– Minnesota United is taking a different approach to its preseason games.

While the Loons tied most of their matches in their inaugural preseason, this year’s results have swung from 8-0 victories against college squads to 1-0 losses to lower-division teams.

On Wednesday at MUSC Health Stadium as part of the Carolina Challenge Cup, United drew 1-1 with expansion rivals Atlanta United FC, thanks to a penalty kick from Kevin Molino, several clutch saves from goalkeeper Matt Lampson and even some goal-line clearances from the center backs. Big signing Ezequiel Barco scored in the dying minutes for Atlanta.

“This is what this period is for, is to work really, really hard in the understanding that we’re ready for the opening day of the season up in San Jose because we don’t get any prizes for playing really, really well and concentrating on the games rather than concentrating on the level of fitness that’s required to play in MLS,” coach Adrian Heath said. “I think last year proved that, where we had a really good preseason, but I thought we were a little bit undercooked when we went into the first game of the season.”

While Heath is experimenting with his lineups, one aspect has stayed the same: the back fours.

Tyrone Mears at right back, Michael Boxall and Francisco Calvo at center back and Jerome Thiesson at left back have started every official preseason match so far. And for the second half — minus the Atlanta match — it’s been Carter Manley at right back, Brent Kallman and Wyatt Omsberg at center back and Marc Burch at left back.

That’s by design, Heath said. After a porous defense led United to setting the league record for goals allowed in 2017, many of those coming in a historically bad start to the season, sustaining a consistent back line has been a priority this offseason.

“In a defensive unit, you need consistency. And obviously, those three I trust the most on this team,” Boxall said. “We’re only going to get better the longer we spend together.”

Another winger?

When San Jose and designated player Simon Dawkins parted ways last week, reports surfaced of United’s interest in the attacking player.

San Jose bought out his contract and placed him on waivers. But the Loons’ acquisition of the 30-year-old winger, who had been with San Jose since 2011, isn’t quite done yet.

“It’s a bit premature,” Heath said. “It’s very difficult to try to keep anything quiet these days, social media, and once it gets out that people are leaving the club, and you’ve spoke to them. … To say that we’ve signed him is a bit premature.”

A fellow Brazilian

Reports this week linked United with Brazilian club Fluminense, specifically defensive midfielder Luiz Fernando, 22. He’d be the second Brazilian on the roster, alongside midfielder Ibson. Heath said this is the “same thing” as the Dawkins situation.

“We’ve been down to South America as everyone knows with the [Nicolas] Benedetti thing. We’ve been down to Brazil,” Heath said. “We’re waiting for confirmation on one or two things.”

Benedetti was the 20-year-old Colombian midfielder the Loons pursued heavily before the deal went “quiet,” according to Heath on Feb. 11.