Until Wednesday’s announcement on a stick, Minnesota United’s many moves from adding veteran players last winter to the final hours of the latest international transfer window were all made with the purpose to win now.
That doesn’t mean Loons’ management has forsaken the future.
The official signing of 18-year-old Uruguayan midfielder Thomas Chacon for a rich transfer fee, followed by second-year striker Mason Toye’s winning goal in a U.S. Open Cup semifinal within an hour of each other, were reminders that youth still must be served.
Chacon’s acquisition, which required a franchise-high transfer fee exceeding $3 million, is a wager he can become a transformational MLS player while also an investment they’ll possibly flip eventually for two or three times that price or more. The team announced the signing by distributing Chacon’s face on a stick to a limited number of fans at Allianz Field.
He turns 19 next week, the second youngest on a roster that has added Toye, Abu Danladi, Chase Gasper, Hassani Dotson and Dayne St. Clair in the past three MLS SuperDrafts. The youngest, by 17 days, is Tanzanian prospect Ally Hamis Ng’anzi, who has been loaned to United affiliate Forward Madison FC.
“The club is trying to think about how we want to build a championship team, not just for the short term but for the long term,” United Scouting Director Manny Lagos said. “This is a really nice moment for us to continue to build our roster.”
Toye, just 20 and the seventh player taken in the 2018 draft, is developing fast in a progression that Heath currently calls a “rich vein of form.”
He has scored twice in eight MLS games so far and has two more goals in U.S. Open Cup games. The latest was Wednesday’s winner in which he needed just one delicate touch, as well as technique and composure, to turn Kevin Molino’s booming, 40-yard pass over the Portland defense into the second half’s only goal. He did it in front of his father, Vincent, who saw his son score a goal in person for the first time as a professional.
“It’s just a really special one for me,” Toye said. “The most special I’ve scored so far.”
Gasper, 23, was acquired last January with a second first-round pick the Loons secured on draft day. After being sidelined by a hamstring injury in April and May, he has become the team’s starter at left back.
Dotson, a second-round pick taken 31st overall, has performed admirably in multiple positions.
Danladi, the first player drafted in 2017, probably is the most gifted of all them, if he can stay healthy.
St. Clair was the first goalkeeper drafted — seventh overall — in January. He is the prototypical modern keeper because of his size (6-3), range and ability to play the ball with his feet who, nonetheless, is a project the team must nurture.
United is doing the same with defenders Carter Manley and Wyatt Omsberg, both 23 and drafted in 2018.
Together, they are United’s future. Together, they are a group of players similar in age, with a common cause.
“It’s awesome; we call ourselves the Young Loons,” Gasper said. “We’re a younger group of guys, such a close group. We all hang out about every day after practice. When I was hurt and saw Hassani’s success, it was so much fun to watch. To see even one of us succeeding, it’s awesome for the whole group … So the Young Loons are very happy right now.”
Even Heath sounds pleased.
“When I look at what Chase has done this year, what Hassani has done, what we’ve seen with Mason,” Heath said. “We’ve got huge, huge hopes for Dayne St. Clair. Abu has had a frustrating time of it, but there’s a player there. When you consider the five or six of them, they’ve been excellent. And we’ve got to keep working with them. You know, they can be the future of the club.”