Watch the USMNT and Miguel Ibarra (hopefully!) take on Chile Wednesday, January 28th at 5 PM Central

A week after the USMNT U-20 team squeaked into the U-20 World Cup, fans of the US international team get to see the full USMNT take on Chile today (January 28th) at 5 PM Central Time. For fans in Minnesota, even bigger news is that Miguel Ibarra is once again on the 23 man roster for the game. Of course, he could be left off the 18 man game roster when it’s announced later today. Make sure to follow The Loon Call on twitter as we will be posting the 18 game roster as soon as it’s announced.

A changing squad

Klinsmann has only brought in 9 players from the World Cup roster of 2014 with the rest mostly fresh faces with few caps. Matthew Doyle thinks with the players at hand, the US might play a 3-5-2 with Jermaine Jones in the middle of the back three, allowing players like Yedlin to play a more forward, attacking position.

For Ibarra, such a switch would be an easy transition for him. Minnesota at times last season played in what was effectively a three person back line, with Vicentini sliding back between the two centerbacks and the fullbacks charging forward to provide width.

With the width being provided by the fullbacks, or in the case of the 3-5-2, the wingbacks, the attacking players have more freedom to cut inside, which has been a strength of Ibarra’s in the last year. Many of the goals Ibarra scored last year came from cutting from the outside into the box at pace, and then using his ball control to beat one player and the keeper.

Will Ibarra play

Ibarra will likely not start against Chile, but with 3 straight call ups to USMNT camps, it would be surprising if he didn’t get some playing time against Chile or February 8th against Panama. Still, the top midfielders and forwards are likely set, with Ibarra behind Luis Gil or Dillon Serna and Bobby Wood and fighting with Will Trapp, Brek Shea for substitute minutes.

Other Players to watch

Lee Nguyen will be playing with the USMNT again after a long absence. The MLS MVP winner had gone 7 years between caps with the USMNT before being called up in November 2014. Matt Hedges is also somewhat of a surprise, joining the camp a week in. He is there to help bolster a weak US defense. Of course the game also features USMNT staples like Dempsey, Altidore, Mix, Yedlin, Besler and Jones, who will likely all start for the USMNT against Chile.

Game details

Where to watch: Minnesota United FC is helping to host a watch party at the Sweetwater in St. Paul and the Nomad and Brit’s Pub will also likely have the game available to watch. If you can’t make it out to one of these bars, it’s available on Fox Sports 1, with coverage starting at 4:30.

Roster: 

GOALKEEPERS (3): Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Jon Kempin (Sporting Kansas City), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
DEFENDERS (7): Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Jermaine Jones (New England Revolution), Perry Kitchen (D.C. United), Shane O’Neill (Colorado Rapids), DeAndre Yedlin (Tottenham Hotspur)
MIDFIELDERS (8): Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Mix Diskerud (New York City FC), Luis Gil (Real Salt Lake), Miguel Ibarra (Minnesota United FC), Lee Nguyen (New England Revolution), Dillon Serna (Colorado Rapids), Brek Shea (Orlando City), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC)
FORWARDS (5): Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Bobby Wood (1860 Munich), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)

Wish List for Minnesota United FC Reserves

When Minnesota United FC announced that they would have a reserve team, I was excited. More soccer, more chances for players on the team to play. It seem to be a great opportunity.

Flash forward to now, and it’s unclear what all will be happening with the reserve team. The first year had some pretty severe growing pains. While some players struggling for minutes with the first team were able to get some game experience, the level of play was significantly lower than NASL. On the front office side of the team, there was little publicity for the team. The team played most of their games over in Woodbury, far from the center of the twin cities, making it difficult for fans to commit to seeing the team.

Still on the field, the reserves had success, with the team making it to the NPSL regional finals before losing to Lansing United FC 4-1.

While Minnesota has been quiet so far on, the word has already been leaked that there will be reserve team again this year. Knowing that the reserves will be back this season, here is my wish list for the team.

1. The team plays beyond the NPSL schedule

The NPSL schedule is pretty much the antithesis of NASL. Rather than one game a week almost every week, NPSL features games on back to back days and almost every weekend has two games. The season lasts from the middle of May until the first week of July. This provides little chance for the players to actually get game minutes throughout the season and most players on the first team only got 6-7 games with the NPSL team. These players need more minutes to grow their game beyond these two months.

