Minnesota United is fortunate its point total from the first three MLS games doesn’t count as qualifying criteria for the U.S. Open Cup this year.
U.S. Soccer said before the season started that points earned in the opening three regular-season games would be the determining factor for which eight U.S.-based MLS clubs entered the national tournament this year. But that plan was scrapped before the season opener two weeks ago due to ongoing pandemic fallout; the new plan is to be determined after last season’s event was canceled.
If that qualifying criteria were still in effect, the Loons would have failed to qualify for the Open Cup with their 0-2 start and minus-5 goal differential. So, they’ve essentially been bailed out.
United FC veteran Ethan Finlay and manager Adrian Heath, both part of a Loons team that finished runner-up in the 2019 Open Cup, said before the season the club’s goal is to win trophies like the Open Cup.
Despite the slow start, only six percent of the MLS season is gone, and Heath said the mood is really good within the club before the Loons face expansion franchise Austin FC (1-1) at 7 p.m. Saturday at Allianz Field.
“It’s something that we’ve spoke about: Not letting the fact that the two games that we’ve played have not been to the way we would have liked,” Heath said. “But a lot of the stuff that we’ve been working on, I think, has been very, very good.”
In the end, however, the Loons has not been able to put away their abundant number of shots on frame, much less into the net, and Minnesota has had too many individual defensive errors led to goals conceded. Four of the six are in this group.
After Ramon Abila was not available against Real Salt Lake last Saturday, Heath said he has a decision to make on whether the Argentine striker will start or be available to come off the bench vs. Austin.
“Wanchope” trained with the first team this week after missing the 2-1 home-opening loss to Real Salt Lake last week. He played 26 minutes and had two shots in the 4-0 season-opening loss to Seattle on April 16.
Heath said he wanted to be cautious with Abila’s health and fitness, so that seems to be the determining factor in what role Avila might have against Austin.
Heath said he wouldn’t talk about the pending arrival of Argentine winger Franco Fragapane because he is not yet an official United player. The timing of Fragapane’s travel to the U.S. is in doubt with his Argentina club Talleres amid Copa Sudamericana group-stage games through May 25.
But Heath later addressed the expected timeline for French center forward Adrien Hunou, whom the Loons announced last Friday as a new high-priced Designated Player.
Then at the end of the manager’s discussion of Hunou on Friday, Heath seemed to touch on Fragapane, too.
“We are in the hands of government officials and waiting for visas and passports (for Hunou) and so I think we would be too optimistic to say next week in Colorado (May 8) but the game after maybe, whether it be Vancouver (on May 12) or whether it be Dallas (on May 15),” Heath said. “I would be really disappointed if they are not available for that game. Both of them.”
The Loons signed 19-year-old midfielder Aziel Jackson to a two-year contract, with three club options, the club announced Friday. Minnesota traded a third-round pick in the 2022 draft to acquire Jackson’s homegrown priority status from New York Red Bulls. United has liked Jackson’s maturity and his seasoning in playing two seasons for Toulouse FC in a lower-level French league. He also trained with the Seattle Sounders in 2020.