Here's today's post from United training just north of Orlando, where they'll be for three preseason games and training these next eight days. I'll be here writing daily dispatches and working ahead toward the March 2 season opener until after Wednesday's game against New York City F.C.:
Hope springs eternal always in preseason and never more so for Minnesota United here in Season 3, when head coach Adrian Heath sees the changes on the practice field after his team added five new starters.
“We have nowhere near the same competition we’ve had,” Heath said Friday afternoon after a training session in the sun with temperatures approaching 80 degrees. “I’ve noticed it more the first team against the second team. The quality of the second group is absolutely miles better than we’ve had in the past. There’s not an awful lot of difference between the first and second team now, which we’ve never had.”
Heath got his first look this week at the latest newcomers, right back Romain Metanire and goalkeeper Vito Mannone. Both recently acquired players practiced with their new teammates when the team arrived in Florida on Wednesday for training sessions. Three games are set against MLS opponents starting Saturday afternoon against New England.
“We think he’ll be what we thought he was, what we’ve seen,” Heath said of Metanire. “He’s very competitive, athletic, good in both boxes. He wants to work hard, so we’ve been pleased with what we’ve seen so far.”
Metanire speaks what Heath calls a “smattering” of English and Heath’s French is only a few phrases itself. But Heath said “the football language is very, very, very universal” and gestures go a long way toward explaining.
About Mannone, Heath said, “He’s obviously very experienced and he’s come through this a million times.”
Heath said his team will play New England without forward Angelo Rodriguez because of what Heath called a “slight” groin injury.
“We’ll probably err on the side of caution with him tomorrow,” Heath said. “He’ll probably get more minutes on Wednesday (against New York City F.C.)
Heath said he’ll likely look at Romario Ibarra in Rodriguez’s absence and likely will try Mason Toye there as well later in the game.
- Veteran defender Michael Boxall expects to ramp up his minutes played this next week after an ankle injury limited him to one 30-minute session in the final preseason game the Loons played in Tucson. “It doesn’t take long to catch back up with the team,” he said. “We worked hard that week back in Minnesota and I’ve felt good the last couple days. I should be able to push past 30 (minutes) tomorrow.”
- New additions Metanire, Mannone, Jan Gregus and longtime MLS competitors Ozzie Alonso and Ike Opara have passed Boxall’s eye test in training. “The standards of our training so far have really risen the tide for us,” Boxall said. “The quality all over is up. We’re optimistic about the season.”
- Heath expects veteran midfielder Ethan Finlay will start playing minutes again during this three-game tournament that starts Saturday against New England and ends next Saturday against host Orlando City. Heath said Finlay is a “few weeks” ahead of teammate Kevin Molino as both return from knee surgeries early last season. Molino underwent a procedure to clean up what Heath called a “slight meniscus issue” recently in that same knee and did some light work on the practice field today. “He’ll be OK,” Heath said.
- Young forward Abu Danladi had an injection to calm inflammation in his ankle after a collision with teammate Darwin Quintero during training. Heath is hopeful the 2017 SuperDraft’s first overall pick will see some game action a week from Saturday against Orlando City. “He has been out with the guys,” Heath said. “He feels a lot better."
- The team is training in Deltona, Fla., about 40 minutes northeast of Orlando, at a soccer complex where a USL team practiced when Heath coached it in Orlando.