Birdwatching: Another Day of Sun

With another week in the books, we’re getting closer and closer to the start of the 2023 MLS season. Still in Florida, Minnesota United are continuing on their first preseason trip of the year. As with any fresh start, this year’s preseason served as an opportunity for players to rise and raise the overall level of the roster.

In the 2-2 draw with the Philadelphia Union, several Loons showed they had found their form. Goals from Robin Lod and Diogo Pacheco showed MNUFC brought their shooting shoes and impressed their manager along with some other teammates.

“A great move, great work from Bongi and the kind of finish we’ve come to expect from Robin, cutting in from the right and cornering it in the top corner,” said head coach Adrian Heath. “Overall against a team that was missing a player on their MLS Cup team… what were they, 30 seconds from the win? For us to play against the team we played against, with the injuries and the absences we have, I can only be happy with the way the players played.”

Smart runs from Bongi and Mender were encouraging signs early on. As the game progressed, Bongi’s characteristically energetic play continued to make the difference. Other standouts on the day included youngsters Cameron Dunbar and Devin Padelford, both of whom took up the challenge against what are likely to be the best teams in the league of 2023.

As the roster gradually gains meaningful fitness and form, the Florida sunshine appears to have been just what it took to get MNUFC 2023 going.

While returning players have been boosted, new signings are also here to make a difference. Following Bakaye Dibassy’s injury last season, Heath realized his team needed more depth in the center of defence.

“We came on stage with Dibassy’s injury last year when Brent [Kallman] occurred,” he said. “Well, Brent [Kallman] only missed the last four or five days: he has mild tendonitis. It’s not something that would be a problem for the opening game, but you don’t want to go into a season they are in [Brent Kallman and Michael Boxall] the only two you have.”

To fill this gap in the squad, the club have signed three new centre-backs: Doneil Henry, Mikael Marques and Miguel Tapias. This group brings a mix of youth and experience to the position while doubling the size of the depth map. While Henry has already joined the team, Marques is not expected to join the team until February. Negotiations with Pachuca are ongoing for Tapias. He is currently set to join the team in the summer but the club are hoping to bring him in sooner rather than later.

Meanwhile, Kervin Arriaga has shown his versatility by playing in defense throughout preseason.

“We saw him play for Honduras there,” Heath said of Arriaga. “The only thing that is being shown is that he can play there. He feels very comfortable on the ball. He’s faster than you think and with his size he can win the first ball, the first header.”

For Cameron Dunbar and Devin Padelford, impressive performances against Philadelphia were the continuation of a fast start. Throughout preseason, they were among a group of younger players who impressed the coaching staff.

“The boys are fine,” Heath said. “In that kind of intensity and physicality, it’s always a step up for them. I think that’s the only thing that stands out when you’re recording these little kids. Like I said, I was thinking of Devin [Padelford] was particularly well received. Geremy [Rodas] – We feel as a defender that we have at the club, as one of the best passers of the ball. We need to start working on making him a little more aggressive and physical for a kid who is 6ft 3 now. And the [Diogo] Pacheco’s goal, he worked very, very hard in preseason.”

Life as a loon is off to a good start for Dunbar.

“The only thing about the kid since he came in, he can run with the ball, he can dribble, he has an eye for goal,” Heath said. “He had an incredible performance against Philly [Philadelphia Union] That was an incredible save from Andre Blake in the first 20 minutes. He looks like he has a goal in mind and we spoke to him about that. Can we consistently put him in really good spots in and around the penalty area because he can maneuver the ball? He’s got two really good feet and he can shoot very early. In the few weeks we’ve had him here he’s done really, really well and we’re very happy with him.”

Dunbar’s speed and quick feet make him a versatile figure for any team’s attacking corps. Whether he’s tearing down the wing or pulling the strings as an attacking midfielder, his skills are sure to cause some trouble for opponents.

With just a few days left in Florida, loons are completing their time down south. In the remaining days, they will play a game against Orlando City SC, a side that has made many moves this offseason. After their final game, the team will return to North Star State for a brief pit stop before heading to California to continue their preparations.

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