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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Thursday night, United announced that their preseason training will be a little more exciting this year. The club has traditionally made some short trips, but this year, they'll range a little further afield, with trips to Los Angeles and to the United Kingdom.
The first trip, from February 23 to March 2, involves a pair of games against the Los Angeles Galaxy (and some warm-weather training to boot.) The second, from March 8 to 18, will involve three games, the biggest of which will take place against Derby County, who are currently fourth in the second-division Championship in England.
The other two games of the England trip are still being finalized, though one is tentatively planned against Matlock Town F.C., a seventh-division team from Matlock in Derbyshire.
It's a step up for Minnesota, which last year visited Kansas City for a preseason trip, a jaunt that was virtually snowed out - something that, according to team president Nick Rogers, was part of the impetus for Minnesota to go further afield this year, to a locale that's unlikely to be snow-affected.
The visit to Derby is also interesting. United will be staying at St. George's Park, the base for the Football Association in England and the training home of the English national team. According to Rogers, the team may be the first-ever North American team to stay and train there.
I'm told that the genesis of the trip to Derby was, of all things, the long relationship between United owner Dr. Bill McGuire and the Minnesota Timberwolves. McGuire has had Wolves season tickets for many years, and knows team president Chris Wright, who is an England native (and who ran the Minnesota Strikers before becoming Wolves team president). Derby is owned by General Sports and Entertainment, a Michigan-based consortium, and it was through Wright's relationship with the owners that the idea of United's visit to Derby came about.
One signing complete, and more on the way?
United announced that they have signed Brazilian center back Tiago Calvano, who most recently played for Sydney FC in Australia. In addition to Australia's A-League, the 32-year-old has spent time in Brazil's top league, as well as the lower divisions in Europe.
Calvano was at the center of some controversy late last year, when he was suspended for eight matches for grabbing an A-League referee's arm. You can see the incident here; while it's certain that players cannot be allowed to touch referees, it's debatable whether Calvano's punishment truly fit the severity of his crime.
As for other signings, Rogers spent last weekend in Belgium, meeting with several United targets and taking in a game between Anderlecht and Club Brugge. While nothing has been set in stone, Rogers reports that he is still in talks and is looking to move quickly to finalize decisions.
I mentioned last week that the transfer window in Europe closes at the end of the month - in England, it closes later today - but I've since had it clarified for me that this only affects transfers in. In other words, United would still be able to bring players in from Belgium, even after the Belgian transfer window is closed; the North American transfer window does not close until May.
Regardless of any other signings, the move to bring in Calvano helps fill the hole in the center of defense that was left by Connor Tobin's departure for Carolina. It brings the Minnesota squad up to 18 players; one assumes that, if the club does make any more signings, they will likely be more geared towards offense, especially in the center of midfield.
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