The Reserves is put together to provide a chance for players to get game minutes who wouldn’t on the first team. As such, continue the team beyond the end of the NPSL season. Play friendlies against local colleges or other teams in the area like Stegman’s Old Boys to give these players more game experience or even just have scrimmages against the first team. This team should play games through September if possible to give those players who are a year or two away from starting in the NASL a chance to continue to develop their game.

2. Play somewhere better than Woodbury

While Woodbury made sense with the team building their training facility there, with the Bielenberg Center partnership dead Minnesota United FC should look for other places to play. There are a number of better places, including at Parade Park near downtown Minneapolis, which is a nice central location that might get more curious fans out to see the Reserves play. While Parade Park might ultimately not be the right spot for the team due to cost and that the pitch is fieldturf, there are a number of decent high school stadiums in or near Minneapolis and St. Paul that could serve as the home field for the team.

Another option would be to play their games up at the NSC in Blaine. The reserves wouldn’t need to play in the stadium, they could play on the field right next to the stadium, with the grass berms providing plenty of seating (or standing) space around the field. The team could even schedule double headers with the first team, with the Reserves starting a game at 4:30 on the field next to the stadium so that fans who get to the game early could watch the Reserves’ game and provide a better atmosphere than the handful that showed up to the Reserves’ games last year.

Ultimately, playing in front of fans will energize the NASL players who are already discouraged by their “demotion” to the Reserve team. If the players knew that the fans would be excited about the team or would at least pay attention, their enthusiasm and excitement to play on the team will rise.

3. Publicize the games and results better

There is a twitter account for the team now, but Minnesota’s website needs a (small) section devoted to it. Just simple things like lineup and scores should be visible on the main website. For this article, I couldn’t find more than 2 pictures of the reserve team in action after spending 15 minutes on google searching for them and the team’s record last year is even harder to find.

Final Thoughts

The reserves is a great way to develop young players for the main NASL squad, if done right. Although a lot may change in the coming months with MLS, there’s a lot the team could do this year to make the Reserves a success in ways that they were not last year.

And really for me, it’s just about getting to see more games being played by players wearing the Minnesota United FC crest.

Book Club: The Keeper by Tim Howard

One of the gifts I received this year over the holidays was The Keeper by Tim Howard and Ali Benjamin. I tend to avoid most sports autobiographies, but this one made a perfect gift as it was something I wouldn’t have read otherwise. I had always been interested in Tim Howard and his journey from New Jersey to Manchester United and Everton. This book did a serviceable job of detailing the career and personal life of one of the most important US soccer players in the last ten years.

This book covers all the major points in Tim Howard’s life with short vignettes from  the USA v. Belgium game where he broke the record for saves in a World Cup game. It starts with his experience playing soccer in New Jersey being supported by a single mom, continues with his decision to go pro rather than go to college, follows his move from MLS to Manchester United and then finally reflects on his success at Everton and with the US Men’s National Team.

The best part of the book for me was when he reflected on dealing with Tourette’s Syndrome and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, beginning with his struggles as a kid undiagnosed to being a leader and role model for kids dealing with similar issues. He also speculates that these issues might be part of the reason that he is successful as a goalkeeper.

The style of the book is breezy and Tim Howard is careful to avoid causing too many issues with other players and coaches, other the conflict that came out between him and Brad Friedel, for which Tim Howard has since apologized. So if you’re looking for a tell all about the USMNT over the past 2 years, this isn’t it. It’s not a terrible book by any means, and does what it sets out to do fine, but it was definitely not as well written as other books about soccer I have read. If Tim Howard is one of your favorite players, this book is worth a read, but probably as a check out from the library rather than purchased from a store.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Wild and Unsubstantiated Guesses About MNUFC’s Offseason Signings

Already this offseason, Minnesota United FC has announced the addition of JC Banks, an acquisition of a quality player who fills a crucial need. Much more can be done, however. (PANIC) We shouldn’t be content until there’s quality competition for every position in the starting XI, at least until we can go toe to toe with Real Madrid.

With that in mind, we’ve taken the liberty of speculating wildly about who Minnesota United FC might pick-up this offseason. Some of these players are more likely pick-ups than others, but at the bare minimum, we’ve tried to stay true to finding players who are at some level plausible, which means no Zlatan Ibrahimović. (Sorry)

We’ve also largely avoided considering older players in favor of exciting prospects. The reason for this is purely selfish, we want to dream about the next Miguel Ibarra or Christian Ramirez. While functional and crucial to success, the Juliano Vicentini’s of the world are harder and less interesting to dredge up. (Though signing Pa Modou Kah would be hilarious).

