Minnesota United re-entered MLS play Saturday with a match against FC Cincinnati, the start of a busy seven-game, 22-day stretch.
That’s a match nearly every three days in a schedule that mixes in MLS games, a July 10 U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal and an international friendly against Aston Villa.
“It’s going to be a very intensive schedule,” goalkeeper Vito Mannone said. “We got bodies back, we regroup and we carry on training hard towards these next two months where we really need to push on to make the playoffs.”
That’s a far cry from the three-week hiatus United had from league play. During that stretch, the shorthanded Loons played two U.S. Open Cup games and a friendly. The workload wasn’t much, but between injuries and international call-ups, United fielded a mishmash of starters and bench players.
Which is also why Minnesota defender Michael Boxall isn’t too worried about the upcoming grind.
“I think we’ve shown through the international breaks that we’ve got a bit of depth,” Boxall said. “Whoever goes out, needs a break or whatever, players have stepped up and done their jobs.”
The Loons also return a bulk of their players from international leave. Jan Gregus, Rasmus Schuller and Kevin Molino are all back. The only missing piece is All-Star defender Romain Metanire, who is still with the Madagascar international team.
With multiple matches ahead, Loons coach Adrian Heath said he has scaled back practices.
First-year team in familiar struggles
FC Cincinnati is struggling through its inaugural season with the worst record in Major League Soccer.
But it wasn’t too long ago the Loons were in a similar spot.
Heath still remembers being an expansion coach and the struggles of 2017, where United finished 10-18-6, ninth in the Western Conference.
The coach also led Orlando City in its first MLS season, in 2015, to a 12-14-8 mark.
Before the season, Heath gave Cincinnati’s former coach, Alan Koch, a simple message: “Get used to losing.”
“It was coming from experience of being a USL team where you win every game,” Heath said. “And everybody’s confident and everyone’s loving it.”
Cincinnati was atop the USL standings in 2018, boasting a 23-3-8 record as the best team in the second-tier division.
The transition to MLS hasn’t been as kind. Koch is no longer with Cincinnati, fired May 9 after a 2-7-2 start. With Saturday’s 7-1 loss to the Loons, interim coach Yoann Damet has a 1-6 record since Koch’s departure, and Cincinnati hasn’t won an MLS game since May 11.
“It’s difficult when you get in that little room where nothing seems to go right for you — you got injuries, you got suspensions, you got international call-ups,” Heath said. “But it is what it is. It’s not an easy situation.”