Minnesota United’s trade of Christian Ramirez on Monday sent many fans into a bit of an existential crisis where they seemed to suddenly realize everything is ephemeral and nothing, not even a longtime franchise favorite, lasts.
In the grand scheme, that might be true. But at least in terms of the Loons, there’s still some hope left.
Center back Brent Kallman has known only one club his entire professional career, having played with United in the North American Soccer League since 2013. And besides the rookies and second-year pros on United’s roster, he’s the only one with the potential to live out that one-team dream.
“When you come in, the thought that you’re going to be playing for the same team all your career, it doesn’t happen,” coach Adrian Heath said. “That’s why they make such a fuss of the guys that do when they’ve been one-club men.”
Heath started off his playing career at his hometown club Stoke City and went on to play for another six clubs before he retired. Kallman, who grew up in Woodbury, has the rare opportunity of possibly playing with his local team his entire career.
In a few ways, Kallman, 27, is one of the last current United players with longstanding ties to the team. With Ramirez’s departure to LAFC, there are now only three holdovers from the club’s NASL team, including Miguel Ibarra and Ibson. Kallman is also one of only three players claimed as one of the state’s own, along with Duluth-born Ethan Finlay and Woodbury-raised Eric Miller.
“I think for the fans, it means a lot,” fellow center back Michael Boxall said of Kallman. “I imagine it must be very cool to play professional football in front of your friends and family week in and week out.”
Unlike the final weeks of Ramirez’s tenure at United, fans have yet to endure trade rumors around Kallman, who is a bit of a low-profile contributor to the Loons. He is the lowest-paid senior roster player, making a base salary of $82,500 this season, which is about a $20,000 bump from the inaugural MLS year. Even a few non-senior roster players make more than he does.
Kallman has also been a bit underrated compared to a goal scorer like Ramirez, whose base salary is nearly $500,000 more than Kallman’s. He started last season on the bench before stepping in for Vadim Demidov as Francisco Calvo’s center back partner. But when Boxall joined the team halfway through last season, Kallman saw his playing time cut a bit.
This season, he again started on the bench and didn’t solidify his starting spot until June 3, when Calvo left for the World Cup. Then Heath implemented a 3-5-2 formation in which Boxall, Kallman and Calvo could play together.
He’s now started 10 consecutive games heading into United’s Saturday match at the Los Angeles Galaxy. Kallman said the early months when he wasn’t playing steadily were “hard,” but he’s gained a lot of confidence from this recent stretch. That has allowed him to not sweat a possible formation change back to Heath’s standard 4-2-3-1, which would eliminate a center back spot.
“For me to get some consistent games in that same position over and over again, I feel I’m seeing the pictures a lot better now, and I’m really getting used to it,” Kallman said. “I really enjoy part of it because when I’m playing in that spot, it’s just defending first. I’m just constantly thinking about defending and trying to be in a good spot and give cover, which is what I like to do. So, yeah, it’s been fun for me, and I feel really confident going forward no matter what formation we play. If I’m involved, I’m ready to go.”
The Ramirez trade affected Kallman, too, as it’s tough to see a longtime teammate and friend move away. But Ramirez also proved the dream, even if it doesn’t manifest with just one team, is still possible.
“I saw him grind from when he first came in, and we’re not making much, and the dream is to be able to make it as a pro and make all this money, and this guy, he’s doing it,” Kallman said. “He did it the hard way through hard work, and he deserves everything he got.”