Our picks come from established lists of prospects and transfer rumors, with a dash of Wikipedia and Youtube investigation. We believe that Minnesota United FC has a lot to offer: this is a winning club proven to be a home of exciting and skilled players. The club has financial resources that for the right player can outgun most other NASL sides and can match offers from abroad. To many young players looking for a setting that will both raise their game and profile, Minnesota could be an intriguing choice.

With all of that said, here’s our list:

Cody Cropper

Cody Cropper

— GK | 21 | United States —

Southampton

With the departure of Matt VanOekel, the first choice for the Loons is now Mitch Hildebrandt, with Andrew Fontein retained as a back-up. The role of third choice goalkeeper is likely the most anonymous on the team, and yet one is necessary. There’s nobody we’d rather see fill that role more than Southampton academy prospect, U-23 USMNT goalkeeper, and Minnesota native Cody Cropper.

Cropper is behind the slightly older Argentine Paulo Gazzaniga in Southampton’s development order and has gotten a few youth games this season, but less than he may have hoped for. A summer loan to the top team from his home state might be a perfect way for Cropper to supplement his education. It’s unlikely that Cropper would be called upon to take over starting duties, but he could see time in the US Open Cup and midweek fixtures, all the while staying sharp close to home. It would be a great arrangement as well for Minnesota soccer as a whole, who would get an up close look at a local player with a promising future.

AmadouSanyang

Amadou Sanyang

— CDM | 23 | Gambia —

Charleston Battery

Sanyang is a defensive midfielder and sometime defender who has a lot of professional experience for his age. At 23, he has already played in 20 matches for Toronto FC and 53 for the Charleston Battery. He is a conservative midfielder, committed to his task of shielding the defense, which could offer an interesting change of pace for United, who currently employ nearly all box-to-box players. He also, like Aaron Pitchkolan, could be used to plug an unexpected hole in central defense, and there is certainly a need for further depth in that position.

MLS: U.S. Open Cup-Orlando City FC at Colorado Rapids

Adama Mbengue

— CM | 21 | Senegal —

Out of contract (Last with Orlando City)

Adama Mbengue featured with Orlando City SC and was one of the USL PRO players who the club did not cut, but offered further deals for MLS. Mbengue could not come to terms in South Florida, and it has been reported that he is heading to France to test the waters there with several well-known teams. If he is not offered a contract in Ligue 1, he could be a steal if he is willing to return to the US. Just 21, Mbengue has 53 appearances with the Lions over the last two seasons, with 28 of them coming in the past season. He is an aggressive player and is confident in his shooting ability. Given Orlando’s overtures and his speculation overseas, Mbengue is clearly ready for a higher level and Minnesota United might be able to offer it to him.

VitorSaba

Vitor Saba

— CAM | 24 | Brazil —

 Western Sydney Wanderers

Last season, the Loons raided the Hyundai A-League, snapping up out of favor Tiago Calvano from Sydney FC, then infamously signing Richard Garcia from the same club. While Garcia’s signing would be all but nixed by visa problems, Tiago’s pick-up was an influential move. The center-back started most of United’s games and was named to the NASL Best XI.

Vitor Saba is another Brazilian player looking to get out from down under. The 24 year old creative midfielder arrived with Western Sydney Wanderers from Serie B with some excitement and is a fan favorite. However, WSW is struggling mightily in the league despite their Cinderella run to the Club World Cup, and they are looking to offload talent. Saba is among the first names rumored to be up for grabs, having made public his frustration with a lack of playing time. With no success getting off the bench for a free-falling team, Saba might be enticed by the chance to move to an ambitious American club with a strong Brazilian contingent.

MarkAnderson

Mark Anderson

— CAM | 25 | England —

 Out of contract (Last with Fort Lauderdale Strikers)

Mark Anderson is the one NASL name that interests us. Like Luke Mulholland last year, Anderson is the clear prize in this offseason’s market. The England native has spent the past six years in the United States, and it’s hard to think that he would receive more compelling offers from elsewhere. With the Fort Lauderdale Strikers last season, Anderson is a fiesty but skilled midfielder who usually plays in an advanced central role. His best known quality is undoubtedly his ability to shoot from range (something the Loons desperately could use) which has led him to 19 goals in 65 appearances with the red and gold. In the semi-final against the Loons, Anderson nearly put the visitors up early, lobbing Matt VanOekel and hitting the top of the crossbar.

