Minnesota United coach Adrian Heath was conspicuously missing from practice this past Wednesday and Thursday. It was certainly a lot quieter without his loud English accent ringing out instructions.
Heath and sporting director Manny Lagos flew south on a scouting mission, reportedly for 30-year-old Club America forward Darwin Quintero. Upon his return Friday, Heath said the trip was “good” and that he saw “a lot of good players,” but he didn’t go into much more detail than that.
But the fact that Heath would miss two valuable days of training ahead of the home opener Saturday to pursue a player shows the signing must be a priority.
“We’ve said all along that if the right players became available, we’d try to do it,” Heath said. “The one thing I know is, I think we’ve got a really core group. And the one thing that I promised the players last year was that we would get better, and the way we get better is by bringing more talent into the group. And that’s what were trying to do.
“I’m hopeful in the next two or three weeks to add a minimum two, maybe three players that will all be vying for a first-team place. So that will be good for everybody, I think.”
United has until May 1, when the primary transfer window closes, to make moves.
United CEO Chris Wright spoke during halftime of United’s game Saturday, and one of the interesting points was about a United Soccer League team.
MLS teams typically either field their own second-division team or affiliate with an existing one as a way to gain playing time for their reserve players. Wright said a USL team is on his two-year strategic plan but still “on the horizon.”
“I don’t honestly know whether or not we’ll be able to get everything in place by our 2019 season, but I would doubt that we will not have a USL team by 2020,” Wright said. “Right now, we just don’t know where that team will play. I mean, there’s lots of opportunities. It could be Blaine. It could be one of the cities in the Upper Midwest region. We’re working our way through that. But we want a city that will work with us. We want partners that will work with us. And we’re sort of working through a process with a lot of different cities.”
This past week, United’s two long-awaited international signings joined the team and had their international paperwork clear to officially join the roster. Cameroonian center back Bertrand Owundi Eko’o took part in sessions right away, but Brazilian holding midfielder Luiz Fernando has been mostly watching from the sidelines.
He tore the ACL in his right knee last June and has a few other small injuries to overcome, Heath said. But Fernando is looking forward to lending his strength to United’s defense while also supporting the attack.
“I believe I can contribute a lot and help others to have better numbers,” he said in Portuguese through a translator. “I do believe that my way of playing will fit the necessity of the club.”
Fernando said his first day on Thursday was “the best possible” and he’s excited to be a part of a growing league while endeavoring on a new life experience in the U.S.
Oh, and the possibility of pairing with fellow Brazilian Ibson in the midfield is a good bonus.
United will be without three starters for its next match, March 24 at the New York Red Bulls, because of national team call-ups.
Center back Michael Boxall will suit up for New Zealand in a friendly against Canada that Saturday. Fellow center back Francisco Calvo will join Costa Rica ahead of its World Cup campaign for games against Scotland on Friday and Tunisia on March 27. Midfielder Rasmus Schuller will face Macedonia on Friday and Malta on March 26 with Finland.
The good news is, United should fare better with these absences than at this time last year, when the team was without 10 players because of injury, suspension and national team duty and ended up losing 5-2 at the New England Revolution.
Heath said earlier this week the Red Bulls match would be a good opportunity for some of the bench players to play, specifically the new Cameroonians Owundi Eko’o and Frantz Pangop. Owundi Eko’o could pair with Brent Kallman in central defense while Pangop could see some time on the wing. But Pangop’s play hinges on whether his international paperwork processes in time.