As it did last season with its new star, Minnesota United pursued a player for months before it got its man on Friday, signing French first-division striker Adrien Hunou as the team's third and final Designated Player.
Last year, the Loons worked from at least January to August before it acquired South American playmaking midfielder Emanuel Reynoso. This time, the Loons had Hunou on its discovery list for a year before they finalized months of negotiations with French club Stade Rennais and signed the 27-year-old scorer to a three-year contract with a team option in the fourth year.
He will join his new team after he passes a physical and completes U.S. immigration paperwork and a complete quarantine. Hunou will occupy an international roster spot, one of two the Loons had left while approach acquiring Argentine left-side attacker Franco Fragapane as well.
Coach Adrian Heath said there is "still stuff to be sorted" before the Loons acquire Fragapane, but called them "very close." He said in a video call with reporters Friday he'd be "disappointed if we don't get it over the line" in the coming days.
Heath called Friday's signing "the worst-kept secret in MLS" after what he deemed "protracted negotiations" with Hunou's club, which didn't want to part with him even after he told management months ago he wanted to play in Major League Soccer and Minnesota, Heath said.
"A little bit like Reynoso, it took longer than we imagined in the beginning," Heath said. "But we got a guy we think will make a big, big statement in Major League Soccer."
Heath praises Hunou's ability to play as many as four positions, from the wings through the middle to striker. He also likes Hunou's relentlessness and willingness to run, as well as his 11 years spent in one of the top French clubs' system.
"He's got a knack of scoring big goals in big games," Heath said of a talent who played on France's U-18, U-19 and U-20 on his way up to Stade Rennais' first team. "We never wavered. We've liked the guy for over a year now. We thought we'd have to wait for the end of their season (in late May), but I think they thought it'd be best for everybody to do it now. So we got him a little bit earlier than we thought we would. But we can't wait to get him here now."
Heath said he's hopeful Hunou will clear his immigration paperwork and quarantine within two weeks at the most.
"Anything before a couple weeks would probably be a bit of a bonus," he said.
Hunou's presence adds skill and depth to a Loons team that Heath said now has the flexibility to play different formations, such as a 3-5-2 that could feature both Hunou and newly signed Argentine striker Ramon Abila, or a 3-4-3.
"He always looks like he's got a goal in him," Heath said. "We'll see where we feel he's going to be best with this group when he gets in and we start working with him."
Hunou scored four goals in 20 games this season, but has played sparingly the past three months since Hunou told his club he wanted to play elsewhere, Heath said.
Heath credits his team's French defenders, Bakaye Dibassy and Romain Metanire, for both their recommendations of a forward each has played against and their phone conversations that helped convince Hunou to make the move.
Heath called it a soft sell because of the "strong affinity for America" that many French players, including Hunou, have for its way of life and its sports, particularly the NBA.
"They want to come and play here," Heath said. "It's a destination of choice for a lot of French players. For whatever reason, a lot of the French players are happy to come and play here."