Minnesota United play to local fan base while Kevin Molino boosts MLS hopes
As the new Major League Soccer season draws closer, Minnesota United have been boosted by the arrival of midfielder Kevin Molino from Orlando City SC. How is the team shaping up days before its inaugural campaign? ESPN FC gives you a rundown of the club's identity, coach, supporters and more.
While not the same club officially, Minnesota United rolled into MLS with a pre-existing identity from their days in the North American Soccer League.
Sporting director Manny Lagos directed the club with a slow-build approach, locking in important pieces in the middle of the formation before pulling in flashier players to fill out the lineup.
The club waited much longer than expansion mates Atlanta United to hire a head coach, choosing to eschew a big name for former Orlando City SC supremo Adrian Heath. Heath brings to Minnesota experience with an expansion team moving up from a lower division, fitting nicely into the pragmatic nature of United's identity.
MNUFC played to its existing local fan base with a number of moves, not the least being the signings of former Minnesota United NASL starter Christian Ramirez and Miguel Ibarra. Early days show a club building for a long-term future while recognizing the need for continuity from its previous incarnations.
In Orlando, Heath set out a direct, athletic team that benefited from the creative gifts of Kaka and the goal-scoring prowess of Cyle Larin. In his second crack at MLS, expect the manager to play much the same way. Possession is an important part of Heath's philosophy, but don't expect Minnesota United to construct 20-pass moves in search of goals.
The Loons' coach calls for speed to be more a part of how they go about winning games. The arrival of Molino from Orlando is an intriguing reunion of Heath with a player he guided to a United Soccer League MVP just a few years ago.
Heath is an affable character who should fit right in with the community nature of the club Minnesota United have built. In Heath, they opted for someone who won't have trouble adapting to MLS -- bringing a network of contacts from around the football world -- and who will deliver honest assessments of his team and their progress to a fan base that will appreciate candor.
The plan is for Minnesota to have their own custom-built digs in the city of St. Paul completed in 2018. For now, they will play in TCF Bank Stadium on the campus of the University of Minnesota. The college football venue opened in 2009 and can seat just shy of 51,000 fans. TCF Bank Stadium has an artificial surface and, similar to many football venues repurposed for soccer use, will likely be narrow.
TCF Bank Stadium won't be able to produce the atmosphere United's future home should, and a ban on tailgating could sap some of the energy from the culture around it.
The guiding force for Minnesota United fans is the Dark Clouds, a supporters' group that traces its origins back to when the area's lower-division entry was called the Minnesota Thunder. The group's 13-year history speaks to its commitment to professional soccer in the Twin Cities, and with growing numbers it will be a big addition to the supporters' culture of MLS.
A few newer groups will bring their own flavor of support, and the club's strong season-ticket base (which is somewhere north of 7,000) guarantees good attendance.
Jason Davis covers Major League Soccer and the United States national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @davisjsn.