How Minnesota righted its wrongs to find respectability in debut season

How Minnesota righted its wrongs to find respectability in debut season
From ESPN - October 23, 2017

Ever since their NASL title run in 2011, Minnesota United fans have sung Oasis' "Wonderwall" after victories. Four games into their inaugural MLS season, the Loons found themselves with just one point and a minus-12 goal differential. To adapt a phrase from the Gallagher brothers, they needed someone to save them.

At the time, Minnesota was seen as something of a laughingstock, with many ready to deem the expansion side the worst MLS team of all time. After allowing five or more goals in three losses to Portland, Atlanta and New England, even the players themselves were surprised.

"I did not think we were going to leak goals like we did," director of player personnel Amos Magee told ESPN FC. "I thought it was a difficult opening for the season. The Atlanta game was the real kick in the gut. It was at home, against a fellow expansion team, we had a bunch of Scandinavians. In theory, we should have been favored."

Deciding to wait to make roster decisions until after its 2016 NASL season, Minnesota had an abbreviated timeline to build its roster. Seven players joined the club from its second-division days, which meant the team had to acquire 19 new players ahead of a February preseason.

Manny Lagos signed five players, including American Josh Gatt, after a two-week scouting trip to Scandinavia last fall. Among the pieces brought in from that trip was Vadim Demidov.

The Norwegian defender was added for $550,000 a year to stabilize the back line and serve as a leader on the field. Although he had captained Norwegian club SK Brann through a relegation battle in 2016, the wheels fell off quickly for Demidov.

"It's a tough one to swallow," Lagos reflected on the signing. "For whatever reason, whether it's the way we started, the way Vadim prepared for his MLS campaign or bad luck, it happened."

Having to witness the calamity from the touchline, Adrian Heath could not help but understand what was going on with his initial captain.

"Having played abroad, I actually feel sympathy for Vadim," the United manager told ESPN FC. "He came here with every great intention. We are hopeful that he can go and resurrect his career somewhere else and continues what he was doing in Norway."

Lacking pace and positioning to stop some of the league's most dangerous attackers, Demidov's defending needed to be mitigated quickly. Heath turned to a newcomer to the league, though this one grew up and developed right in the Twin Cities metro.

"I remember telling my staff in the preseason that we'd find it hard to leave Brent Kallman out of the team," Heath said. "That's not in direct competition with Vadim. However, you have the start that we have, and you have to make changes. From then, Brent's performances dictated that Vadim did not get back in. Can he take it to the next level next year? Brent has the potential to go and get recognition to be in the national team."

Meanwhile, Lagos and Magee were working hard to acquire further defensive aid before the primary transfer window closed. Prior to the expansion draft, Minnesota was close to acquiring Colorado midfielder Sam Cronin. Although the deal fell through, negotiations picked up in the third week of the year, when the Loons earned their first MLS point in a 2-2 draw to the Rapids.


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