Anderson has had a similar career to Luke Mulholland, although he is probably not quite as good as the RSL midfielder. His proven success in NASL might over-inflate his value a bit within the league. But it would be a surprise to hear that Minnesota has not at least made inquiries with regards to the most interesting free agent in the league right now.

KubiAppiah

Kwabena Appiah

— RW | 22 | New Zealand —

 Western Sydney Wanderers

Appiah is the Kiwi son of Ghanian parents, and an ambitious winger for Western Sydney. Like Saba, he appears to be completely out of favor with management, and is widely expected to be shipped. The young winger has hardly done enough in his career to merit a big money move, but at 22 he is said to have a good deal of potential.

Like Saba, he could use a complete change of scenery and may also relish the chance to play and show his skills in the larger American market.

IgorSubbotin

Igor Subbotin

— FW | 24 | Estonia —

Levadia

Subbotin came to our attention as one of the most prolific goal scorers in the world in 2014.  Of course, Subbotin’s 34 goals in 41 games came in the Estonian first division, a league ranked 41st of 53 in Europe. But Levadia Tallinn are the Bayern Munich of Estonia, so to speak, and Subbotin has been capped for his country. Between Christian Ramirez and Pablo Campos, it’s unlikely that the Loons will invest too heavily in another forward, but you won’t hear us complaining about more talent. Plus, the Dark Clouds wave an Estonian flag around anyway, so he’d feel right at home.

AbdielArroyo

Abdiel Arroyo

— FW | 21 | Panama —

 Árabe Unido

Remember Arroyo? We’ll forgive you if not. The young Panamanian came to Minnesota United FC over the summer on trial and actually got a short run out as a sub for Christian Ramirez against Swansea City! For whatever reason, the club did not sign Arroyo that summer, and the young forward returned to Panama, where he performed acceptably in the 2014 Liga Panameña de Fútbol apertura, appearing 13 times as a starter and scoring four times in three of those games.

United has a habit of signing former trialists well after the end of their trial. Christian Ramirez and JC Banks were both signed after training with the Loons. While we know little about the circumstances of Arroyo’s trial (he seemed to leave immediately after we learned about him), it seems important that he got his foot in the door. With pressure sure to come on Christian Ramirez and with Pablo Campos’ position in the team uncertain beyond 2015, Arroyo could be a strong prospect for the future.

Freddy Adu

— FW | 25 | USA —

 Out of contract (Last with Jagodina)

Okay, we’re just kidding about this one.

***

Who would you like to see Minnesota United sign? Let us know on social media or in the comments!

End of Season Loon Ratings: Defenders

Throughout this week and next, we’ll be putting up our End of Season Loon Ratings.  On Friday, we shared our thoughts about the Goalkeepers. Today, we continue with the Defenders.  We asked many of our regular contributors to comment and rate the play of the Minnesota United FC players from 2014. Disagree with the ratings? Comment below!

Thank you to Supremelord, Wes Burdine, Bill MK, Steve Lilly, Brian Hanf, Alex Schieferdecker and Christopher Boyd for submitting your responses and comments.

Look for the midfielders and forwards later on in the week.

Kevin Venegas

Appearances: 22

Ratings: 

Average: 7.6
Median: 7
Mode: 7

Comments: Another good fullback, good skill with the ball. — Venegas is maybe the most likely player on MNUFC to be given a shot in MLS this next season. The fullback has all the skills that are needed to succeed. He very occasionally abandons defensive responsibilities; this is less of a “con” and more something his teammates need to bear in mind. — More aggressive than Davis, which created more chances on both ends of the field. Fast, with the best ball skills on the team. Excellent free kick delivery all season. — Love watching Kevin with the ball, not the strongest defender but good enough at this level however going forward presents his team mates with space and opportunity and can put a pass on a dime. — Honestly think he is the player on the team ready to move to MLS as everyday player.

Justin Davis

Appearances: 26

Ratings:

Average: 7.9
Median: 8
Mode: 7

Comments: Good full back in a system that utilizes its fullbacks terribly — Stellar. Davis is one of a few players who I won’t be surprised to see snatched up by an MLS team in the next few years. Defensively capably and offensively adept, Davis is a very good left back. — A great season from Justin Davis. Did great in his role as a dual offensive and defensive player.  — Had a breakout season. Speedy and fairly good with the ball. Struggled to find a good partnership with Ibarra on the left, seemed much better suited to the formation when partnered with Watson. — Great season on the left, goal against Swansea was amazing, the Justin Davis sliding tackle from the side at speed taking the ball and not the man is now his signature move.

