Minnesota United Profile
'Loons' joined the MLS in 2017 and have already made the play-offs and US Open Cup final under the management of former Everton star Adrian Heath.
Minnesota United FC were announced as an MLS expansion team on March 25, 2015 - the league's 23rd franchise. The original ownership group included the owners of the Minnesota Twins (MLB), Minnesota Timberwolves (NBA) and Minnesota Wild (NHL), with Bill McGuire (UnitedHealth Group) as the majority owner.
The team nickname is the Loons, the state bird of Minnesota. The badge features a loon with 11 spread feathers, one for each player on the field. The Loons' colours are sky blue, black and grey, and there is a blue line across the logo to represent the Mississippi River, which splits St Paul and Minneapolis. The North Star is above the loon on the crest.
The Loons began life at TCF Bank Stadium, home of the NCAA's University of Minnesota football team. They were there for two seasons before moving into a 19,400-seater outdoor stadium in 2019. Allianz Field is in St Paul, near Interstate 94, in the Midway neighbourhood.
The Loons replaced an NASL team of the same name that played from 2010-16 and were also owned by McGuire. They won the NASL play-offs in 2011 and finished top of the regular-season table in 2014. Christian Ramirez, who led the Loons in scoring in their first MLS seasons, netted a club-record 53 goals for the NASL side from 2014-16.
Adrian Heath is the only manager in MLS history for the Loons. He played in England for Everton, Aston Villa, Stoke City, Manchester City, Burnley and Sheffield United from 1979-97. Heath also managed Burnley, Sheffield United and Coventry City before moving to MLS with Orlando City. In two seasons with Orlando City, he won 26 and drew 31 of 78 matches in charge. Heath's son Harrison was a midfielder for the Loons in 2018.
Welcome to MLS
Minnesota United FC began competing in the 2017 season with Heath in charge. In the preceding MLS Expansion Draft, they took midfielder Collen Warner from Houston while drafting and trading four players. In those deals, Minnesota were able to acquire Bobby Shuttleworth, Sam Cronin and Marc Burch, along with several draft picks. They drafted forward Abu Danladi from UCLA in the first round of the SuperDraft. They signed midfielders Francisco Calvo, Johan Venegas, Miguel Ibarra and Kevin Molina in December and January. Meanwhile, defender Brent Kallman and forward Christian Ramirez were among the players brought up from the MNUFC NASL team.
United's first MLS game was a 5-1 away defeat at Portland Timbers on March 3, the worst debut for an MLS expansion team in league history. Ramirez scored their only goal and the next weekend they lost at home to Atlanta United in the snow, 6-1. That home opener at TCF Bank Stadium drew 35,043 fans. The Loons got their first-ever point in a 2-2 draw at Colorado Rapids as Kevin Molino and Ramirez scored. The same duo scored again on April 1 and Ramirez added a second in a 4-2 home win over Real Salt Lake, the first victory in the team's history.
They added Scottish midfielder Sam Nicholson from Heart of Midlothian in July and brought in Michael Boxall from SuperSport United. The Loons also acquired hometown boy Ethan Finlay, a midfielder from Columbus Crew. The season ended with Minnesota securing back-to-back wins in September and getting a win or draw in four of their final seven games.
Minnesota United finished their inaugural season with 10 wins and six draws from 34 games. They conceded a league-worst 70 goals and had a -23 goal difference while finishing ninth out of 11 teams in the Western Conference. Ramirez led the team with 14 goals while Danladi had eight and Molina scored seven.
The Loons got rid of nine players before the 2018 season. They brought in forward Darwin Quintero from Club America, midfielder Harrison Heath from Atlanta United and defender Bertrand Owundi from Astres. They also drafted forward Mason Toye from Indiana University in the first round of the MLS SuperDraft. Quintero was the first-ever Designated Player in team history. The bad news for Minnesota was that Molino and Finlay were lost early in the season to knee injuries.
After an opening-game defeat, the Loons won two straight before losing four in a row. They stayed streaky with just four wins and five losses through June. They had traded Nicholson to Colorado Rapids on May 2 for defender Eric Miller, while they added midfielder Romario Ibarra and forward Angelo Rodriguez in July. After scoring seven goals, Ramirez was surprisingly traded to LAFC for allocation money that could total $1million.
The Loons lost their last four games of the season and finished in 10th place in the West with 36 points. They conceded 71 goals, resulting in a -22 goal difference. Quintero led the team with 11 goals while Ibarra scored seven.
