Minnesota United has started shaping its roster for its sophomore season, parting ways with nine players.
On Monday, Major League Soccer's first contract deadline day of the offseason, the clubs not still participating in the postseason had to reveal which players' contract options they would pick up or decline, as well as which players were out of contract.
Midfielders Bernardo Anor and Ish Jome, along with defenders Justin Davis, Thomas de Villardi, Joe Greenspan, Jermaine Taylor and Kevin Venegas, did not have their options picked up. Backup goalkeeper Patrick McLain was out of contract and didn't have an option.
"The key is to get better, and so sometimes you have to not bring back some good players, some players that helped you in the previous year, to create roster space and cap room to go out and bring in new players," United director of player personnel Amos Magee said. "We feel really good about the core that we're bringing back, and we're excited to work with this group and add some more pieces to this group to improve on this first year."
North American Soccer League holdovers Venegas, 28, and Davis, 29, both outside backs, struggled for playing time in the inaugural season, amassing just 14 matches between them. They were the club's first two MLS signings a year ago. Venegas played for the lower division side since 2012, Davis since 2011.
Jome, a 23-year-old utility player from Brooklyn Park, also played for United in the NASL in 2016 and appeared in 12 games, starting seven, this season.
Taylor played in 14 games with six starts as a versatile defender along the back line. While the 32-year-old had success with Jamaica in this summer's Gold Cup, he struggled to find consistent playing time with United.
Greenspan, 25, had four games with three starts this season, spending some time with the United Soccer League's Pittsburgh Riverhounds as well, and also endured three concussions that sidelined him for several weeks.
McLain, 29, played once this season in the U.S. Open Cup.
Anor, 29, and de Villardi, 23, each sat out the whole season with injuries. Anor, who played for the Loons during their last NASL season in 2016, had a leg injury. De Villardi twice suffered an Achilles' injury.
Forward Brandon Allen's loan from the New York Red Bulls also expired at the end of the season.
Players with guaranteed contracts for the 2018 season include forwards Abu Danladi and Christian Ramirez; midfielders Sam Cronin, Ethan Finlay, Miguel Ibarra, Kevin Molino, Sam Nicholson, Rasmus Schuller (who ended the season on loan back in his native Finland) and Collen Warner; and defenders Michael Boxall, Marc Burch, Francisco Calvo, Vadim Demidov and Jerome Thiesson.
United has been trying for several months to cut ties with Demidov, a former captain and center back and the team's highest-paid player at about $550,000. He played in just three matches this inaugural season — also the squad's biggest defeats. Magee said the club is still working with Demidov and his agent on this.
The club picked up the options of midfielders Ibson, Collin Martin and Johan Venegas, defender Brent Kallman and goalkeepers Alex Kapp and Bobby Shuttleworth. Winger Jose Leiton is still on loan through July 10.
Johan Venegas played inconsistently this past season in 22 games with 12 starts and even sat out a day of practice because of frustration. But the club still believes in Venegas' potential either with United or in the transfer market.
"We saw glimpses from Johan, but ... we didn't see over the course of the season everything that we hoped to," Magee said. "Johan is a good player with a good pedigree. A player that could potentially be in the mix for a World Cup for Costa Rica [next] year. .. If he's here, we're going to work with him to get better. If there's a solution that's a better fit for him coming out of that World Cup, then we'll see.
"At this point, we think Johan didn't get anywhere near where he was supposed to get, where we expected him to be this past year. And this coming year, we're going to work and hopefully get him where we need him to be."
Magee said United will have its "plate very, very full from here to the opening of training camp in January." A half-day trade window Dec. 10 could see some potential moves while Monday's happenings also left some intriguing players without a team, Magee said. The expansion draft on Dec. 12 could also provide a chance for a deal with incoming team LAFC, depending whom clubs leave unprotected.
As far as the Loons' protected and unprotected lists for that draft, Magee said they aren't finalized yet but the staff has a general sense. He also said there will likely be scouting trips to South America and Europe in the coming months to take a closer look at some players in addition to the scouting the staff has done in the lower divisions and collegiate level.