This week, we get a first look at a brand new Western Conference opponent in Minnesota United FC. Their roster has changed significantly since their last year in the NASL, obviously, and they’ve taken a bit of a different approach to building a roster than many MLS teams.
Back in January, club director of player personnel Amos Magee stated that Minnesota wouldn’t be signing any high profile Designated Players ahead of their first season in the league. Instead, they’d be focusing on building a roster around the players they currently have, which includes a couple of MLS vets, a few players that carried over from the NASL team, and several other new signings.
Let’s look at a few of their key players and who we might expect to see in the game against RSL.
Goalkeeper - John Alvbåge
This 34-year-old veteran ‘keeper knows his way around a penalty box. Having spent his entire career so far in Sweden and making 449 appearances, he’s no stranger to professional soccer. Minnesota signed him on a loan deal that lasts through July 15, with an option to extend.
Alvbåge recently won the Goalkeeper of the Year in the top flight Swedish league in 2015 and earned 53 clean sheets in five years with IFK Goteborg, his former club before coming to the states. He has started every game in the Portland preseason tournament, so we can expect to see him go the full 90 against RSL as well.
Defender - Francisco Calvo
While much of Minnesota’s backline is filled with relatively small names, that doesn’t mean they can be written off without warning. Newly acquired center back Francisco Calvo brings plenty of experience and big play to the table for the Loons. At 24, Calvo has already made 21 caps with the Costa Rican national team, and has spent the majority of his career playing with Herediano in Costa Rica’s Primera Division.
Most recently, he spent two seasons with Saprissa, which RSL fans are no doubt familiar with, thanks to the 2011 CONCACAF Champions League Semifinals. He made 63 appearances and scored an impressive 14 goals for the Costa Rican giants, which should tell us a little about how dangerous he can be, even as a center back.
Other notable defenders: Vadim Demidov, Jermaine Taylor, Joseph Greenspan
Midfielder - Kevin Molino
This is a name that all MLS fans should be familiar with. After spending six years with Orlando City (four of them in NASL play), Molino has landed at his new club with a record-tying transfer fee of $650,000 in allocation money. Reunited with his longtime coach Adrian Heath, Molino is about as close as Minnesota will get to having a big-name star ahead of the 2017 season. No pressure, Kevin!
In his two years playing in MLS, Molino has tallied 11 goals in 37 games. He’s also made his way up the ranks for his national team, starting in 2007 with the Trinidad and Tobago U17’s, working all the way up to the first team, where he’s had 35 caps and 16 goals since 2010. He’s very much an attacking-minded midfielder who has shown he can push forward and make things happen both on and off the ball.
Other notable midfielders: Collen Warner, Miguel Ibarra, Johan Venegas, Bernardo Anor
Forward - Abu Danladi
Minnesota looks to be playing a 4-5-1, so their true forward selection is a little slim. That’s not to say that they don’t have talented guys to play up top. Abu Danladi, while a rookie this year, isn’t someone who should be overlooked. Born in Ghana, Danladi spent his college career playing with UCLA, where he scored 18 goals in 42 games and earned several honors including First Team All-PAC 12 in 2015.
He was picked first overall by MNUFC in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft after a great showing in the MLS combine. It’s clear that he’s got speed up top and has no problem taking on defenders one-on-one with the ball at his feet. He’s a proven goalscorer who should have a fantastic first year in MLS. He’ll most likely be splitting time as the lone striker with Christian Ramirez, who has also seen some playing time this preseason.
Other notable forwards: Femi Hollinger-Janzen, Christian Ramirez, Bashkim Kadrii