Minnesota United make the play-offs
Before the 2019 season, midfielder Jan Gregus was added as a Designated Player from F.C. Copenhagen and USMNT defender Ike Opara came in from Sporting Kansas City. Defender Romain Metanire was introduced from Stade Reims, while midfielder Osvaldo Alonso joined from Seattle. They also moved into Allianz Field for the 2019 season and drew 3-3 against NYCFC in their first game in the new stadium after they had played five games on the road to start the MLS season.
Minnesota United kicked off the campaign with two straight wins and only lost once in six games between April 24 and May 25. After three defeats, the Loons won four straight, and on July 16, midfielder Robin Lod was added from Spanish club Sporting Gijon. In the final 18 games, Minnesota only lost three times as they qualified for the MLS Cup play-offs for the first time. However, they lost at home to LA Galaxy 2-1 in front of 19,939 fans as Gregus scored in the 87th minute. Quintero led the team with 11 goals over the season, while Rodriguez scored nine times. Opara was named MLS Defender of the Year while Vito Mannone was named MLS Goalkeeper of the Year with 11 clean sheets.
The Loons had a great run in the US Open Cup for the first time. They beat Sporting Kansas City 4-1, Houston Dynamo 3-2 and New Mexico United 6-1 to reach the semi-finals. At home in the semis, Toye scored in the 64th minute to give MNUFC a 2-1 win over Portland and a place in the US Open Cup final for the first time. They played the final in Atlanta, losing to Atlanta United 2-1.
Before the 2020 season, the Loons traded Quintero to Houston for midfielder Marlon Hairston and $600,000 in allocation money. Mannone's loan from Reading ended, so MNUFC traded for LAFC goalkeeper Tyler Miller. The season began with two wins at Portland and San Jose before COVID-19 suspended the campaign.
When the season resumed at the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando in July, the Loons finished second in their group with one win and two draws. In the round of 16, they beat Columbus Crew on penalty kicks after a 1-1 draw. They knocked out San Jose 4-1 in the quarter-finals before losing to Orlando City SC 3-1. Opara missed the tournament and didn't return for the rest of the regular season either.
When the MLS season resumed in late August, the Loons lost three straight before winning two in a row. They got things going at the end of September and didn't lose in the final eight games of the campaign with four wins and four draws. As a result, they finished fourth in the West with nine wins and seven draws from 21 games.
In the MLS Cup play-offs, Molino scored twice and Lod got a goal in a 3-0 win over Colorado Rapids in the first round. They won 3-0 again in the conference semi-finals over top seed Sporting Kansas City as Molino scored two more goals. In the next game, the Loons were on the cusp of the MLS Cup final, leading at Seattle Sounders 2-0 in the 75th minute and 2-1 in the 89th minute. However, two late goals gave Seattle a shock 3-2 win and ended the Loons' season in the Western Conference finals.
Minnesota United's rivals
Having played MLS for just four years, the Loons are yet to establish a fierce rivalry. Chicago are the closest team geographically, but they are 400 miles away and play in the other conference.
There is a hint of a budding rivalry with Colorado Rapids, thanks mainly to a game between the teams in 2018 that featured three red cards, four post-game suspensions and multiple fines from the league. All of this stemmed from a 97th-minute goal scored by the Rapids, a prolonged goal celebration and a fight between the teams.
Minnesota United's top players
Defender Michael Boxall has played the most games in the MLS for the Loons with 92, eight more than Miguel Ibarra, who left in 2019.
Darwin Quintero scored 27 goals in total, 21 of which in MLS play, from 2018-19 before being traded to Houston. Kevin Molino had netted 25 total goals from 2017-20 but signed with Columbus Crew leading into the 2021 season. Ethan Finlay is the active goal leader with 17 total goals, 16 of which in league play.
Jan Gregus is the active assist leader with 20 in total, 18 of which in MLS games. He enters the 2021 season two assists behind Quintero for the overall team record.
In his one season with the Loons, goalkeeper Vito Mannone kept a team-record 11 clean sheets, three more than active goalkeeper Dayne St Clair.
Defender Ike Opara has won the MLS Defender of the Year award and represented the Loons with the USMNT.
Designated Players for the Loons have included Thomas Chacon, Gregus, Emanuel Reynoso, Quintero and Angelo Rodriguez. The highest fee paid for a player was $5million for Reynoso in August 2020 as he moved from Boca Juniors in Argentina.