PORTLAND, OR --The tone has been set.
Last year, Minnesota showed promise in its best MLS season yet. The Loons finished 15W-11L-8D with 53 points, good enough for their first-ever playoff berth as well as fourth in the Western Conference. Even as the season ended with a disappointing 2-1 loss to the LA Galaxy in the first round, it was still an overall success.
But success only breeds higher expectations. Now Minnesota finds themselves not just trying to make the playoffs, but trying to attain much loftier goals.
“We want to do better than we did last year,” head coach Adrian Heath said. “We made the playoffs, homefield advantage, got to the Open Cup final, it was a good year. We have to build on that, and that’s what we’re going to try and do.”
They’ve made some additions to help shore up their roster after the departures of key players such as forward Darwin Quintero and the 2019 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Vito Mannone. The club brought in players such as forward Luis Amarilla and goalkeeper Tyler Miller to help maintain championship aspirations. Even with the loss of those key pieces, both Heath and Alonso feel they have a squad capable of more.
“I think we’ve got good players,” Heath said. “One thing we do have is we have more depth than we’ve ever had since I’ve been at the club.”
Alonso echoed that sentiment, noting that while it stings to lose quality players, it doesn’t change the goal.
“Every year you lose players, big players,” Alonso said. “I think for us this year we have to prepare for a good season...I think everybody, especially the players and staff, I think everybody’s ready to go.”
In preseason action at Providence Park this past week, Minnesota drew the New England Revolution 2-2 on Feb. 16 while drubbing the home-team Portland Timbers 4-2 on Feb. 19. In a chippy final match of the tourney on Saturday, they lost to the Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1. Heath was pleased with a lot of what he saw, even in the loss to Vancouver, but still sees room for improvement.
“We’re hopeful this season that we convert a bit more of the opportunities we create,” Heath said. “Even today [Saturday] we had two or three golden opportunities to go up two-nil and it comes back to bite you. Overall, though the work that we’ve put in, the physical work, has been excellent, players have been good. I think some of our counterattack plays have been outstanding.”
Expectations are growing for this budding Minnesota squad. While the goal of getting a championship remains, Alonso -- who won the prized MLS Cup with the Seattle Sounders in 2016 -- knows that they can only take it one game at a time.
“We wanted a championship because it’s our for everything we say in this league,” Alonso said. “I think we have to go little by little, game by game. Now we have to focus on Portland next week and go from there.”