Adding Talent: The Newest Additions to Minnesota United
For coaches, players, fans and owners, the outcome of the spring season left something to be desired. It was obvious Minnesota United FC needed to do something to change the direction the club was headed before kicking off the fall season on August 3rd. With a month off, it was time for head coach Manny Lagos and team president Nick Rogers to reevaluate the team’s needs and make some changes.
That’s when fans were introduced to two Major League Soccer players – Calum Mallace and Sinisa Ubiparipovic – on loan to Minnesota from the Montreal Impact. Mallace, a West St. Paul native, grew up playing youth soccer in Woodbury, Minn. while Ubiparipovic played one game on loan for Minnesota Thunder in 2007.
“For us, it all starts with the coaching staff, Manny and his team,” Rogers said. “They have a wide network of contacts throughout pro soccer and they have a good sense of what our needs are on the field.”
As the mid-season approached, Minnesota’s coaching staff started reaching out to their connections, having conversations with other front offices to see what was available and what might fit their needs. The addition of two MLS players to the roster was an exciting prospect for Minnesota United, although Rogers added there are very specific qualities they look for in a player, regardless of their level and association.
“One is some sort of native talent as a soccer player and as an elite athlete,” he said. “I think second, we’re really looking for the right attitude and mentality. We are trying to build a specific kind of club here with a specific kind of culture and we want guys who are going to fit into that. Guys who are going to come to training every day, ready to compete for a spot and have the whole team in mind.”
Minnesota’s coaching staff was familiar with Mallace, many of them having coached the defender during his time playing in Minnesota. So when his name came up as an option, it was an easy addition for Minnesota United to make. With only two years playing at the professional level, Montreal was also looking for Mallace to gain some experience on the field – making a loan with Minnesota a perfect fit.
“Unlike most other pro sports in our market, in soccer you have this global pool of talent,” he said. “Because of that dynamic in soccer, it is very, very rare that you’ll do just a swap of players. Most of the time, you’re looking to add somebody and you have a need but there’s not a player you can give back. So it’s all just done with money. You just pay to either bring someone in temporarily or permanently.”
The North American Soccer League has certain guidelines for adding players and there is a short window for teams to add players through loan before the rosters are frozen, Rogers said.
Saturday’s match against the Atlanta Silverbacks gave fans their first glimpse at Mallace and Ubiparipovic, as both players were named starters in the fall season opener. Mallace played 87 minutes before being subbed out for another new face, Floyd Franks, while Ubiparipovic played the entire game.
Given just a few weeks to acclimate to their new team and surroundings, assistant coach Kevin Friedland was very happy with what he saw on the field Saturday, despite the outcome.
“I thought they both did well,” he said. “It’s a new environment for them. They’ve only been here a couple of weeks. Sinisa has played in this league before so I think he knew what he was getting himself into but Calum is still a second year pro. But they both looked good. I think with them, it’s still trying to integrate them with the team. [The coaches] need to learn their strengths and weaknesses, as do all the other players. I think once that familiarity is there, it will click a lot easier.”
Friedland also said the club has a roster deep in the center and the midfield, which will create some good competition for the players, including Mallace and Ubiparipovic, who will have to fight for playing time like the rest of their teammates.
“They are not necessarily coming in here and it’s their spot,” he said. “They are going to have to compete everyday for that spot. Which is good, because competition will bring out the best in them and it will bring out the best in the other guys pushing them.”
For Mallace, the highlight of being back in Minnesota is getting to play in front of friends and family again. On Saturday, his parents and brother were in the stands, as were a good number of family friends who came up to the National Sports Center to watch his debut.
“I put a bunch of tickets away for people,” he said. “I don’t know exactly who showed up but I heard them a little bit here and there. It’s just good to have all the fans out [in Blaine]. It’s a big turnout and we love their support and we hope they keep coming out.”
While Ubiparipovic didn’t have any family in the crowd, the one-time member of the Minnesota Thunder was very happy with what he saw from the home crowd as well.
“The crowd was behind us the entire 90 minutes,” he said. “Unfortunately, we came up short but we all appreciate the amount of people that came out and we want them to come back. Hopefully, we’ll get a better result.”
He added: “I did not expect almost a full crowd tonight because the last time I played here, it wasn’t like this. I think it’s a nice little venue and I hope that they enjoyed it.”
Ubiparipovic was also quick to sing the praises of Minnesota United and their new ownership.
“From what I hear, they are willing to make changes for the better and that’s always a good thing,” he said. “Sometimes changing the name doesn’t sound too good with the fans and what they identify themselves with but I think the name suits a soccer team.”
This week will give the club more opportunities to familiarize themselves with the newest additions to the roster before traveling to Fort Lauderdale Saturday to take on the Strikers. Minnesota United went 1-1 with the Strikers in the spring season.
“Our goal is to go all the way,” Mallace said. “I think [Saturday’s loss] is going to be a little disappointing. It’s going to be hard to swallow but we are going to be right back at it and we’ll get prepared for the next game. We just need to keep moving forward from here and we’ll be in the championship.”
Read More Run Of Play →