After another solid season of progression last year, Minnesota United are looking to make the next step in Major League Soccer in 2022.
The Loons initially struggled upon becoming an MLS team, but have now made the Playoffs for three years running. They're packed full of dangerous attackers and anyone thinking they'll get an easy ride at Allianz Field will be sorely mistaken.
How did Minnesota United perform in 2021?
After losing each of their opening four games by a 10-3 aggregate scoreline, there were genuine fears Minnesota would not only miss out on the Playoffs, but finish bottom of the West altogether.
Those fears turned out to be unfounded. The Loons then went on to lose just two of their next 17 matches. Adrian Heath tightened up the backline, and the likes of Emanuel Reynoso and Franco Fragapane started gelling in the final third - the latter arriving in May.
Inconsistency meant MNUFC could only manage a fifth-place finish in the West, meaning they traveled to the Portland Timbers in Round One of the Playoffs - losing 3-1 to the eventual runners-up.
Minnesota United transfer activity
- Luis Amarilla (from Velez, $1.4m)
- Bongokuhle Hlongwane (from Maritzburg Utd, Undisc.)
- Abu Danladi (from Nashville SC, free transfer)
- Oniel Fisher (from LA Galaxy, free transfer)
- Eric Dick (from Columbus Crew, free transfer)
- Tani Oluwaseyi (SuperDraft)
- Kervin Arriaga (free agent)
- Jan Gregus (to San Jose Earthquakes, free transfer)
- Ethan Finlay (to Austin FC, free transfer)
- Jukka Raitala (to HJK Helsinki, free transfer)
- Osvaldo Alonso (to Atlanta United, free transfer)
- Adrian Zendejas (to Charlotte FC, free transfer)
- Juan Agudelo (released)
- Thomas Chacon (released)
- Fanendo Adi (released)
- Noah Billingsley (released)
Adrian Heath: Tactics and style
Minnesota are at their best in the final third where their creative pieces can get to work. To get the most out of these players, Adrian Heath sets up in a 4-2-3-1 system.
Romain Metanire provides attacking thrust from right-back, and is given more freedom by Chase Gasper being more defensive-minded on the other side. He will often tuck in to help form a back three with Michael Boxall and Bakaye Dibassy when the Loons go forward.
A fully fit Hasani Dotson will add far more mobility through the middle and with Osvaldo Alonso moving to Atlanta United, he'll also have a big defensive burden, most likely alongside Wil Trapp.
This entire set-up is there to get the very best out of Emanuel Reynoso - who is often touted as the best player in MLS by Heath - Franco Fragapane, Robin Lod, and Adrien Hunou.
When in full flow, this front four is among the most dangerous in the league, with pace, creativity, and dazzling movement. The big issue right now is a lack of depth behind them, especially with Jan Gregus and Ethan Finlay leaving.
Minnesota United predicted XI (4-2-3-1): Miller; Metanire, Dibassy, Boxall, Gasper; Trapp, Dotson; Frangapane, Reynoso, Lod; Hunou.
Who are Minnesota United's key players?
As mentioned, Heath believes Reynoso is the best player in MLS. Even if that's not quite true, he's right up there.
The Argentine is a wizard with the ball at his feet, able to split defenses with laser-precise passing both on the ground or over the top, while he's almost impossible to dispossess when he gets on the dribble.
The only criticism of Reynoso is that he doesn't quite score enough goals, but when he does, they're usually appointment viewing. 'Bebelo' is undoubtedly the key to Minnesota's success or failure in 2022, just as he was last year.
Reynoso is a gem, Franco Fragapane is electric on one flank, and Robin Lod adds industry on the other. But what will be so important to Minnesota United this season is the ability of Adrien Hunou to be a regular goalscorer.
The former France youth international made a promising start to life in MLS last year, scoring seven times in 26 regular-season games. And he does offer a lot more than just goals.
But Reynoso needs someone to feed, and Heath needs someone in the middle who will just put the ball in the net, game after game. Hunou needs to be to Minnesota United what the likes of Josef Martinez and Raul Ruidiaz are to Atlanta United and Seattle Sounders.
Hassani Dotson is a clear talent and even at 24, could still earn himself a move to Europe. His big problem has been his versatility. Dotson is so good in midfield and at right-back that it's hard to know where to start him. In the end, he often started on the bench.
With Alonso gone, a spot opens up in the middle for Dotson now, and it's time for him to flourish. He'll have his work cut out to offer the same level of defensive coverage and ball progression Alonso did, but Dotson isn't short on talent.
2022 could be the biggest year of his career so far.
Minnesota United 2022 season prediction
They've made a couple of moves, but everyone was sitting here waiting for Minnesota United to make a big splash in the market. Good teams must always improve to move forward. Luis Amarilla was that big splash, but it'll take time for him to adjust back to MLS, so Hunou will remain the main man for a while.
That said, the Loons already have enough existing quality - and a star almost unmatched in MLS in Reynoso - to make you think they'll be a Playoff team once again. Even if they do have to surrender a couple of spots in the Western Conference standings.
Prediction: 7th in the Western Conference