You can call him Lawrence, Larry or Lo, it doesn’t matter all that much to Minnesota United coach Adrian Heath, even if Heath himself prefers the latter.
He just calls recently signed veteran Lawrence Olum as good an acquisition as any of the team’s many these past months. That apparently includes four-time MLS All-Star Ozzie Alonso, designated player Jan Gregus, goalkeeper Vito Mannone and defenders Romain Metanire and Ike Opara.
And Olum — a versatile defensive midfielder with ties to both Heath and Minnesota soccer — hasn’t played a minute with United yet.
That could change as soon as Saturday at New England. That’s where midfielder Rasmus Schuller’s absence because of a thigh injury suffered with the Finland national team and the Loons’ poor start in Los Angeles two weeks ago will cause lineup adjustments.
At 34, Olum became United’s oldest player when he was signed as a free agent two weeks ago after Portland let his contract expire after last season. It brought him back to Minnesota, where he played for the Thunder in the USL for one season in 2009.
It also brought him back to Heath, for whom he played in both Austin, Texas, and Orlando in that same league.
“Great guy, great teammate, really good player,” Heath said. “So for us it was a no-brainer.”
Olum calls his return to Minnesota and his reunion with Heath among “a bunch of things working together” that brought him back.
“It was just an easy fit for me,” he said. “When they called, I answered and I’m here now.”
He has played the past six seasons in MLS with Portland and Sporting Kansas City, including four seasons with Opara in Kansas City. He played in 22 games and started 18 of them last season with the Timbers. He also has made four appearances with the Kenyan national team.
Here with United, Heath calls him “a fantastic and really valuable substitute.”
Opara has seen Olum play plenty wherever — and whenever — he is needed.
“He’s always been a guy willing to play where the coach puts him,” Opara said. “That’s the story of Lawrence’s career. He has been able to make his living being versatile. As he has gotten older, he’s just gotten smarter how he manages his game and manages himself.”
He can also play multiple positions, both in the midfield and at center back. He provides depth and experience behind defensive midfielder Alonso or when Gregus and Schuller are called upon by their national teams. His presence also gives rookie Hassani Dotson time to learn the pro game without being rushed.
“He’s super experienced, gets the game,” Heath said. “He knows what his role is within the group, a great role player. He’s really low-maintenance. He’s a dream for a coach. He comes in, does his work, never late, always on time. He’s as valuable a pickup as we’ve done all off season.”
At 6-2, he gives more height to a United team that already added 6-3 Gregus and 6-2 Opara after last season. Heath said Olum’s height and experience will be valuable at both ends, in any second-half situation.
“If you’re chasing the game, he’s really good in both boxes,” Heath said. “He’s very good in the air. He has good timing. He’s a good finisher and he’s a really good defender of the box later on if you’re holding on to something, especially on the road.”
He has arrived in what he calls a comfortable situation, without limitation on just what his role will be.
“Nobody ever comes in thinking you’ll be a backup,” Olum said. “It’s just a matter of what the coaches want. Whatever they want is what I’ll do. There’s no definition … We’ve got a good group, talent all over the field. The guys have made it easy to transition. I’m finally catching my groove and know what’s expected.”