CHARLESTON, S.C. – Well, this wasn’t quite the final preseason outing Minnesota United was wanting.
The Loons fell 2-0 to the Columbus Crew SC on Saturday at MUSC Health Stadium to finish their official preseason at 2-2-1. United also lost a closed-door scrimmage to Orlando City SC earlier this preseason. The team also played a one-hour, closed-door scrimmage against Coastal Carolina on Saturday morning, featuring the reserve players who did not start vs. Columbus.
Against Columbus, goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth let a Federico Higuain shot trickle past him before Gyasi Zardes sent in a tight-angle strike all in the first half. Coach Adrian Heath called the effort “good in patches” against a very good team in Columbus, which won the Carolina Challenge Cup for the second consecutive year.
“I couldn’t fault our guys for their effort this evening,” Heath said. “They’ve had three big games in the week and a lot of training as well, but we’ve got a lot of work to do still. We need to add some quality to the team.”
United begins its season officially March 3 at San Jose. And after the historically bad start last season, many are expecting a marked improvement from the Loons.
“We have to be ready,” Heath said. “I know from personal experience that it’s never an easy game, the one before the season starts the following week, because nobody wants to really get injured and jeopardize their place in the team next week. But we’ve got to get better at certain aspects. Some parts of our play I don’t think we were on the same page at this moment in time.”
From Shuttleworth’s perspective at least, United is “miles ahead” of where it was in February 2017.
“I think we’ve put in a lot of work,” Shuttleworth said. “I think the boys have worked hard and integrated new players into the group, and I think there are times in preseason we obviously struggled, which happens with every team, and there are times when we’ve looked pretty good. So I think it’s up to us to just take those positives and move forward and try to learn.”
Loons midfielder Kevin Molino came off as a precautionary measure in the dying minutes of the game with hamstring discomfort. But Heath said he was hopeful it wasn’t anything serious.
Midfielder Harrison Heath and left back Marc Burch worked separately from the team during Friday’s training session. Harrison Heath is dealing with a strained knee ligament, according to his father and coach. Burch has a right ankle stress that he appeared to aggravate in Thursday’s session.
Adrian Heath termed these injuries “little knocks” and said he’s hopeful they’re “both going to be a few days rather than a few weeks” for recovery.
United was also missing two players in midfielders Jose Leiton and Sam Cronin. Leiton, who joined the Loons on loan from a Costa Rican club toward the end of last season, is back in his home country dealing with personal issues, Heath said. Cronin, who played in this past Saturday’s preseason game against the Charleston Battery after dealing with concussion issues late last season, is back in Minnesota.
While United has announced the signings of Cameroonian center back Bertrand Owundi Eko’o and Brazilian defensive midfielder Luiz Fernando, it’s still up in the air about when the two will join the team.
Heath said all the paperwork is in, the club is just waiting for the visas and international transfer certificates to clear.
On this last preseason trip, though, two trialists have helped fill out United’s practices. Jiro Toyama, a midfielder who just finished his senior season at Florida Gulf Coast, and Kyle Ihn, a goalkeeper who finished out a career at Wisconsin-Green Bay in 2016, are not expected to sign with the team.