Last year's Thunder squad had one huge hole: a solid central defender to anchor the team's three-man back line. Both Nate Knox and Brett Branan spent time in this vital position, but the defense never gelled. As a result the team allowed 42 goals in 28 games. By comparison, in 2004 the squad permitted just 23 goals in an equal number of matches. Consequentially, the team endured a decidedly lackluster campaign, finishing 7-10-11 and missing the playoffs. What was the difference between 2004 and 2005? The absence of Dustin Branan. (Yes, he's Brett's older brother.) The Thunder sorely missed their reigning MVP's size, tenacity, and clear-eyed calm on the defensive front. Branan spent last year with the Kansas City Wizards of Major League Soccer (the top professional league in the U.S.). But after a season marooned on the bench, he has returned to the Twin Cities. Fans will be ecstatic to have him back.