Minnesota United FC has tied each of its preseason games 1-1 so far after another draw Friday against NK Istra 1961 in Casa Grande, Ariz.
But if a slightly skewed rule of transitive property is in effect, United has also tallied pretty good results against two fellow Major League Soccer sides. The Croatian club tied Real Salt Lake 0-0 this past Saturday and defeated Portland Timbers 3-2 on Tuesday.
Combine that with the Loons’ 1-1 draw with New England Revolution from Tuesday in the team’s first preseason match, and United would have five points already in MLS.
Not too bad for the beginning of a club’s inaugural season in the top division.
“It’s still very early days,” United coach Adrian Heath said. “But I think the fact that we’ve been very competitive against a team who’ve probably been the dominant team against two other MLS teams, can we take a positive from that? Yes. The [Istra] coach was very complimentary to me and my staff after the game about the way the team had played, so that’s always nice to hear.’’
Heath said he thought his players’ pace of play and decision-making in and out of possession had improved since the first preseason match. He was also glad to see center-back Vadim Demidov play more extended minutes and have center-back Francisco Calvo, midfielder Rasmus Schuller and midfielder Kevin Molino on the pitch for United for the first time.
Midfielder Johan Venegas did not play his first minutes for the Loons as Heath said the Costa Rican is dealing with a lingering “little niggle.” Forward Femi Hollinger-Janzen also did not play after hurting his foot earlier.
But Demidov, Calvo, Schuller and Molino were all part of a first-half 4-3-3 lineup. Heath said that formation is one he wants the players to grow accustomed to, as it is good to have an arsenal of possible lineups to go to depending on the opponent.
The coach said he liked how Schuller combined with fellow midfielders Collen Warner and Mo Saeid and also how Molino looked in attack with forward Christian Ramirez and midfielder Miguel Ibarra. Jermaine Taylor, who had played at center-back in the intrasquad scrimmage and the first preseason game, saw his first action as a right-back as well.
It was the team’s second-half lineup, in Heath’s favored 4-2-3-1 formation, that produced the goal, though. After Istra’s forward Goran Roce scored in the 64th minute, midfielder Eugene Starikov, who is on trial with United in hopes of earning a place on the roster, scored in the 80th minute. Starikov also scored in the 1-1 draw with New England.
Heath said after the New England game that Starikov has “obviously got talent,” but the coaching staff needed to decide if Starikov added more value than the four or five other attacking midfielders the team has already signed. The good news for Starikov is, while he was born in the Ukraine and has played in Russia, he is an American, and United is aware its international roster spots fill up quickly.
“He’s made a good impression,” Heath said Friday. “He’ll come with us to Portland, I think. We spoke to him today. He’s very happy here. He’s liked what he’s doing. So we’ll take him with us next week and see how he goes from then. We’ve got a little bit of time to make a decision hopefully, and he’s not putting us under too much pressure at this moment. So it’ll give us a chance to have another period to have a look at him.”
According to the League’s website, United on Friday traded $50,000 in general allocation money and United’s natural third-round pick in next year’s SuperDraft to Real Salt Lake in exchange for another international roster slot this season. Each team can have eight international players on the roster in a season but can acquire more if needed, as United has done for nine spots now.
Heath said the club has decided which of the other trialists and preseason invitees will make the trip to Portland for the team’s second leg of preseason preparation and thus still have a chance of making the roster. The team plans to announce those players on Monday.
And while it might be the end of the line for some, Danish winger Bashkim Kadrii should arrive with the team soon.
“I think we’re just waiting for his paperwork, again, so he can travel,” Heath said. “We’re hoping to get him here in the next few days to get his medical and everything wrapped up. So at the end of the day, you can’t guess how long this is going to take because you’re just waiting for immigration papers, et cetera, and visas. So it’s something that’s out of our hands. We’re just hoping it comes sooner rather than later.”
So far, though, so good, for a team that only started training together 11 days ago.
“I don’t want to get too carried away,” Heath said, “but I didn’t think I would be this pleased with the group after this stage of the season.”