He stands 6-5 already and doesn’t turn 16 until Saturday. So just how big will newly signed Minnesota United goalkeeper Fred Emmings be when he’s all grown up?
“I’m almost 6-6 now,” said Emmings, a sophomore at St. Paul Central High School. “Hopefully, not too much taller.”
A product of United’s development academy and its first homegrown player signed before he gets his driver’s license, Emmings played striker in his youth. But his sprouting size caused coaches to make him a goalkeeper who now towers over his new coach, Adrian Heath.
“He’s a big boy, my God,” Heath said. “I wish I was that big at that age. I wish I was that big at my age now.”
Emmings joined the team’s academy in 2017 at age 13. He played for its under-15 team and trained much of last summer with the Loons’ first team before he signed a professional contract last month, forgoing his college eligibility.
He did so as that first “homegrown” player, a classification MLS introduced in 2008 that allows its teams to sign young prospects from their own geographic regions and own academy that every team is required to establish without counting their contracts against the salary cap.
He will continue his studies online from his family’s St. Paul home and wherever his career might now take him.
“I’m taking it day by day, one homework assignment at a time,” Emmings said. “It’s all good. As hard as it is, I’m not complaining. There’s nothing I’d rather be doing.”
His sheer size, grace and technical skills make him part of a goalkeeper group — new starter Tyler Miller, backup Gregory Ranjitsingh and 2019 first-round pick Dayne St. Clair — that Heath says might be MLS’ best for both short and long term.
Emmings was with his agent and training in Florida in December when he learned United would sign him. Saturday’s birthday boy, he’s no clumsy teenager.
“He’s not, and I think he can get even better,” United goalkeeper coach Stewart Kerr said. “He’s still feeling himself in his body.”
Miller, acquired before the season from LAFC, is 6-4. Emmings is taller yet and growing.
“It should be an advantage, but you have to be able to use that size,” Kerr said. “I know 6-6 goalkeepers who play like 5-foot-10 goalkeepers and vice versa.”
Kerr praises Emmings’ range, poise and instincts for a goalkeeper at such a young age, calling him a “natural goalkeeper, a throwback goalkeeper.”
“The biggest compliment I can give him is he has not looked out of place,” Kerr said. “We see him as part of the squad. For us, when he goes in goal, we don’t miss a beat.”
Emmings is expected to continue training with the first team in Minnesota while also getting game experience through being loaned out elsewhere this year. He’ll also spend valuable time this season with Luxembourg’s under-16 national team — a connection on his mother’s side — as he did last season.
“First time I came in, I was like, ‘Do I really belong here?’ ’’ Emmings said. “These guys are professionals. But over time, I slowly made my way and integrated myself into the team. It has been unreal. It’s gone so fast and I’ve gotten so much better.”
Emmings has trained with his new teammates in Florida the past two weeks. He didn’t play in the first two preseason games. His signing and presence is a play for the future, looking far beyond Saturday’s birthday celebration.
He’s already been around the first team enough this season and last season to make an impression.
United captain Ozzie Alonso simply calls Emmings “massive.”
Said veteran midfielder Ethan Finlay: “The impression is he didn’t have his license, how the hell are you getting to practice, man? He’s getting some really high-level professional experiences he wouldn’t get at the academy or even the college level. That’s a player signing that’s not for today, not even for tomorrow, right? It’s something we’ll have to revisit in five years and see where he’s progressing.”
Until then, every day now is a new beginning.
“This is just a start,” Heath said. “He has to keep bringing it every day. There will be peaks and troughs. Let’s see how he deals with them.”