Versus: Minnesota United FC

Minnesota United FC LogoIn Week Four, the Indy Eleven venture north to take on the Loon Army of Minnesota United FC. Indy will face a tough challenge in their second road game: Minnesota lead the league with a perfect 3-0-0 record, and they’ll expect to take maximum points from the Eleven.

Founded in 2010 after the demise of the Minnesota Thunder, United have been a part of the NASL since its inception. Their identity and ownership has been in flux over the team’s existence, but 2012 brought new ownership and new identity, and Minnesota is reaping the rewards of stability. The team has built its perfect record on away wins over San Antonio (0-2) and Ottawa (1-2) and a home victory over Edmonton (1-0).

Minnesota United FC

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Previous Seasons

The team has been through multiple names in its short history, starting play in 2010 as NSC Minnesota Stars, changing to Minnesota Stars FC in 2012, and finally rebranding as Minnesota United FC in 2013.

2010 (NSC MN Stars – USSF-D2): 11-7-12/4th, USL division; playoffs – quarterfinals; USOC – 2nd round
2011 (NSC MN Stars – NASL): 9-9-10/6th; playoffs – Soccer Bowl champions; no USOC
2012 (MN Stars FC – NASL): 8-11-9/6th; playoffs – finals (lost to Tampa Bay); USOC – 4th round
2013 (MN Utd FC – NASL): 4-2-6/6th (Spring); 6-2-6/4th (Fall); USOC – 2nd round

Like Fort Lauderdale, Minnesota has typically been a lower-mid table team. The difference is that they’ve reached the playoffs and done well, winning the Soccer Bowl in 2011 and reaching the finals in 2012. 2013 was a bit of a mediocre year for United, with a very mid-table performance in both position and goal differential. Minnesota finished 4-4-5 at home and 7-0-6 on the road, indicating a surprising home vulnerability. They lost in the US Open Cup in the 2nd round (their entry point), losing 0-1 to the PDL’s Des Moines Menace. (3 of 6 NASL teams lost in the 2nd round last year.)

Roster

Minnesota United have had just one manager: Manny Lagos. He took control of the team in 2010 and is now leading United into its fifth season. Lagos played nine seasons in MLS, including a two-year stint in Chicago after the Fire (under Peter Wilt’s presidency) took him from the MetroStars in the expansion draft.

To read about the team, I’d suggest starting with Jon Marthaler’s preview at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Last year’s attack was led by Pablo Campos, but unfortunately he ruptured his ACL and MCL in a preseason match. So far this year, he’s been replaced ably by 23-year-old Californian Christian Ramirez, who has two goals and an assist in three games. Ramirez was signed from the Charlotte Eagles of USL Pro. He’s paired up well with longtime United player Simone Bracallelo, who’s played for Minnesota since moving from Italy in 2010.

The defense is anchored by goalkeeper Matt Van Oekel (with United since 2010) and central defenders Aaron Pitchkolan (signed from San Antonio this year) and Christiano Dias (signed in 2011). Dias was awarded the NASL Play of the Week last week for his double headed goalline clearance to preserve the win over Edmonton. Minnesota, one of the big spenders in the NASL since McGuire took over, have also added Tiago, Jamie Watson, and Daniel Mendes to the roster for 2014.

Identity and Home Field

The team’s name changes have paralleled ownership moves. Originally, the team was founded directly by the National Sports Center, a multisport facility that primarily hosts amateur tournaments, and which also hosts the home stadium for United (and for the Thunder before them). But NASL ownership rules require that owners have a net worth of at least $20 million, and NSC didn’t qualify, so the league took over ownership in 2011. The NASL ran the team for two years, but sold the team to Dr. Bill McGuire at the end of 2012. McGuire is the former CEO of UnitedHealth Group. Under his ownership, the team selected a new name as Minnesota United FC — United representing the unity of Minneapolis, St. Paul, and the other local communities. Or, you know, because “Minnesota” and “Manchester” kinda sound similar.

The team crest features the loon — the state bird — and its colors are grey and light blue, with white and red accents. United wear light blue shirts, shorts, and socks on the road; the home uniform has a medium gray top and shorts (both with huge black loon feathers) and black socks.

National Sports Center Stadium

Minnesota plays at the National Sports Center stadium in Blaine, Minnesota — about 15 miles north of Minneapolis. The NSC has a wide range of facilities, including a golf course, velodrome, and hockey rinks. The stadium seats a reported 8,500 fans, and has a natural grass surface. Though it has served as a track and field stadium in the past, the track has been partially removed and the field brought closer to the stands. Its curved stands are somewhat reminiscent of Carroll. Last year, United averaged around 3,700 attendance at their NSC matches; their home opener last week had an attendance of 5,287. United also played games at the Metrodome last year. This year, they’ve announced that their August 2 NASL match against Ottawa will be played at TCF Bank Stadium following the earlier International Champions Cup match between Olympiakos and Manchester City.

Minnesota United’s main supporters group are the Dark Clouds. Loon’s Nest is a separate, fan-friendly supporters’ area within NSC. The Wolf’s Head group represents fans from Duluth and Superior. Minnesota’s main “local” rivalry is the Flyover Cup, contested with Edmonton (and won by United last week).

Prediction!

This could be a tough week for the Eleven: second week on the road, coming off a tough loss, and heading into the cold, windy north to take on the league leaders. United’s record is only slightly flattering; they’re quite a good team and will make for tough opponents. Meanwhile, Indy fans grow restless for that first win. It wouldn’t shock me to see an upset — we’re just about due some surprises in the season. But honestly Indy would do well to leave with a point. And that’s what I’ll predict — a 1-1 draw. Kleberson is due to get one of those FKs in for a goal…

Come on you red and blue! Beat the pointy ducks!

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