Minnesota United FC Team of the Month

Adrian Heath, Minnesota United FC manager

Photo of soccer player and coach, Adrian Heath. By Wilson Wong (user: Longbomb) - Own work, CC BY 3.0, Wikipedia

While Minnesota United FC is in the just their third season in Major League Soccer, the history of professional soccer in the Twin Cities dates all the way back to 1976. Back in the old North American Soccer League (1868-84), a club known as the Minnesota Kicks was among the most successful franchises winning 4 division titles while averaging over 30,000 fans per game. Modern soccer history in Minnesota began in 1994 with the Minnesota Thunder, who played in the league that was the precursor to current USL Championship, before folding due to financial difficulties in 2009. The current franchise was founded in 2010, and played in the modern day versions of the North American Soccer League under the name, Minnesota Stars. The Stars quickly found themselves in financial trouble as well, and were ready to close their doors before being rescued from the brink of extinction by former United Healthcare CEO Bill McGuire in 2012. They were rebranded to Minnesota United in 2013 and continued to operate in the NASL until finally making the jump to the first tier MLS in 2017 and add the FC to their official name.

Nicknamed The Loons, after the State Bird of Minnesota, as of 2019 they play their home games in St. Paul at the brand new, state-of-art, Allianz Field. The team is currently managed by Adrian Heath, who had been at the helm since he was hired prior to their first season in the MLS. Heath was an accomplished striker in England's First Division (now the Premier League) throughout the 1980's, most notably scoring 93 goals in 226 games for Everton. His managerial career began in 1996 with Burnley F.C.. In England, he also spent time at the helm for Sheffield United F.C. and a very short stint a Coventry City F.C. before coming the United States in 2008. He spent time with the now defunct Austin Aztex FC, and guided Orlando City SC from the USL up into the MLS before coming to Minnesota.

A Franchise Headed In The Right Directions

Darwin Quintero Minnesota United

Carlos Darwin Quintero
By Andy Witchger - Darwin Quintero Minnesota United - Houston Dynamo - TCF Bank Stadium - Minneapolis - MLS, CC BY 2.0, Wikipedia

As new teams so often do, Minnesota United has struggled to find success in their first 2 seasons in MLS thus far. In 2017, their first season, they had 18 losses and just 10 wins with 6 draws, and a -23 goal difference. These results were only good enough for 9th place in the Western Conference, well out of playoff position. In 2018 it was more of the same story with 11 wins, 20 losses, 3 draws, and a -22 differential. The 36 points in 2018 (the same total the finished 2017 with) were only good for 10th in the table this time around. However, in their second season the club did begin to see some positive changes with additions such as Darwin Quintero from Club América of Liga MX. Quintero scored 5 goals and added 3 assists in just 15 games after coming to The Loons in 2018. He was named to the 2018 MLS All-Star Team, and was "their best player" according to play-by-play announcer Callum Williams in recent interview with us. Defender Francisco Calvo was also an All-Star in 2018, making the pair the first Minnesota United players to be named to the team. Calvo, however was traded to the Chicago Fire Soccer Club for cash last month which leads to believe that the club may be looking to make a big splash on a foreign defender during the upcoming transfer period.

Speaking of big splashes in the backfield, The Loons made a coupe of big acquisitions this past offseason. First, they acquired French defender Romain Metanire in a transfer from Stade de Reims. Metanire has impressed thus far, tallying 6 assists for Minnesota so far. Next they added Center-Back Ike Opara from Sporting Kansas City. The 30-year-old Opara was that 2017 MLS Defender of the Year Award, and is the kind of veteran presence that can really anchor a back line. This commitment to improving their defense has paid dividends thus far, as Minnesota currently sits 6th in the standings after the season's first 16 games. This has them in position to make the postseason for the first time in club history. That being said, there is still work to be done, and Williams believes that Minnesota is still between 2 and 3 impact players away from being at the same caliber at the top table teams in the conference. The team has also hit a bump in the road recently, having dropped their past 3 matches, including a loss to the last place Colorado Rapids in their last match. The loss actually gives them one more loss than win through 16 matches. With a short break coming up for the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the team is at an important fork in the road for the season. It is also going to be crunch time for Heath, it is hard to imagine him being back next season if Minnesota doesn't make the playoffs this year. Especially given that his winning percentage hasn't necessarily been sterling at his previous stops.

Listen To Our Interview With Callum Williams

The Minnesota United FC Culture

Callum Williams and Kevin Egan celebrate Aston Villa win

Minnesota United announcer Callum Williams and Atlanta United FC announcer Kevin Egan celebrate Aston Villa's promotion to the Premier League.

Minneapolis-St. Paul is one of those blue collar, upper-Midwestern kind of towns that is famous for its harsh weather, and loyal support of its sports teams in at times even harsher weather. The old Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, former home of both the Minnesota Vikings American football team and Minnesota Twins baseball team, was one of the loudest buildings that either sport has ever seen. On top of that, it is a metro area that has a history in the sport of soccer that goes back nearly 50 years, and now plays in what Williams calls one of the best facilities, if not the best in all of North America in Allianz Field. All of this comes together to create an atmosphere at home games that Williams says rivals anything you would see at the biggest stadiums in Europe. When describing the atmosphere at The Loons new home stadium, Williams says that if you were to put someone into the stadium and not tell them where they were at, he thinks they would be more likely to think they were visiting one of the big clubs in Europe.

Minnesota, and their supporters also have a unique tradition involving, of all things, a well known song from England. That song of course being "Wonderwall", the 90's hit by Oasis that the team sings after every victory. As legend has it, this dates all the way back to the teams NASL days in 2011, and involves then assistant coach Carl Craig. As story has it, Craig would be often singing the song in the bus or locker room after wins during that season, and as time went on the players began to join in. As time has gone on, the tradition has managed to survive the teams jump to the MLS. Now, at the Allianz Field, the club has named their supporters section "The Wonderwall", and the song has now become a more important part of the team than ever. Williams, a massive Oasis fan, couldn't be more thrilled and says in a way it's a sign that he has found his perfect home. He says his friend back home in the Birmingham area of England give him a bit of a hard time about how he managed to end up at a club that goes around singing Wonderwall. The first song the he and his wife danced to at their wedding.

About Phil Kennedy

Member of @acrosspitch football/soccer podcast, Accrington Stanley, Phoenix Rising, Arsenal, #OnStanleyOn #UpRising #WeAreTheArsenal @OASSCNA #dontworrybeaccy

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