See more of the story


Minnesota United FC is now into its eighth season in MLS, and into its fourth decade as a soccer club. Yet it's still the newest major pro sports team in town, and for fans who have followed some of the other teams for generations, it can still feel like the new kid on the block.

With this in mind, here are seven reasons that 2024 could be the year potential fans start paying attention to the Loons.

Minnesota has a clean slate

The Loons have a new brain trust, with a new Chief Soccer Officer / sporting director in Khaled El-Ahmad and a new head coach in Eric Ramsay. Their arrival feels like the closing of the book on everything that's been frustrating for fans in the first seven years of Minnesota United's MLS tenure.

The Loons made the playoffs four seasons in a row under Adrian Heath, but by the time they missed the postseason in 2023, fans were ready for something different. Now, the team has an entirely fresh start. This new chapter is a chance for people to get in on the ground floor.

A youth movement is afoot

For the first time since joining MLS, Minnesota is getting serious about developing young players. The Loons already have given nearly 1,500 minutes this season to players who are 22 or younger, and Ramsay already is lamenting that the rules prevent him from more often bringing up players from the team's development squad, MNUFC2.

The youth movement also includes some young Minnesotans. Devin Padelford, at 21, just made the MLS "team of the matchday" in only his fifth start, even though he's playing out of position at center back. Caden Clark, 20, is back in the fold, after having to leave Minnesota as a teenager to further his development.

The group is pretty darn likeable

Robin Lod might be the Loons' best player right now. The Finnish midfielder/attacker has three goals and five assists this year, putting him just a step behind some guy named Messi on the leaderboards. Every week, a different MLS commentator calls him "the league's most underrated player." And what is his response to all this? "I don't need the attention," he said.

That's a pretty Finnish response – and one that feels deeply Minnesotan, too. If you go down the rest of the squad, you find a number of guys who are easy to get behind – the irrepressible joy of Bongokuhle Hlongwane, the relentless enthusiasm of players like Tani Oluwaseyi and Hassani Dotson and Zarek Valentin, even the "team dad" vibes from Michael Boxall.

Eric Ramsay is the league's youngest coach

At just 32, the new coach had worked himself up to being an assistant coach at Manchester United, one of the biggest teams in the world. Now, he's in his first job at the top, and he's already impressing. Sunday in Charlotte, he threw out some tactical wrinkles that seemed to completely befuddle the opposition – coached by former Premier League manager Dean Smith.

They're making changes

Nobody's used the phrase "row the boat" yet, but there's definitely a renewed sense of the whole club being in it together, top to bottom.

El-Ahmad knocked down a literal wall between the first-team and academy spaces at the practice facility, a rare example of physical changes replacing figurative statements. Ramsay regularly has used all of his allotted substitutions in games, partly as a game plan, but also partly to make the team feel more together, and not split into just "starters and scrubs." And, perhaps most dramatically, the team basically is ignoring the unexcused absence of all-star Emanuel Reynoso, demonstrating that nobody is bigger than the club.

They're tactically interesting

Soccer has enough space on the field that almost anyone can see the basics of a team's game plan, even as the game is happening – unlike, say, football, with its emphasis on "breaking down the film" postgame. And so everyone in soccer loves to talk about tactics – and the Loons are giving people something to discuss.

Against Charlotte, they played three different formations – one when they had the ball, one when they were defending in the other team's half of the field, one when playing in their own half. It was enough to get fans buzzing about the tactical side of the team.

The real plan is yet to get started

The delayed arrivals of El-Ahmad and Ramsay (who didn't take the reins until mid-March) meant that they didn't have much chance to work together on offseason moves. Instead, they're aiming for this summer's "transfer window," which lines up with most of the schedules in the soccer world.

In other words, the Loons' Hot Stove season is still yet to come, in July and August. Whatever success they have until then, it will be El-Ahmad's chance to start building a squad to fit his vision.