Tiago Calvano

Appearances: 25

Ratings: 

Average: 8.0
Median: 8
Mode: 8

Comments: Great signing; great composure. — Calvano is the anchor of MNUFC. He played steadily, he made the whole defensive line better, and he distributed the ball forward effectively. One of the top players on the team. — Much of what applies to Cristi applies to Tiago as well. Combined, the two dominated the center of the defense. Lack of speed was rarely an issue thanks to intelligent play. Excellent standing tackle. — Great season very solid in the back and at this level a footballing mastermind. His long passing is a threat at all times. — Very fun to watch. Despite his rep seemed to have a calming influence on back line.

Cristiano Dias

Appearances: 26

Ratings: 

Average: 7.0
Median: 7
Mode: 7

Comments: At times fantastic; at times impossible to figure out what he’s doing. — If this had been just the spring, his rating would have been higher, but the second half of the season our centerbacks got burned seemingly every game.  — Commanding in the center of the field and in the air. Formed a strong partnership with Tiago. Guilty of ball watching on occasion, but overall a powerful presence.  –Solid at the back but always the concern he will not stay on the pitch –Really was mediocre second half, but first half and special matches he turned it up.

Tyler Polak

Appearances: 2

Ratings: 

Average: 5.3
Median: 5
Mode: 6

Comments: Didn’t see the field enough to allow me to form an opinion. — Never made the field, which is fairly surprising and a bit disappointing given his background. –Did what was needed when the chance came. –Didn’t see enough to know.

Brian Kallman

Appearances: 10

Ratings: 

Average: 6.1
Median: 6
Mode: 6

Comments: Can never keep these two brothers straight. With our first choice four pretty set in stone, I don’t expect Brian to stick around much longer. — Showed some great strides forward this year.  — Filled in well when called upon. Everything you want from a back-up; he knows his job and does it without overreaching. — Minnesota’s own made a great contribution when he got the chance, would be a walk on in any other team. — Didn’t start enough, but really made the most of time he did play. That throw in assist was incredible.

Brent Kallman

Appearances: 3

Ratings: 

Average: 6.1
Median: 6
Mode: 6

Comments:  Didn’t see the field enough to allow me to form an opinion. — Could become a staliwart player for MN in the future.  –Shaky against Atlanta, but relatively decent in subsequent relief outings. Like his brother, a fairly adequate back-up option as a center back. –Did enough when he had the chance, looks too much like Bjorn Borg but other than that I have confidence in his ability on the pitch. — Not enough time on field we needed him to start about 6-8 games this year and he didn’t. Looking at the friendlies and times he got on he should have had more minutes.

 

 

End of Season Loon Ratings: Goalkeepers

Throughout this week and next, we’ll be putting up our End of Season Loon Ratings.  Today, we’ll start with the goalkeepers.  We asked many of our regular contributors to comment and rate the play of the Minnesota United FC players from 2014. Disagree with the ratings? Comment below!

Thank you to Supremelord, Wes Burdine, Bill MK, Steve Lilly, Brian Hanf, Alex Schieferdecker and Christopher Boyd for submitting your responses and comments.

Matt Van Oekel, Goalkeeper

Appearances: 21

Ratings

  • Average:  6.7 
  • Median: 
  • Mode: 6

Comments:  Great technical ability, but seemed to lose most of his “command” of the field after the injury — Van Oekel played VERY well; he made very few mistakes, and came up huge multiple times. His hands seem to be made of iron skillets, and his positioning is superb. Overall great keeper. — Solid, but never spectacular in appearances. Great in the air. Somewhat immobile otherwise. Not good enough at saving penalty kicks. — Great shot stopper but a few heart in mouth moments particularly with the ball at his feet. — Really just an average goalkeeper, except for his ever changing hair and beard/ mustache. My boy got his hair cut into a mohawk to match Matt.

Mitch Hildebrandt, Goalkeeper

Appearances: 9

Ratings:

  • Average (mean): 6.4
  • Median: 7
  • Mode: 7

Comments:  Human highlight reel; wouldn’t need to make such ridiculous saves if he had better positioning. — Hildebrandt played well; he made a few mistakes that cost him the starting job, as well as the consistently great play by Van Oekel.  — Was strong in appearances. Aggressive and quick, but maybe a bit too rash; essentially the anti-Matt VanOekel.  — Did very well coming in and covering for Mat when needed. — Thought he did great, even better looking than Matt. Wish he would have gotten more starts.

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