Former league MVPs reunite in Minnesota
For two of Minnesota United FC’s recent signings, expectations for 2013 are sky high. Brazilian forward Pablo Campos has scored 36 goals in the past two seasons, and his former strike partner, Maltese forward Etienne Barbara, is returning to the North American Soccer League, which he terrorized for 20 goals and nine assists in 2011.
The two players have each won an NASL MVP award—Barbara in 2011 and Campos last season—and neither has finished out of first place in the regular season standings since the NASL relaunched two seasons ago. Minnesota will need the first-place trend to continue in at least the Spring or Fall seasons as it seeks an appearance in the Soccer Bowl title game in November under the NASL’s new split-season format.
Looking back, 2011 was particularly special. The two forwards were teammates for a Carolina RailHawks team that led the league wire-to-wire on its way to a regular season championship. The one-two punch of Campos and Barbara played a huge role, combining for 35 of the team’s 54 total goals that season. Though they fell in the playoff semifinals, the opportunity to recapture that magic was a key factor for both players when they elected to sign for Minnesota as free agents during the offseason.
“Etienne definitely was one of the factors when I signed with Minnesota. You don’t find a strike partner like that so easily,” Campos said. “It is a pleasure to play with this great player again. Our partnership worked very well on and off the field in the past, and we will give our best to make it work out again. The secret of it I won’t say, but it truly started off from friendship.”
But the chance to reunite wasn’t the only factor that brought the two to Minnesota. On the field, the club has been aggressive in free agency, attracting not only the two former MVPs, but 2012 Golden Glove winning goalkeeper Daryl Sattler, standout midfielders Aaron Pitchkolan and Bryan Arguez and a fourth-year forward in Max Griffin who already has 27 professional goals to his name. The club has also taken steps to protect the core group of players who has carried it to two straight championship appearances. With the roster pieces seemingly in place, Barbara is confident that head coach Manny Lagos can find the right fit to take the club to new heights.
“Manny used to play professionally and understands what the players need. That’s very important in soccer,” he said. “When I played against Minnesota before, the whole team stepped up, and that attracted me. Manny gets the best of every player in whatever position he puts him in.”
Finally, the two teammates share an excitement about the growth of professional soccer in Minnesota. Though the crowds were normally smaller when the two played on visiting teams in the Twin Cities, Barbara said the fans have always been “good and dedicated,” and both he and Campos expressed optimism that Minnesota United will play in front of larger and larger crowds as the season goes on.
“One thing that makes me more excited is how the fans showed me ‘love,’ even though I was playing for the opponents,” Campos said. “I will have to train double to win them over because in my point of view I have won them over in different way. Respect and trust don’t come right away, but I hope they come quickly.