Six weeks after he left England for America, former Premier League goalkeeper Vito Mannone is adjusting to a new league and new life, from Target Center’s front row to Minnesota United’s last defense.
Mannone has attended two Timberwolves games using United owner Bill McGuire’s floor seats – “sometimes you want to catch some balls that come toward you,” he said. And after a walk around one of Minneapolis’ lakes, he does better than most locals when he pronounces its new name.
“B.D.A. Ma-kah Sky-ah,” he said. “Lake Calhoun, this is the old name, they told me.”
He also started every game in United’s 2-1 season start, all road games with two more yet to come, the first Saturday afternoon at New England. Mannone helped deliver the first road shutout in the team’s MLS history with a 3-0 victory at San Jose two weeks ago.
Now 31, Mannone was acquired on loan from Reading in England’s second division after he played 82 Premier League games with Arsenal and Sunderland in more than a decade there. Included: A 2014 Football League Cup final against Manchester City at Wembley Stadium played before 84,697-plus fans.
“He is what we thought he was,” United coach Adrian Heath said. “A very experienced, competent goalkeeper, more than competent.”
United management renewed goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth’s contract for this season, but also sought a new starter with quality to win a game or two by himself throughout a season.
Though Mannone was mispositioned on a free kick with just six minutes gone in the season-opener at Vancouver, both he and Heath both call themselves pleased with his transition to MLS play since that opening game.
“Obviously, I didn’t play for a while before,” Mannone said. “I found the rhythm now, I think, and I found the connection with the teammates. It’s never easy when you step in. You need a few weeks to get along with them and for them to know you. They need to learn what kind of goaltender you are: Do you come outside the box? Do you come for crosses? Do you read stuff or are you demanding?
“We need to know each other and by now we know ourselves better.”
Heath termed Mannone’s performance since that season-opening goal “terrific” and praised his integration into a team that obtained four other new starters during the offseason.
“He has been a good addition,” Heath said. “Goalkeepers are not shy coming forward normally. It doesn’t take them long to integrate. Dressing rooms are the same the world over. Maybe a few different languages, but in general they’re all the same.”
Mannone and his wife, Fiorella — don’t forget their chocolate lab, Choko, too — have sampled local restaurants, walked the lakes and awaited spring.
“It’s getting better, the weather, and the snow is leaving us,” he said. “It’s a lovely place, I can tell you, A fantastic place to be.”
Mannone himself is learning MLS and soccer the American way.
“It’s a different style of game,” he said. “English football is very frantic. The rhythm is really high and you have to be on your toes every time because it happens so fast. Here, it is a mix of the two. You have physicality, different cultures, different players, different techniques. Premier probably is faster, a lot more demanding physically.”
He and teammates Ike Opara and Michael Boxall are scheduled to shout “Let’s Play Hockey” before Monday’s Wild game. He and Fiortella intend to return to the Mall of America for the first time since United unveiled its new kits in February.
“It’s nice to live a different culture, live the American life,” Mannone said. “It’s obviously an experience I wanted to do. It’s a fresh experience, a new thing. It’s definitely a change from what I’ve been used to the last 10, 15 years. I’m always very passionate about new things and new adventures and this is one of them.”