Vadim Demidov was meant to be Minnesota United's hub.
As one of United's marquee signings ahead of this inaugural Major League Soccer season, the 30-year-old came to training camp as an experienced and international center back who could bring the expansion team some cohesion. Having played in several of Europe's top leagues — Spain, Germany, Russia and Norway — the multilingual Demidov could connect the Loons' diverse roster.
But just eight matches into the season, the player earning the top salary on the team finds himself pushed to the perimeter. The reason: His performance hasn't lived up to expectations.
"As a defender, if you're not 100 percent, it's very easy to see," Demidov said. "You can't, like, go back to having fun as a defender. You have to be sharp as a defender. You have to be 100 percent all the time. So I haven't been happy with my start here."
Demidov, named team captain before the season, started and played only three matches for United before losing his spot to hometown favorite Brent Kallman. He hasn't made the match-day squad since April 1, resulting in the captain's role shifting to his former center back partner Francisco Calvo.
The matches Demidov played in coincided with the Loons' worst results — a 5-1 drubbing at Portland to start the season, a 6-1 trouncing by Atlanta in the home opener and a 5-2 beating at New England a month ago.
While those outcomes weren't solely Demidov's fault, he yielded two penalties that resulted in goals. And he contributed to a fairly hapless defensive showing at the beginning of the club's big-league history. Since the New England match, United has gone 2-1-1 in a defensive turnaround, including the Loons' first clean sheet (shutout) last weekend. The team now has a chance to start a winning streak against the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday night at TCF Bank Stadium.
Demidov, like many of United's players, is living and playing in the U.S. for the first time. His wife and 8-month-old son joined him shortly after the preseason. Demidov said while that adjustment period isn't an excuse, it is a reality.
"Just finding that extra energy that you feel coming more and more throughout the season. Like now, of course, you feel much better in training now than you did two months ago, one month ago," Demidov said. "Sometimes it takes time to adapt to a new league and a new country. And I know that because, yeah, I have struggled in other clubs in the start before. And then suddenly, you're one of the top players when you get settled in, and you get, maybe, your confidence back, and you get your energy and speed back."
After more than a dozen years of playing professionally, Demidov said he has learned just how quickly conditions can change — how someone can go from being left out of the team to the star. He said he just needs to be patient and do whatever he can to benefit the team as whole.
Coach Adrian Heath said Demidov's professionalism has been "first class."
"We had visions that he would be the cornerstone of the back-four, which we'd built around," Heath said. "You don't have the career that he's had when you're not a very proud man, and you come in every day and want to do well, and he'll be hurting. And we don't take any satisfaction at the fact that the situation is what it is.
"But as I said to him, the situation is always week-to-week in football. You get a couple sending offs, somebody gets injured, and it's next man up. And his chance is probably going to come again, and then we'll see where we are at."
The Soviet Union-born Norwegian makes a base salary of $550,000, according to league salary information the MLS Players Union released this past week. That's about $150,000 more than the Loons' next two top-paid players, Christian Ramirez and Kevin Molino.
United signed Demidov, Calvo and midfielder Rasmus Schuller with the aid of targeted allocation money. Such funds are distributed to MLS clubs so they can sign players making more than the maximum salary budget charge of $480,625.
Of the team's salaries, United sporting director Manny Lagos said: "On paper right now, there are some areas that we think mistakes have happened, and this summer is a potential time to maybe try to recalibrate some of that. Or it's up to players to show us that there's a value there that we can absorb.
"At the end of the day, we have to make sure that we absorb how we're going to grow from players that we think are doing well and the ones that we think might have to move on or can give us room or relief in the future. Those are always the tough discussions as we do this roster build."
Lagos said the club is currently immersed in the group's growth rather than individual performances. But eventually, that focus might shift.
"We have to assess what makes more sense, and right now for us, it was to try to see what group would work better to be competitive, and that's where we're at," Lagos said. "You know, ultimately, things may happen in a couple weeks, couple months. In these specific situations, we have to take it week-by-week."