Frequent contributor Jon Marthaler has written about virtually every sport in the Twin Cities, and fills in on Saturdays for the RandBall blog on StarTribune.com. He'll cover the professional soccer scene in the Twin Cities, whether at the Metrodome or at the National Sports Center.
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Minnesotans may have snow and the Sochi Olympics on our minds, but the signs of spring are starting to show - even on the soccer field. Minnesota United begins full preseason training tomorrow, after a week of fitness work, and leaves later this week for the first of their spring training trips.
Team president Nick Rogers promised that the team, while happy with the players under contract, was still in the hunt for new players. "I think if we didn’t add anyone else at all, we’ve already got the pieces to be quite competitive," he said, "but for me personally, I’d be a little disappointed if we didn’t add something else here."
Since my conversation with him at the end of January, in which Rogers promised new signings to stave off the growing panic among United fans, the team has brought in two new players - both Brazilians, as it happens. Defender Tiago Calvano and midfielder Juliano Vicentini are both veterans, with experience in leagues around the world, and while neither got fans particularly excited, Rogers argues that they're a bigger deal than they've been given credit for.
"Frankly, they’re two of the biggest signings in Minnesota professional soccer history," said Rogers. "These are two guys who both have high-level European club competition experience, and I don’t know how many other teams in the NASL can say they have players like that. The Cosmos have [Marcos] Senna, and I think there’s a center back who has some good experience. These are real players, these are guys who are proven in Italian and Brazilian leagues. Tiago played in Switzerland and Germany and Spain and Australia. These guys are proven veterans who I think will add some maturity and stability to some important positions."
"We’re certainly not done, but I think fans should be pretty excited about these two signings."
That said, Rogers also admitted some frustration in a few deals that didn't come to fruition, potentially to bring some even bigger-name players to the team. "I think at this point it’s not about filling in the squad; we’re looking to potentially add some bigger pieces," he said. "There may be a couple of guys like that [to fill in the squad]; they can’t all be huge signings. We will probably add a couple of younger guys that we think have some potential for the future, but there’s a possibility that we’re going to sign at least one sort of significant player."
Despite training beginning in earnest tomorrow, Rogers still plans to be on the lookout for other opportunities to bring players in. "In a perfect world you’d start with everybody there on day one," he said. "A uniform experience is probably the ideal, but I don’t think it’s always a realistic expectation. I would like to have most of the roster basically set by the time we go to England [the trip is from March 8-18]. That will really be, in addition to a great experience for those guys, it will be a great bonding opportunity - on the road, in a foreign country, a chance for these guys to get to know one another. I think we’d like to be pretty close to done building the roster by the time we go to England, but I’m not ruling out anything. We’re going to stay flexible, and if we have needs, we’re going to respond to those."
Rogers deferred to head coach Manny Lagos about positions that the team might be interested in filling; however, it's no secret that the team's greatest need is for attacking players, either from central midfield or as a complementary striker. It would be surprising if any new signings did not fill those needs.
Ultimately, Rogers stressed that he's happy with the team, but not ready to stop looking for new players. "There are a few people definitely on our radar," he said, "but nothing I want to tip my hand about."
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