Another year, another trip to the postseason.

A GIF is worth a thousand words:

It felt like the Loons came into 2022 with a tighter band of possible season-long outcomes than almost anyone in the league.

Could you talk yourself into seeing them as high as fourth in the West? Yeah, probably – but no higher. Could you talk yourself into seeing them as low as ninth? Yeah, but that was clearly the floor.

That’s life when you have the league’s best floor-raiser (that’d be Emanuel Reynoso), but almost no one who’s a reliable ceiling-raiser. You can’t get that bad, but you can’t get that good.

So Minnesota had one long stretch of quality soccer sandwiched in between a lot of dispiriting, pretty indifferent outings. And their year ended the same way it has in each of the previous four: With a trip to the playoffs.

But as in three of the past four, it was a very short trip to the playoffs, another one-and-done.

Formation and Tactics

The big shock wasn’t that it was almost always a 4-2-3-1: the big shock was it was almost always a 4-2-3-1. There were actually a couple of games in which Adrian Heath went away from his tried-and-true, preferred formation and had to tinker with three at the back. He doesn’t do that often!

Defensively they tended to stay deep, though they once again mixed in some selective high pressure. While in attack, damn near everything flowed through Reynoso.

Here’s a number that puts into perspective how much “damn near everything” is: fully 25.4% of Minnesota’s attacking third touches went to Bebelo as per American Soccer Analysis. That’s up three percent over his total from last year, and is the second-highest percentage in ASA’s database going back to 2013.

In that No. 1 spot? Darwin Quintero from 2018 at 27.6%. His team? Minnesota United.

Heath has his way of seeing the game.


Over the course of two months, from late June to late August, the Loons put together one of their best stretches in team history, rolling off an 8W-1L-2D streak with a +9 goal differential. You’ll be shocked to learn Reynoso was key to it with 7g/6a across that stretch.

But weirdly, I’m going to pick as the highlight a game in which he didn’t light up the scoreboard, and in which they didn’t even get the win. Because the 4-4 home draw against Portland on July 30, in which Reynoso had just a single assist, made it feel like the other guys had finally figured out how to take some of the burden off their star:

Armchair Analyst: Minnesota United FC vs. Portland Timbers

For a hot minute there it seemed like Franco Fragapane, or Luis Amarilla – or maybe even Bongi Hlongwane! – had found the range. It seemed like the plan of letting Reynoso do all the cooking was going to make it so everyone else could do all the eating, and they could do it to an extent where the team as a whole could survive the occasional rough defensive outing.

It actually looked a lot like what Minnesota were down the stretch and into the playoffs back in 2020, when Reynoso raised the floor and Kevin Molino raised the ceiling.


It turns out Fragapane, Amarilla and Hlongwane had not, in fact, found the range. In that game, they combined for 4g/2a. In the subsequent two months the three of them combined to put up just 5g/3a.

There’s a lot of individual games in there to point toward, including three-goal losses to RSL, Dallas and Sporting KC, but I would tend towards just painting the whole stretch from August 31 to Decision Day as the lowlight.

At least, anyway, until the playoffs themselves. The Loons went to Frisco and took a 1-0 lead against a Dallas team that was very much there for the taking. They held it for all of 11 minutes before surrendering the equalizer via a set piece – always a no-no when you’re a big team playing against a smaller side – and basically did not threaten for the rest of the night.

Then, in the PK shootout, this happened:

This wasn’t as much of a capitulation as last year’s no-show in Portland in the first round. But it was, in its way, just as disappointing.


Does Dayne St. Clair’s season count as a revelation? It didn’t end great, obviously, but he spent the first half of the year almost single-handedly keeping Minnesota alive, earning multiple Team of the Week nods and one actual Player of the Week nod (a rarity for goalkeepers). It was the kind of performance St. Clair’s talent always suggested he was capable of, and the kind he’d shown in spurts during his last run as a starter, back in 2020.

But players in Minnesota develop in fits-and-starts, if at all, so it never felt like a given he was going to be able to be this version of himself. The fact he was for a while, and then in the second half of the season when his level dropped it just dropped and didn’t crater, is encouraging for those who believe the kid can climb to the ranks of the league’s true elite and stay there.


When I wrote “players in Minnesota develop in fits-and-starts, if at all,” I was setting up for this part: Bakaye Dibassy is a good defender, and the 33-year-old was having a fine year when he picked up a season-ending injury on August 27.

But Dibassy should not have been irreplaceable. He should not have been the type of loss that spells the immediate end of the season.

And yet that’s exactly what happened. The Loons took the field eight more times in 2022 and won just once.

Related: Young (or just young-ish, at this point) CBs Nabi Kibunguchy and Callum Montgomery combined for just 180 minutes, and the Loons, through six MLS seasons, haven’t developed a single center back.

2023 Preview

Five Players to Build Around

  • Reynoso (AM): Maybe my favorite player in the league to watch.
  • Robin Lod (CM): Yeah, I’m listing him at CM. Moving him there from the wing was a big part of why the Loons had that elite two-month stretch.
  • St. Clair (GK): I’ll be genuinely surprised if he doesn’t win at least one GKotY award.
  • Wil Trapp (DM): Put in a very solid season at d-mid.
  • Kemar Lawrence (LB): The 30-year-old isn’t at his RBNY-era apex, but he continues to add value on both sides of the ball.

Offseason Priority

Yeah, I don’t have Fragapane or Amarilla listed here because I’m not sure they’re players to build around. Same goes for Hlongwane and Mender Garcia, the other two guys in the winger/center forward depth chart, each of whom had moments, but none of whom were particularly productive.

And so that’s where it all is for Minnesota: You know what you’re going to get from Heath’s teams in terms of who they are and how they play. And thus in order to reach as far into the postseason as they did two years ago, they need to acquire a ceiling-raiser.

Thus far, none of the guys who’ve been looked at for the job have come through.