As sailed a fellow countryman so long ago, new Minnesota United goalkeeper Vito Mannone, too, crossed the ocean blue seeking adventure in a new world.
Italian born and raised, Mannone has left behind a professional career built in England’s Premier League and second division for MLS and a new country in which he has vacationed, including his honeymoon in New York City with wife Fiorella.
“It’s a country I love and my family loves this county since the first time I came here,” Mannone said. “That’s why we came here repeatedly. I’ve never been to Minneapolis. I’m very excited, very excited to know the city, know the club, know the fans and get going with football.”
He arrived in Minnesota on Thursday and on Sunday was officially introduced during the same celebration when United introduced new “drift” jerseys evocative of a Minnesota snowstorm to fans who lined four levels at the Mall of America’s rotunda.
He said hello being led by Bullseye — a miniature bull terrier and Target stores’ official mascot — a couple of weeks before his own beloved chocolate Lab, Choco, follows him to this new land. Mannone himself has followed former teammates Jozy Altidore and Bacary Sagna from England to MLS.
“That’s my first time,” he said about sharing a stage with a dog. “It’s something different, but it’s great to know the entertainment for the fans and the fans came in great numbers. It’s very exciting.”
United management targeted him these past two weeks after spending all offseason seeking a starting-caliber goalkeeper. The Loons came close, most notably with young Argentinian Agustin Rossi, before signing a 30-year-old veteran who played 82 Premier League games with Arsenal and Sunderland after Arsenal signed him when he was 17.
He’s likely the fifth new starter the Loons have added since last season’s end, joining midfielders Jan Gregus and Ozzie Alonso and defenders Ike Opara and Romain Metanire.
“We had a couple paths we went down that didn’t quite work out while we were working on this path,” United Sporting Director Manny Lagos said. “This ended up a great situation for a kid who is unbelievably excited to come to Minnesota, who we think is a goalie who is at a great time and place in his career to help us get better.”
Mannone comes to Minnesota on a season-long loan from Reading in England’s second-tier Championship league. He called the change of scenery more a matter of money that Reading having at least one goalkeeper too many.
“It was more a financial problem with the club,” he said, “so they decided to make certain decisions and move on some players. Otherwise, the club possibly wouldn’t survive, and I was one of them. I’m just looking forward to the present and the future and I don’t look back, really.”
He has been to a place — the Premier League — his teammates have only read about.
“Me, personally, I’ve already read a bunch of stuff about him,” new teammate Miguel Ibarra said. “He’s played. He has had a great career. He’s going to be a great leader for us. He has already reached out to me and we’ve talked. I’m just excited to get started.”
Lagos calls both Mannone and last season’s starter, Bobby Shuttleworth, “of similar ilk” because of their quality and experience.
Somebody asked Mannone on Sunday if he considers himself United’s starting goalkeeper.
“In football, nobody says anything,” he said. “You just need to deserve your chance. That’s what I’m aiming to do from tomorrow. Obviously, I want to play games. I came here to be successful, and hopefully with a new club looking forward to this season in the right way. Hopefully, we make the playoffs. That’s what we aim for.”