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Jerry Zgoda writes about Major League Soccer and Minnesota United.

United gets first look at five new starters today in Orlando

United’s five new starters are about to make their debut together in Orlando with three preseason games and just two weeks remaining before the season opener at Vancouver.

So now that they’ve added MLS veterans Ozzie Alonso and Ike Opara as well as fellow starters Jan Gregus, Romain Metanire and Vito Mannone from overseas is this the team with which United will start the season? All five could play into the second half in this afternoon’s game against New England.

“Nearly,” coach Adrian Heath said. “We’re always hoping. As long as the window is still open, we hope to do one or two things. We’re not close on anything at the moment. We’ve made one or two inquiries, but nothing as yet.”

Heath said that could change as the opener approaches and teams start to believe their younger players might be able to help more than they thought, which might make a more experienced player available.

“That changes the picture,” Heath said. “I would still think two or three deals will be done before the season. Not for us, but in the league. Normally, people are still trying to do bits and bobs. Someone who is not available now might be in two or three weeks. You have to keep your eye on it, keep looking and see where we are.”

Before Saturday’s game, they signed SuperDraft picks Chase Gasper and Hassani Dotson, a second-round pick, to contracts. Seventh-overall pick Dayne St. Clair previously signed as a Generation Adidas player.

The Loons played three games -- including one against MLS opponent Houston -- in Tucson, Ariz., to start their preseason training and now will play three in a week in Orlando, against the Revolution today, New York City F.C. on Wednesday and Orlando City next Saturday.

 “You can tell the fitness levels are better,” Heath said. “These games will be a lot more physical. It’s just the closer you get, all of a sudden now we’re only a few weeks away and you just sense everybody is getting more of their game face on.”

If you’re looking for a live stream online like United carried the final two scoreless games in Arizona on their web site, you won’t find these games, starting with today's 3:30 p.m. Central time start now delayed by about 20 minutes. So follow me on Twitter, on startribune.com and in the paper for coverage these next five days.

Heath said his starting 11 probably will play 65 or 75 minutes into the second half today and a player such as veteran defender Michael Boxall will get more time after he played just 30 minutes in one of the Tucson games because of an ankle injury.

Forward Angelo Rodriguez won’t play today because of what Heath called a “slight” groin problem and he said the team will “err on the side of caution” by playing Romario Ibarra and later in the game Mason Toye in Rodriguez’s place.

“Everybody is ramping up a little bit more,” Heath said. “Players start to understand now we’re getting closer. Everything takes on a little bit more significance. Just the fact they know we’re getting closer to looking at what might be the starting 11, people now understand that.”

Here's how today's lineup looks without Rodriguez available:

                                                            Romario Ibarra

                                      Rasmus Schuller, Darwin Quintero, Miguel Ibarra

                                                      Jan Gregus, Ozzio Alonso

                               Francisco Calvo, Michael Boxall, Ika Opara, Romain Metanire

                                                              Vito Mannone

Loons in Florida: Heath calls new depth 'absolutely miles better'

Here's today's post from United training just north of Orlando, where they'll be for three preseason games and training these next eight days. I'll be here writing daily dispatches and working ahead toward the March 2 season opener until after Wednesday's game against New York City F.C.:

 

 

Hope springs eternal always in preseason and never more so for Minnesota United here in Season 3, when head coach Adrian Heath sees the changes on the practice field after his team added five new starters.

“We have nowhere near the same competition we’ve had,” Heath said Friday afternoon after a training session in the sun with temperatures approaching 80 degrees. “I’ve noticed it more the first team against the second team. The quality of the second group is absolutely miles better than we’ve had in the past. There’s not an awful lot of difference between the first and second team now, which we’ve never had.”

Heath got his first look this week at the latest newcomers, right back Romain Metanire and goalkeeper Vito Mannone. Both recently acquired players practiced with their new teammates when the team arrived in Florida on Wednesday for training sessions. Three games are set against MLS opponents starting Saturday afternoon against New England.

“We think he’ll be what we thought he was, what we’ve seen,” Heath said of Metanire. “He’s very competitive, athletic, good in both boxes. He wants to work hard, so we’ve been pleased with what we’ve seen so far.”

Metanire speaks what Heath calls a “smattering” of English and Heath’s French is only a few phrases itself. But Heath said “the football language is very, very, very universal” and gestures go a long way toward explaining.

About Mannone, Heath said, “He’s obviously very experienced and he’s come through this a million times.”

Heath said his team will play New England without forward Angelo Rodriguez because of what Heath called a “slight” groin injury.

“We’ll probably err on the side of caution with him tomorrow,” Heath said. “He’ll probably get more minutes on Wednesday (against New York City F.C.)

Heath said he’ll likely look at Romario Ibarra in Rodriguez’s absence and likely will try Mason Toye there as well later in the game.

  • Veteran defender Michael Boxall expects to ramp up his minutes played this next week after an ankle injury limited him to one 30-minute session in the final preseason game the Loons played in Tucson. “It doesn’t take long to catch back up with the team,” he said. “We worked hard that week back in Minnesota and I’ve felt good the last couple days. I should be able to push past 30 (minutes) tomorrow.”
  • New additions Metanire, Mannone, Jan Gregus and longtime MLS competitors Ozzie Alonso and Ike Opara have passed Boxall’s eye test in training. “The standards of our training so far have really risen the tide for us,” Boxall said. “The quality all over is up. We’re optimistic about the season.”
  • Heath expects veteran midfielder Ethan Finlay will start playing minutes again during this three-game tournament that starts Saturday against New England and ends next Saturday against host Orlando City. Heath said Finlay is a “few weeks” ahead of teammate Kevin Molino as both return from knee  surgeries early last season. Molino underwent a procedure to clean up what Heath called a “slight meniscus issue” recently in that same knee and did some light work on the practice field today. “He’ll be OK,” Heath said.
  • Young forward Abu Danladi had an injection to calm inflammation in his ankle after a collision with teammate Darwin Quintero during training. Heath is hopeful the 2017 SuperDraft’s first overall pick will see some game action a week from Saturday against Orlando City. “He has been out with the guys,” Heath said. “He feels a lot better."
  • The team is training in Deltona, Fla., about 40 minutes northeast of Orlando, at a soccer complex where a USL team practiced when Heath coached it in Orlando.

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