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Previewing the competition for 2015: Minnesota United FC

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The 2014 season was going about as well as possible for Minnesota United FC, until they were knocked out of the playoffs at the first hurdle by the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. That was likely the only moment of real disappointment during the season for the Loons, who had an exceptional campaign that saw them take home the Woosnam Cup for sitting atop the combined table.

Miguel Ibarra led the charge last season, and his incredible season was rewarded with several callups to the USMNT. That season somewhat overshadowed the tremendous season had by Christian Ramirez, who easily replaced the injured Pablo Campos after he suffered a severe knee injury during the pre-season.

Those two weren't the only players that had incredible seasons for the Loons. Tiago Calvano and Justin Davis both had seasons that earned them NASL Best XI recognition, while Aaron Pitchkolan probably should have gotten more recognition for the job he did in the midfield. Kevin Vanegas also put up some fine numbers, tying Ibarra and Ramirez for third on the NASL's assist list.

The winter was dominated by talk of a move to Major League Soccer, which culminated with last Wednesday's announcement that they'd become an expansion franchise in 2018. Returning coach Manny Lagos spent the offseason making a few notable additions to a squad he kept mostly intact, clearly hoping to finish this season by winning a NASL championship, on top of the Woosnam Cup.

Notable additions: Johnny Steele (Newcastle Jets), Ibson (Bologna), Kalif Alhassan (Portland Timbers), Sammy N'Djock (Antalyaspor), J.C. Banks (Rochester Rhinos)

Key departures: Matt Van Oekel (FC Edmonton)

2015 outlook: Minnesota United will be one of the front runners to lift the title in 2015, and rightfully so. The only significant loss this offseason was goalkeeper Matt Van Oekel, and Cameroon international Sammy N'Djock is a very solid replacement, that could well end up being an upgrade for Lagos' side.

Alhassan, Ibson, and Steele will all provide competition for minutes, and it's hard to imagine this club not being even better than they were in 2014. With any luck, that improvement will lead to a deep run in the U.S. Open Cup, as the Loons went out in the fourth round of that competition last season, falling 2-0 to Sporting Kansas City in a match that most NASL fans thought they could win.