National soccer writers are starting to weigh in with regularity on the upcoming Major League Soccer season, and the outlook from their perspective doesn't look pretty for local expansion side Minnesota United as it prepares to play its first game Friday in Portland.
The Loons clearly have taken a long-term approach to building their roster — standing in sharp contrast to fellow expansion team Atlanta, which is predicted to be a playoff contender right out of the chute after a more aggressive short-term build.
Alexander Abnos, writing for SI.com's Planet Futbol, has Minnesota United No. 21 out of 22 teams in his preseason power rankings. Atlanta? No. 7. Abnos writes of the Loons: "While Atlanta opted to make one big splash after another in building their team, its expansion counterpart elected to follow a slower, more methodical path to building an inaugural roster. The final result doesn't look half-bad on paper, with intriguing names sprinkled throughout and just enough MLS experience throughout the roster to keep this team from looking totally out of its depth."
Goal.com, meanwhile, has the Loons dead last out of the 22 teams in its rankings for similar reasons.
"Minnesota United's spot created a near-consensus among our editors. Unfortunately for the expansion side, its place at the bottom isn't one to brag about.
''The Loons decided to employ a much more conservative roster-building strategy than its expansion cousins in Atlanta, and while it may prove fruitful in the long run, we're predicting major struggles when the season kicks off."
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All that said, I'm not sure this is the wrong approach by Minnesota. Whereas Atlanta is slated to move into its permanent stadium by the middle of this season, the Loons are playing at least one (and let's face it, probably two) years in TCF Bank Stadium before their new stadium opens.
Expansion teams can afford to live off the glow of being new for a little while before the sporting public asks them to be competitive. If the Loons are trying to lay a foundation that pays off in a couple of years, it's not a bad strategy.
Plus, here in Minnesota we are pretty used to our expansion teams scuffling for a while.
The Vikings debuted in 1961 with a 3-11 record. They didn't make the playoffs until their eighth season.
The Wolves were similarly awful, going 22-60 in their debut 1989-90 season and missing the playoffs their first seven years.
The Wild spoiled us a bit by making a surprise run to the Western Conference Finals in its third season, but its first two were pretty bad and it missed the playoffs in four of its first five years.
The Lynx only made the playoffs twice in their first 12 seasons after joining the WNBA in 1999 and didn't win a playoff series until the year of their first championship in 2011.
Expansion teams are expected to be bad. Minnesota United can buy some time simply by offering soccer in the best available league in the United States. After some point, though, fans will also want to see victories.