GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. (March 2, 2018) -- Minnesota United will open its 2018 season the same way it closed its 2017 campaign — on the road on the West Coast with a match against the San Jose Earthquakes at Avaya Stadium. Back in late October, the Loons couldn’t spoil the Quakes’ playoff hopes as the home team pulled off a 3-2 win on a stoppage-time goal by Marco Ureña. That win propelled the Quakes to a sixth-place finish in the West and punched their ticket for a journey — albeit a brief one — to the postseason. Both teams will be looking to showcase how they’ve improved in the offseason when the match kicks off at 9:30 p.m. CT, with pre-match coverage beginning on FOX Sports North and MNUFC Radio on 1500 ESPN at 9:00 p.m.
While MNUFC didn’t grab headlines with a splashy designated player signing, the relatively quiet offseason makes sense when put into the context of building on a foundation that was much sturdier by the end of 2017 than at its disastrous start. The team’s finish down the stretch last year kept them in the playoff hunt until the season’s closing weeks and they added depth to a squad that dropped in quality too quickly when hit with injuries or international call-ups. A productive SuperDraft netted them rookies Mason Toye at forward, Wyatt Omsberg at center back and Carter Manley at fullback, while other moves added Matt Lampson in goal, Tyrone Mears at right back, and more potential with a Cameroonian duo (midfielder Frantz Pangop and defender Bertrand Owundi Eko’o) and defensive midfielder Luiz Fernando from Brazil.
“We would have liked to have brought one or two more people in,” said Head Coach Adrian Heath when asked about the offseason. “We’re a bit frustrated with that. We are still trying. Obviously looks like we won’t have anybody in for the weekend. But we finished 4-4-2 at the backend of the season, the last 10 games. Shows you we were being competitive. We have to be competitive throughout the year this time. Not, you know, give ourselves a mountain to climb at the start. But I’m quietly confident that we’re going to be okay.”
Given that preseason results are hardly a reliable barometer of regular season results — “As last year proved, we went undefeated, and it didn’t really pan out that way when we started the season,” quipped Heath — the most important things the side is taking away from the prelude this season are health and level of preparation that’s leaps and bounds beyond what they had going into their inaugural season.
“You have to lay your foundation down first,” said midfielder Kevin Molino. “It’s a building process. We continue working in training, first and foremost, and make sure each and every one is on the right page. This first game of the season will be very, very difficult. Once we go there and perform well, we have something to build on. This is how you carry on through the season. You keep building and building each and every game. And I think it’s very important that we go there with a very strong mentality to try and get three points early on in the season, and that can carry through the rest of the season.”
Getting off to that strong start will be a challenge with five of the team’s first seven matches away from TCF Bank Stadium. As with many MLS teams, the divide between home and away results was marked for MNUFC last year: its home record of 7-6-4 was leagues better than its 3-12-2 away record. But there’s no magic trick to starting off on the right foot, as Heath well knows after years of coaching. It’s just about putting in the work, as Heath acknowledges when asked what it will take to put together a good streak to begin the year.
“Taking more points than the opposition,” he laughs. “I think the most important thing is that we hit the ground running. As last year, we’ve got more away games than we’ve got home games, so it’s not going to be an easy start for us. We go to Orlando second, who have put 12 players in this [offseason]. Probably had the best offseason of any team in the MLS. Then we’re home to Chicago — they were a top team in the league last year. But hey, it is what it is. We’re going to be ready for them. I’m always excited for the start of a new season.”
The Loons next head to Florida to face Orlando City at Orlando City Stadium on Saturday, March 10. The teams kick off at 6:30 p.m. CT with pre-match coverage beginning at 6:00 p.m. on FOX Sports North and MNUFC Radio on 1500 ESPN.
D – Marc Burch (ankle injury)
M – Harrison Heath (knee injury)
D – Sam Cronin (concussion)
San Jose Earthquakes
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- Jackson Yueill is a native of Bloomington, Minnesota. He was a teammate of Abu Danladi’s at UCLA from 2015 to 2016.
- Minnesota assistant coach Mark Watson has held multiple coaching positions with San Jose. He was an assistant from 2010 to 2013, then took over as interim head coach for the latter part of 2013. Watson was named head coach for the 2014 season.
- Shea Salinas and Michael Boxall played for Vancouver Whitecaps FC in 2011.
- Minnesota picked up three players – forward Mason Toye and defenders Wyatt Omsberg and Carter Manley – in the first round of the 2018 MLS SuperDraft.
- San Jose was the only team to make the playoffs with a negative goal differential during the 2017 season, allowing 21 more goals than they scored.
- MNUFC forward Abu Danladi led all rookies in goals in 2017 (eight) and shots on goal (13). Four of his goals were match-winners.
- Since joining the club shortly after the 2017 season opener, defender Jerome Thiesson has not missed a match for MNUFC.
- Kevin Molino was dangerous from the penalty spot in 2017, converting three of four attempts. He scored on the rebound of his saved attempt.
- Francisco Calvo, Ethan Finlay and Thiesson all have career goals against San Jose.
- Chris Wondolowski is currently 11 goals away from tying the all-time MLS scoring record of 145 goals set by Landon Donovan.
- San Jose had the second-most ejections last season with seven. LA Galaxy and Orlando City SC were tied for the most with eight.
- The Quakes had four three-goal matches in 2017, the third-fewest in the league. Minnesota hit the three goal mark on six occasions.
- Minnesota had the fourth-highest scoring percentage in MLS last year, finding the back of the net on 13.9% of its shots.
- Mikael Stahre makes his MLS coaching debut against Minnesota this week. He comes to San Jose from Sweden’s BK Hacken.
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