the three clubs below the Loons with only six.
In April, Wright said “by 2022 we will have a reserve team in place.” On Tuesday, however, Wright couldn’t confirm that will happen. MLS hopes to start a new lower-level league next season, and Wright couldn’t say whether Minnesota will go with a team in the USL, an affiliate setup or some other route.
MLS said Monday that 20 of its 27 clubs were included in the plan for a third-level league, below the USL Championship.
“There might be one iteration of where we go in 2022, and there might be a completely different iteration in 2023,” Wright said. “We think that we will probably crawl before we run in that space. But those decisions as yet have simply not been made. It’s too early. There are all sorts of player, contractual, support staff, budget ramifications to all of that.”
Now in its fifth MLS season, United FC doesn’t have its own reserve team; the Loons only briefly had an affiliate in the USL. Without a dedicated second team, the club has loaned out six players to USL clubs this season, an increase over previous years. But even more players scratching to make the bench for MLS games could use game minutes, anyway.
Heath said Loons wingers Justin McMaster and Aziel Jackson are the next to go on loan. Forward Patrick Weah and goalkeeper Fred Emmings are among those also in need of minutes.
Near top of league
While United dealt with substantial financial losses from the pandemic in 2020, Wright said the club’s foundation is strong. He mentioned the 15,500 season-ticket holders and 6,700 on a waitlist. “I think we are about fourth or fifth in revenues in the MLS in terms of corporate partnerships,” he said. “The financial basis of our club is really strong.”
MNUFC had all players participating in the open portions of Tuesday’s training session, including Reynoso and Ozzie Alonso. … Finland was eliminated from the European Championships on Tuesday, so Robin Lod and Jukka Raitala will soon return from Russia . They might have to quarantine before reintegrating with the Loons. … A vaccination clinic will pop up on the Great Lawn north of Allianz Field at 4-7 p.m. Wednesday. Gov. Tim Walz and St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter will be there. … Slovakia, featuring Loons player Jan Gregus, will play Spain in its final Euro 2020 group-stage game at 11 a.m. Wednesday. Slovakia is second in Group E and would qualify for the next round if it beats or ties the Spaniards. … The Minnesota-Austin game is the club’s annual Pride Night to support the LBGTQ+ community. … Loons left back Chase Gasper is one yellow card away from a one-game accumulation suspension. … Forward Foster Langsdorf has returned from his loan with the Tampa Bay Rowdies, but he has at least four players ahead of him on the depth chart, and the Rowdies are scheduled to play again this weekend.