ST. PAUL — Fred Emmings hasn’t played a regular streak in over two years, so the Minnesota United hometown goaltender is eager to start the inaugural season of MNUFC2, the club’s new development team.
Emmings, however, has a conflict with the season schedule: The June 8 game in San Jose, Calif. falls on the same night the 18-year-old has his graduation ceremony at St. Paul Central High School .
“I don’t know…I kind of want to walk down the aisle,” he said this week.
Emmings has a decision to make that day, but overall the upstart Loons team will provide him with a perfect place to continue developing as a football player.
After five years without an in-house second/reserve team, MNUFC2 will serve as a bridge for players, such as Emmings, as they transition through the club’s youth academy to take the next step to MLS. And MNUFC2 will also serve as a net for fringe first-team players to stay mindful of minutes played, pursue their own development, or recover from injury.
MNUFC2 has joined the fledgling MLS NEXT Pro league and will play its first game against North Texas SC at 8 p.m. Saturday at Choctaw Stadium in Arlington, Texas. All 24 MNUFC2 matches through September will be streamed on mlsnextpro.com, with the home opener against Sporting Kansas City II scheduled for 1 p.m. on April 3 at Allianz Field.
“It’s a great opportunity for someone like (Emmings),” MNUFC2 head coach Cameron Knowles said this week. “To get games, make mistakes, learn what he’s capable of and what he’s not capable of, and get that instant feedback that you get with games.”
MNUFC2 and MLS NEXT Pro are under development. MNUFC Vice President of Football Operations Alex DeRosa said on the club’s podcast that the league itself acknowledged it was flying the plane when it was built.
This week alone, MNUFC2 added two assistant coaches, with its strength and condition coach yet to arrive, and the club is still trying to navigate league regulations, including how players can go. between the teams of a club.
“There are going to be some starting issues with all of this because there are so many moving parts.” Loons manager Adrian Heath said. “Getting all the rules and regulations of what we can do and even knowing a gray area on how many times you can go up and down. But it will be invaluable.
In addition to Emmings, MNUFC2 will be key to signing fellow local left-back Devin Padelford, and recent college draft picks Tani Oluwasyi, Justin McMaster and Nabi Kibunguchy, as well as the older guys from the first. team (Jacori Hayes and Abu Danladi) coming back from injury. MNUFC2 has just nine players signed up to start the season, an intentional move to be a clear channel for existing players within the club.
Knowles, who had success in a similar position with Portland Timbers 2, said the style of play for MNUFC2 will reflect how Heath handles the MLS side. The goal of MNUFC2 is to be competitive on the field, but more importantly to place players in places that resemble what they will see in MLS.
The biggest thing promising young players and their agents want to know, DeRosa said, is that they will have the opportunity to be seen by the club’s top executives. This has been the case at the MNUFC in second-team preseason practices and games.
“All these key club decision-makers, they were watching these guys play,” Knowles said. “You have the first-team head coach talking to the players at half-time and after the game about what they’ve done. It’s really very valuable for those players and for the program.
When Emmings joined MNUFC in January 2020, he wasn’t yet 16, so he didn’t have his driver’s license, which meant his mom had to drive him to workouts in Blaine. A fact that his older teammates teased him about.
Now he drives himself, and although he’s grown to just under 6ft 6in, he still doesn’t need to shave his face. And although he didn’t play in many games, Emmings benefited from training with MLS players for two years. For example, in a game from close range on Wednesday, Emmings made an impressive save on Loons main player Hassani Dotson’s hard shot from close range.
Emmings’ height is one of his best attributes in net, but Loons goaltending coach Stewart Kerr said it was also his calm demeanor and decisiveness. His footwork has improved a lot, Kerr said, but his weakness has been a lack of action in the game. That’s about to change.
Kerr’s message is to accept mistakes because they are inevitable. “So what we expect of him is to grow from that and look to improve with every game,” Kerr said. “It’s having the mental capacity when you make a mistake not to crash and come back, and that’s (pretty much) the next ball and do what you have to do.”
Kerr wants Emmings to be a better student of the game. “At first he relied on his talent, and now he’s going into game situations, and that’s not going to be enough,” Kerr said. “He has to look at the other team and he has to analyze it; it’s the next step in his progression to hopefully one day become a starting MLS goalkeeper. And it has the potential to go even further.