Minnesota Thunder season preview: Happy Birthday Frederico Moojen! Now score some damn goals!

The Minnesota Thunder have endured three-straight miserable campaigns. Struggling with a paltry player payroll in a league that escalates in quality each year, the once-proud franchise (having advanced to the league championship four times between 1998 and 2003) hasn't qualified for the post-season since 2004. During Amos Magee's first two campaigns as coach, the club has compiled a sad 12-27-17 record.

As an obsessed fan of this lowly team, I have endured approximately 24,387 minutes (whether at The Jimmy or watching games on the Internets) of abject misery over the last three years. Now granted that statement probably says more about the misguided priorities of my life than it does about the state of a minor league soccer franchise that the general public really doesn't give a shit about. But that's the path I've chosen and it's too late to alter my destiny.

So it was a great relief for sad sacks like me when two oddly well-dressed strangers showed up at the tailgate prior to last year's final match. These gentlemen turned out to be Dean Johnson and Henk Habers, principals of Belgium-based developer WingField Corporation, and the unlikely new owners of the Thunder. In the ensuing six months the team's payroll has roughly doubled and the roster has been overhauled accordingly. Only eight players return from last year's squad, highlighted by redoubtable central defender Kevin Taylor and shot-blocker extraordinaire Nic "El Disco" Platter.

Just yesterday the Thunder announced their final pair of pre-season signings, Andres Arango and Frederico Moojen. The former is 25-year-old defender from Medellin, Colombia who has considerable experience in the USL First Division. He was twice named defender of the year for the Toronto Lynx and last year logged over 1,700 minutes while playing for perennial title contenders Montreal. "He's selfless," says Magee, reached by phone yesterday. "He's a good stay-at-home defender who brings experience in this league, toughness in this league, and reads the game very well."

Moojen has been a prolific scorer at pretty much every level he's played. The 25-year-old Brazilian striker found net just twice last year in 14 games, but saw his season cut short by an abdominal injury. During his collegiate career, split between Lincoln Memorial University and Clemson University, Moojen tallied 59 goals. In his first indoor campaign this year he hit the net 22 times for the New Jersey Ironmen and was named to the league's all-rookie team. "He is very, very good with his back to the goal," says Magee. "Very good skills, smart player who gets in the box and scores goals."

This seemingly formidable duo will join a Thunder roster that didn't exactly set the grass on fire in the pre-season. The squad played six contests, primarily against inferior opposition, and managed just two wins. But Magee insists that the lackluster results aren't a concern. "We've gotten better every game," he says. "I haven't been as focused on results as I have been on getting guys on the same page. We're not going to be where we want to be for probably another month or so because it's a long process."

Magee praises a couple of newcomers, Stephen deRoux and Ricardo Sanchez, for their pre-season performances. DeRoux is a speedy, left-footed, 24-year-old mid/defender who formerly played for MLS side D.C. United. "He's young," says Magee, "he'll make mistakes, but his athletic ability allows him to recover."

Dirty Sanchez is a midfielder with a rocket shot who played for the (now defunct) First Division club California Victory last season. He forever earned a place in Thunder fans' guts last season when he scored the game-winning goal in a U.S. Open Cup contest, only to get tossed from the match when he celebrated by simulating canine urination. "He's a great guy," assures Magee. "He's been great in the locker room, he works his ass off, and his ball striking is second to none in this league."

Informed media coverage of the lowly First Division is about as common as dates for your (equally lowly) correspondent. The only attempt at analysis that I've seen, by Anne Ramzy at ESPN Soccernet, forecasts the Thunder to finish last. But such predictions in a league that's notoriously fluid and difficult to peg, don't count for much. "I certainly don't see us as a last place team," says Magee. "I expect us to make the playoffs and compete for a championship."

The first test will come tomorrow night when the Thunder travel to take on the dirty stinkin' hippies Portland Timbers. Thunder supporters will be gathering at the Sweetwater to prepare for this (hopefully) promising season and to view the opener. Festivities will begin at 7 p.m.; kickoff is slated for 9 p.m. Join us for the jackassery. Free cajun creole hot nuts to the first 420 people through the door.

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