While Minnesota United defender Carter Manley trained for his second professional season in methods both new and familiar, his team went out and invested handsomely in its back line, acquiring 2017 MLS Defender of the Year Ike Opara in the middle and Romain Metanire from France’s top league at right back.
But now that he knows what’s what, Manley calls himself improved and confident enough to find his place on United’s first team in an MLS season that has been shortened by almost a month.
“We have a lot of vets with experience, but I think I’ve improved a lot, I think I’ve shown that,” he said. “It’s a shorter season, but the same amount of games, so there will be opportunities to make a case for myself. When presented with those opportunities, I have to be sure I make the most of them.”
Loons coach Adrian Heath has made it clear he expects more from recent draft picks Abu Danladi, Mason Toye, Wyatt Omsberg and Manley, a right back whom Heath hopes can get up the field and stretch opposing defenses with his wide crossing passes.
He wouldn’t mind if Manley — a self-proclaimed quiet, nice guy — played with a harder edge as well.
Selected from Duke with the 2018 SuperDraft’s 23rd pick, Manley returns for his second MLS season noticeably fit from adhering to the team’s offseason training plan and a better player because he trained with his father for the first time.
“He’s a year bigger, stronger, faster, more experienced,” said Loons assistant coach Mark Watson, who oversees the defense. “As much as we’ve added some players because we need to get better, there’s also some young guys who are just that extra year further along competing for spots.”
Manley’s also a year more confident and comfortable. He also returns for training in Tucson, Ariz., these two weeks after working with father Philip on skills an hour a day, three days a week during the offseason back home in Maryland.
His dad rolled out one ball after another and he’d bend crossing pass after crossing pass from wide out right on the field toward the penalty area. Manley delivered five or six of those in Tuesday’s first friendly, a 9-2 victory over USL team FC Tucson after which Heath said his team easily could have scored another five goals.
Loons midfielder Rasmus Schuller converted one of Manley’s last crossing passes into a left-footed goal at the far post late in 45 minutes of first-half play only for both players.
“That’s something my dad helped me with,” said Manley, whose team plays its second friendly Saturday against Phoenix Rising. “First time in 22 years we went out to a field and he helped me.”
United coaches have worked with Manley to play with more aggression and a meaner edge, particularly when defending against the ball.
“Carter is very soft-spoken, very laid-back,” Watson said. “He needs to leave that on the sideline once he steps on the field. He’s an incredible athlete and now he’s playing against guys who are just as athletic. When he goes to win the ball, he has to go hard, with aggression.
“He’s got that in him. It’s just a matter of confidence. I don’t think a lot of attacking players like someone who kicks them and gets physical. We’ve been working with him on that part of the game.”
Manley said he purposely is playing with more of that edge.
“It goes beyond being physical,” he said. “It’s also demanding the ball, wanting to be involved more. I’m trying to have a bigger impact.”