After a not-so-pretty but very valuable three points against Sporting Kansas City midweek, Orlando City will try to keep the run of August results coming this Saturday. The next test will be a road trip to the Midwest to take on Minnesota United.
That means that I spoke to Jacob Schneider of SBNation’s superbly named E Pluribus Loonum — fun fact, our managing editor suggested the name their blog ultimately chose — and he was nice enough to give us a healthy update on how the Loons have done during 2019.
In its third year of MLS play Minnesota is second in the Western Conference entering the weekend, with no signs of slowing down. Perhaps not so coincidentally this is also Adrian Heath’s third year in charge, and he’s been quoted as saying he had a three-year plan in Orlando he never got to finish (sore subject by the way). Do you think he’s done a good job of building a foundation for the Loons to be successful?
Jacob SchneiderThe question regarding Heath is an interesting one. Every coach, whether it be Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola or Adrian Heath, has their faults. There is always going to be something you disagree with regrading the way a manager tackles his team on and off the pitch. For the “three-year plan” concept though, it’s frustrating but also understandable. It’s rather dumb to enter a league of the highest level of competition with a goal to not be competitive, but rather go through a building phase your first two years of participation. For example, look at Aston Villa in the English Premier League. They were just promoted this past season (MNUFC were an expansion side, similar to promotion in a way) and Villa spent over 130 million to be competitive in the league. By no means am I asking the Loons to spend 130 million. What I’m asking is where the ambition was, in a sense. As a manager taking over a team, you have a sort of “war chest” to use on players, the club and all the other intricacies involved.
The Loons’ scouting over their first two seasons was dreadful, to be simply put. The first ever starting XI for the Loons was something to be excited about, or so we thought — there are only five players of those 18 still rostered with the team. It’s just baffling in a sense. The “three-year plan” feels like a bit of a scapegoat, avoiding the fact that the team wasn’t competitive. In no means is this a shot against the club or its ambitions, it’s just me saying that the planning wasn’t there, the scouting wasn’t there, and that excuses were made; which is the most upsetting thing.
However, year three has been incredible, and whether they meant that or not, the entire FO and Heath deserve accolades for this season. They’ve made the team competitive through competent transfers, proper training and through the building of MLS’s best soccer-specific stadium.
The Western conference is a hotly contested one, with six teams within three points of each other. What does Minnesota need to do in order to ensure it finishes above the line?
JS: Win, simply put. We just have to keep winning. Orlando is a team Minnesota should beat; they can’t afford to drop points. Making the playoffs is almost a sure-thing based on form, however, the team’s goal shouldn’t just be the playoffs. They should want to host a home playoff game, maybe earn a bye, you know? It’s not a complicated scenario — the only wild card is the U.S. Open Cup final. It’s going to be an intense and difficult match. All we can do is prepare for the best team in the East (sorry Philly) and hope that MNUFC shows up to win.
Jan Gregus was signed in the off-season as a Designated Player, how has he performed since joining Minnesota?
JS: Gregus has been quite a great acquisition by the Loons. It took him a few months, but the DP is now showing his quality in the midfield. The double pivot of him and Ozzie Alonso has been phenomenal, with the two workhorse midfielders splitting duties while combining in the attack. Gregus has one heck of a shot. He’s somebody who you’d expect to take those 20-, 25-yard shots and hit them on frame. I really like what he’s brought to the midfield. He has great size, great ball control, and the ability to find runners on through balls.
Are there any injuries, suspensions, or call-ups that will keep players unavailable for selection on Saturday? What is your projected starting lineup and score prediction?
JS: As of right now, the injury report is clean but Mason Toye is suspended. However, Ozzie Alonso picked up a bit of a knock Wednesday evening against Colorado. Don’t be shocked if he’s withheld against Orlando.
As for a predicted starting XI, here it goes:
Vito Mannone; Romain Metanire, Ike Opara, Michael Boxall, Chases Gasper; Hassani Dotson, Jan Gregus; Darwin Quintero, Ethan Finlay, Kevin Molino; Angelo Rodriguez.
(No score prediction given.)
A huge thanks to Jacob for the wealth of information on Minnesota United.