Frequent contributor Jon Marthaler has written about virtually every sport in the Twin Cities, and fills in on Saturdays for the RandBall blog on StarTribune.com. He'll cover the professional soccer scene in the Twin Cities, whether at the Metrodome or at the National Sports Center.
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After a long, drawn-out MLS tryout, defender Kyle Altman is back in Minnesota - at least for half the season. The center back will play the first half for United, then head to medical school.
Altman admitted to having mixed emotions. "I'm disappointed it didn't work out in Portland and DC," he said. "But at the same time, I'm excited to be a part of what they're building in Minnesota."
Altman, 27, had his best season as a professional in 2012, making the NASL Best XI and captaining the Minnesota Stars to a repeat berth in the league championship series. He went on trial with DC United, then Portland in the offseason, and with the Timbers' problems in defense, it looked like he'd catch on in the Pacific Northwest.
Early this week, though, Portland informed him that they weren't going to make spot for him. Altman, who earned admission to medical school several years ago and had taken all the deferments they were willing to grant him, made the decision to play the NASL spring season, then begin his career as a doctor.
"I love playing soccer, and it's going to be hard to give it up - but I'm going to have to give it up eventually, so it's kind of delaying the inevitable," he told me last fall. "Med school's such a great opportunity, and I've put in a lot of work to get this far, and it'd be a shame to let that lay by the wayside."
Said United head coach Manny Lagos, "He's our captain, he's a great leader, a great person. It's just really exciting to have him back."
Lagos said he'd kept in contact with Altman to let him know the door was always open for a return. "Kyle for me is a big piece of what this team has been the past couple of years, and I think it's important that the fans know that he's helping us in coming back to Minnesota, in terms of the players and people that we try to get on our roster and be successful."
Said Altman, "Manny and I have a very good relationship, and we've talked very much this whole offseason. He helped me get into DC, and he helped me get into Portland, and he's been a very big reason why I've had the opportunities I've had. So he was disappointed for me personally, because I think he wanted to see me succeed at that level. He gave me his full backing and confidence that I could, so I think he was a little disappointed that it didn't work out on my behalf."
"But I think we're both pretty excited to see what this team can do next season."
Altman returns to a team that, at least at the back, is effectively the same, something that he agrees makes things easier. "I think the first part of every year is based off of continuity and what you can bring back from the year previous," he said. "We're bringing in a solid back six or seven guys who were in the squad last year. It's definitely a positive, and definitely a very good place to start building from."
Altman, who has been training with Minnesota since Tuesday, also knows he needs to get in sync with a few new faces in the locker room - as well as some he knows up close. Asked about being on the same team as his past nemesis, striker Pablo Campos, he said, "It's great. He's a big target, he scores goals. And it'll definitely be good playing with him on my team as opposed to playing against him."
Campos was sent off in his last match in San Antonio for head-butting Altman, but when asked if Campos had head-butted him this week for old times' sake, Altman just laughed. "We had a couple of laughs about it, so, I think we buried the hatchet and moved on," he said.
Fellow defender Justin Davis is certainly happy to have Altman back - though he's disappointed, too. "Oh, I love Kyle," he enthused. "Kyle's one of my favorite players to play with. He's the one who got me up to Minnesota in the first place. He's the leader of the team. We couldn't be more thrilled to have him back."
"It's unfortunate that he's here - we hoped things would work out for him in Portland - but we'll take what we can get. You're friends with him, so you want him to succeed - but you get a little selfish, and you want him on your team."
Minnesota United plays the Chicago Fire this morning at 10am in Chicago. Altman is with the team, and will play. And at least one other thing isn't changing. "I would be very surprised if somebody else captains the first half of the season," said Lagos.
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