Minnesota United players report Monday for their first training in a new season with a new starting goalkeeper among several new players, as well as money and space to make another major signing by a front office restructured after last season. Here are five questions facing the team as it enters its fourth MLS season.
Q So, who’s going to score?
A United transformed itself last season because its defense improved dramatically, but its offense sputtered down the stretch toward its first MLS Cup playoff appearance. The Loons scored just 12 goals in their final 12 MLS games, including a 2-1 first-round home loss to the L.A. Galaxy.
Leading scorer/designated player Darwin Quintero has been traded to Houston and young striker Abu Danladi is gone to Nashville in the expansion draft. Former DP Angelo Rodriguez isn’t part of the team’s plans.
That leaves Paraguayan newcomer Luis Amarilla and 2018 first-round pick Mason Toye up front. Amarilla, 24, is coming off a breakout season in Ecuador’s top division. Toye’s six goals in 16 games and his play in the U.S. Open Cup have coach Adrian Heath hopeful it’s the start of something big.
The Loons also have a designated player slot available and the money required to pay an attacking midfielder to replace Quintero.
Q What has changed most since season’s end?
A With Quintero and others gone, goalkeeper Tyler Miller and others have arrived or are on their way. Behind the scenes, Heath has solidified command of the club’s first team. His contract was extended through at least 2021, and a front-office restructuring makes him and new technical director Mark Watson responsible for that first team.
They acquired Miller in a trade from LAFC, signed USL midfielder James Musa, drafted three prospects and soon will finalize Amarilla’s acquisition. They are also expected to sign that attacking midfielder after the team saved as much as $500,000 on its salary cap by signing Miller and with goalkeeper Vito Mannone declining a salary of $800,000 a season or more.
Q Is that all?
A Well, no. United supporters grew impatient throughout winter waiting for their team to make moves. But don’t forget Uruguayan teenager Thomas Chacon and Finland’s Robin Lod, too. United invested big in both players last summer, without immediate results.
Chacon played two games amid a playoff push and Lod struggled to find his way in a new league and country. At the time, Heath reminded that Chacon was “signed for five years, not five months” and said don’t underestimate the difficult transition Lod faced midseason.
Now it’s almost like getting two more new players. With a full offseason and preseason behind them, it’s also time to deliver.
Q When does Father Time defeat veterans Ozzie Alonso and Ike Opara?
A Alonso, who paid dividends last season, is 34 and starting his 11th MLS season. Opara turns 31 next month and is younger than his hamstrings. Opara played 31 games last season, Alonso 28. This year each player’s workload will be measured carefully. Expect young Hassani Dotson more at Alonso’s defensive midfield position in the regular season.
Q When will veteran defender Brent Kallman return?
A The Woodbury native, an obvious candidate to help spell Opara at center back when needed, remains suspended for the season’s first five games after he tested positive for a performance-enhancing substance last summer.
After serving five games of a 10-game suspension at season’s end, Kallman will miss the season opener at Portland, a game at San Jose and three consecutive Allianz Field games before he is eligible for an April 11 home game against L.A. Galaxy. He can train with the team in preseason but can’t play in preseason games.