Minnesota United added its fifth new starter since last season’s end, finding the goalkeeper it has sought by obtaining 30-year-old Italian Vito Mannone on loan from Reading in England’s second division.
Mannone traveled Thursday toward a Minnesota arrival that is expected to include a physical exam Friday and an announcement/introduction by the time the team unveils its latest uniforms Sunday at the Mall of America, according to sources.
A former Premier League goalkeeper with Arsenal and Sunderland, Mannone tweeted an emoji message Thursday morning that included two airplanes, the American flag, a pair of praying hands and the words “flight time.” Twitter followers tracked a flight he possibly boarded in London on Thursday afternoon bound for Minneapolis.
He will join a roster remake that includes sizable investments in midfielders Jan Gregus and Ozzie Alonso as well as defenders Romain Metanire from France’s top league and former Sporting Kansas City star Ike Opara, MLS’ 2017 Defender of the Year.
In some financial maneuvering Thursday, United traded an unused international-player slot to Chicago for spending money: $125,000 in general allocation money and $75,000 in targeted allocation money.
All the acquisitions are intended to dramatically improve a team that missed the playoffs in its first two MLS seasons and surrendered 71 goals last season. The moves coincide with the club’s unveiling of $250 million Allianz Field in St. Paul.
Five new starters is nearly half of a new team, United coach Adrian Heath noted.
“For the first time, I feel we’re putting a team out that can play against anyone in the league,” Heath said, “and I feel we have as good of players as anybody in the league. That has not been the case for the previous two years. We’re getting there.”
Minnesota United pursued young Argentine goalkeeper Agustin Rossi in January but stopped negotiations after reports of 2016 domestic abuse allegations made by a former partner resurfaced in media reports and on social media.
Nearly a month later, Mannone joins last season’s starter Bobby Shuttleworth and top draft pick Dayne St. Clair on the team’s goalkeeper roster.
Mannone signed with Arsenal when he was 17 and played 15 league games in seven seasons, primarily as a substitute. He was loaned to English clubs Barnsley and Hull City for all or part of three seasons during those years and played 67 Premier League games for Sunderland from 2013 to 2017 before he joined Reading.
Fiery and likable, Mannone grew unhappy on a Reading roster crowded with goalkeepers, judging by one of his Instagram posts last season. He did so after two-plus seasons of a career in which he became known for spectacular and timely penalty-kick saves yet inconsistency, too.
He has been part of a new wave of goalkeepers adept at using their feet and playing from behind at times as another attacker.
He has had some coaches who want him to play that way and others who didn’t, he told the Reading team’s website when he arrived there. Count Heath as one coach who has been looking for goalkeepers with those skills. That’s a big reason United drafted St. Clair seventh overall last month.
“It’s just a fact of adaptation,” Mannone said then. “You need to adapt to the game. I like to play with my feet from the back.”
While United management searches to make more moves, the Loons played on in Arizona, combining two-a-day training sessions with three friendly games. The last one was Wednesday’s against Houston that was played in four 30-minute quarters.
Some notes from that:
• Defender Eric Miller played one of those quarters two days after he officially re-signed with the team. Those extended contract negotiations spilled over into preseason training. “He looks fine,” Heath said. “He’s in good condition. You’re always worried when players haven’t been with you all the way through, but he said he feels fine. He has been working really hard. He’ll be OK.”
• Veteran defender Michael Boxall made his preseason debut after dealing with an ankle issue and played 30 minutes as well. “He said he felt really good,” Heath said. “Hopefully now we can push him on as well.”
• Back from duty with his national team, veteran defender Francisco Calvo received a red card Wednesday that Heath called “something from nothing.” The two teams agreed before the game to each play on with 11 men if something like that should happen, so they did.
• Recently acquired defender Metanire wasn’t in Tucson for training, but is expected to join his new teammates back in Minnesota. Heath said he planned to give players a few days off to rest and be with their families before resuming work next week. He said that would probably be the most physically demanding week of a preseason that continues until the March 2 season opener at Vancouver.
• Young striker Abu Danladi returned to Minnesota before his teammates to get treatment on a swollen ankle that kept him from training. “Hopefully when we get back, we’ll have better news about him,” Heath said.