Kevin Molino, Adrian Heath, and most of Minnesota United’s coaching staff return to Orlando this Saturday for the first time since their respective departures. For Molino and Heath, it will be a surreal moment for the pair entering Orlando City Stadium for the first time as opponents after spending years building the foundation of what the Lions have become.
And after a year where Heath proved doubters wrong after a horrible start and all of that early “worst team ever” talk by willing the Loons to some improvement over the course of the year — including a 1-0 victory over Orlando — City’s old gaffer will have something else to prove this weekend.
Minnesota had a trying off-season and couldn’t quite get any of its high-profile targets over the finish line. What are the expectations in the Twin Cities for Adrian Heath and this roster in year two?
Eli Hoff: Certainly not high ones. Fans saw the team improve after last year’s nightmarish start and knew that with a few solid moves in the off-season this club would be a playoff contender — but that didn’t happen. While fans are (mostly) just happy to cheer for the team, there is certainly some discontent and a significant number of people who think the Loons could be worse or only marginally better than last year.
Kevin Molino managed a late brace in San Jose last week. Is there still hope he can be the focal point in midfield that the Loons have been trying to find?
EH: Within the coaching staff, yes. Minnesota is a team that has a lot (like, a ton) of wingers on the roster, but no solid options at the number ten role. Molino has been filling that space but not doing terribly well. He has become a little too eager to dribble and lose the ball, though if his rally at the end of the San Jose match is a sign of what’s to come, he may be able to be a focal point.
What will be the key match-up on Saturday night? What has to happen for each team to get the result they’re after?
EH: It’s an unspecific match-up, but it will come down to Minnesota United’s center backs holding together. Captain Francisco Calvo is a lock, but his partner could be either Brent Kallman or Michael Boxall. The back line showed another inconsistent performance in the opener and made several Earthquakes look like stars. If Minnesota wants to steal a point, it’ll have to stay collected in defense and win the battle in defensive midfield to give the attack the support it needs. All Orlando will have to do is force the Loons into making mistakes.
What absences is Minnesota dealing with and what is your predicted lineup and final score?
EH: The biggest absences are the off-season international signings — they are hung up with visa paperwork. Sam Cronin, Marc Burch, and Harrison Heath are expected to remain out. Abu Danladi left the opener with a leg injury before the half-hour mark; his status is unknown.
The expected lineup is a 4-2-3-1 (left to right): Matt Lampson; Jerome Thiesson, Francisco Calvo, Brent Kallman, Tyrone Mears; Ibson, Rasmus Schuller; Sam Nicholson, Kevin Molino, Ethan Finlay; Christian Ramirez
That lineup could very well be different though. Ramirez was dropped in favor of Danladi for the opener, both Ibson and Schuller struggled with consistency, and Nicholson was invisible at times.
Let’s say 3-1 to Orlando.
Thanks again to Eli for taking the time to field some questions about the Loons.