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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The NASL launched a new-look website on Wednesday, and the biggest change will be in the way the league delivers live games. The league has broadcast their games online for free over the past few years, but in 2014 that will change; the league is set to charge $5 per month for access to watch streaming games online.
It's a move that, at least to me, makes very little sense. Following a second-division soccer team is hard enough already; being able to watch league games online for free was more or less the only thing that made following a team easier for NASL fans. Now, the league will take that ability away.
The package price seems high, as well. Among other things, in 2013 it was just $60 for an 8-month season - $7.50 a month - to purchase the same watch-the-games-online package from Major League Soccer, which is a first-division league with first-rate broadcasts. I'm not sure who will pay two-thirds of that for the NASL, which has in previous years included many broadcasts that were so poorly produced that they were virtually unwatchable.
United, for their part, is already working to find a way to ease this extra burden on their season ticketholders. For a league like the NASL, though, which has to fight for attention in America's oversaturated sports market, putting a damper on new fans - in order to monetize the few fans the league already has - is a curious decision, to say the least.
Ramirez, Gyorio sign on for 2014
United announced a pair of signings last week - forward Christian Ramirez and midfielder Mozesh Gyorio.
Ramirez played last season with Charlotte in the third division, and trained with Minnesota following the conclusion of the USL Pro season. The 22-year-old striker- he'll be 23 at the beginning of April - scored twelve times in 26 games last year for Charlotte, after a college career at Concordia University Irvine in California that saw him make the NAIA All-America team.
Gyorio, who goes by "Mozzi," is a 24-year-old midfielder that's been kicking around the lower divisions for a few years. Minnesota fans might remember him from his tenure with Tampa Bay in 2010 and 2011; since then, he's been to England and back, having spent six months last year with fourth-division Fleetwood Town, for whom he made only one appearance.
Gyorio also immediately vaults onto the list of the best names in the history of Minnesota pro soccer, right up there with Ace Ntsoelengoe and Zafer Kilickan. (For reference, his name is pronounced moe-zee GEE-or-eo.)
The moves add some offensive depth for United, which sorely needs it. At the moment, Ramirez may well be the team's second-best striker, behind Pablo Campos, and Gyorio joins a midfield that's still in search of an offensive spark.
Ultimately, though, United needs more than just these two moves - not least because they have only 17 players currently on the roster, which usually extends to 24 or 25 guys. The team needs more attacking help, and while Ramirez and Gyorio may play roles, it's unlikely that either one of them is really the answer.
Minnesota native to lead reserves
Minnesota United's reserve team, set to begin play this year in the fourth-division NPSL, will be led by Minnesota native - and former Minnesota Thunder standout - Donny Mark, who has led an interesting life as a soccer nomad.
According to his self-profile on the website of The 10 Sports Center, the former Long Lake golf dome that Mark converted into a multi-purpose facility, the Shorewood native played for half the clubs in America before ending up in Shanghai in 2004, where he started a soccer clothing company and a youth soccer club. After selling the whole thing in 2010, he moved back to Minnesota and began life as a facility owner and youth soccer coach.
Mark's reserves will play their games in the South Washington County school district - that's Woodbury, East Ridge, and Park high schools. Most of the games will be played at East Ridge.
Preseason announcements on the way
Nothing is official yet, but it's likely that Minnesota's preseason schedule will be a bit more exciting - and a bit less cold - than in previous years. At least two training trips appear to be in the works, one of which may take the team to a much warmer destination, potentially even somewhere overseas.
Last season, United got in games against MLS sides Sporting Kansas City and the Chicago Fire, but also saw their training trip to Kansas City cut short by a March snowstorm. They're likely to play at least one MLS team again, but seem set to head somewhere farther south than the Midwest to begin the season this year.
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