Hot Time: How has the transition from supporting in the NASL to supporting in MLS gone for Loons supporters? How would you compare the game day experience and community outreach of the two organizations?
E Pluribus Loonum: From the casual fan's point of view, I would say the transition has been pretty smooth. Beyond the issues early in the season with figuring out the configuration of TCF Bank Stadium (we didn't all go to the University of Minnesota), I did not hear many complaints. The biggest angst seemed to come from consistently playing for top of the table the last few seasons in NASL to well, what has happened this year.
The team itself has seemed to try to reach out, but it certainly hasn't been overwhelming. When the team was playing in Blaine, there was little advertising. Since the transition, though, I expected more and more billboards, ads, and team events to start appearing and there just hasn't been. They certainly have sent players to local children's hospitals and events like that, but not what I expected. While I don't know what to attribute the lack of community involvement overall to, I do enjoy the amount that I have seen so far.
HT: Miguel Ibarra's Mexican adventure is over and he's back in Minnesota - but he's not getting many minutes! What's the deal with the onetime fringe USMNT player?
EPL: Short answer? I think he got on Adrian Heath's bad side at some point this season and it is starting to show.
Long answer is that he simply takes games off. He has the speed, the tenacity, and the rapport with Christian Ramirez to certainly be an impact player, but he disappears for minutes at a time. The last handful of games he has turned it on and been one of the more active players on the field, but I do not know if that will be enough. Ethan Finlay made an immediate impact against the Sounders, Jose Leiton is a young, unknown Costa Rican winger (could be playing fullback, but listed as a winger), and Sam Nicholson appears to have the skill and just needs the fitness to catch up. Minutes on the wings are quickly becoming hard to come by, and Ibarra may find himself as the odd man out.
HT: What's been the key to Minnesota's defensive adjustments since the early season? Is it personnel, tactic, form - how have they straightened that out?
EPL: Brent Kallman, Sam Cronin, and Jerome Thiesson. The tactics are still the same, but Heath was able to put pieces around Francisco Calvo that could actually make an impact. Calvo was the lone brightspot in those first two games, and now his supporting cast allows him to move freely throughout the field.
A lot of it comes down to the acquisition of Sam Cronin though. The addition of a true #6 in front of the backline has completely changed how the defense has played and looked. (They still make plenty of stupid mistakes.)
HT: So set pieces, eh? Tell us that tale of woe.
EPL: Let's not talk about it. When you don't have anyone that has the ability to take a set piece or anyone that can consistently score off of a set piece, you won't have a good time. Couple that with the sheer lack of focus that the team has when defending, Minnesota United's season has gone about as well as anyone could expect.
The team is having Nicholson take them now (or at least, tried against Seattle), and he looked ... capable. Late August is not the time to finally be figuring out set pieces, though.