Only four days after he arrived in the United States for the first time, Jan Gregus, Minnesota United’s new midfielder and Slovakia national team member, already has attended his first NBA game and impressed at least one teammate with his height and his coach with his grasp of the English language.
“He speaks perfect English, probably better than me,” said Loons coach Adrian Heath, an Englishman himself with an accent of his own. “That’s not difficult.”
Some of Heath’s players might not argue, but Gregus wasn’t about to agree, not on his second day with a new team, in a new league in a new life.
“I don’t think so, but thank you,” he said. “I had [English] in my school from maybe 15 years old. I don’t think it’s perfect. Still something to improve, but I understand most of the things you say.”
Acquired in December from F.C. Copenhagen in Denmark’s top league, Gregus’ job is to speak with both feet as well as his head in a couple of different ways.
“He is tall,” Loons midfielder Ethan Finlay said about a new teammate who’s pushing 6-3.
He chose to come to MLS and America after a talk with Heath during the coach’s seven-week, offseason scouting trip that took him from Scandinavia to Spain and parts in between. Heath returned with his team poised to add Gregus as the Loons’ third and final designated player.
“I got a feeling,” Gregus said. “Coach came to Denmark to talk to me, so that was the feeling I had, that it’s going to be good for me. … Obviously, I follow the league and I could see it getting better and better every year. A lot of quality players and quality teams. I can already say this team has a lot of quality and should be higher than they finished last year.”
He has said hello to his new country by watching the Timberwolves win on Derrick Rose’s buzzer-beater Sunday at Target Center.
“I had the best seats and everything,” Gregus said. “My first NBA game ever, with a win at the end. It was good.”
Gregus, 27, joins a midfield remade after United also signed four-time MLS All-Star Ozzie Alonso, acquired in a bit of league bookkeeping from Seattle on waivers. Alonso will wear uniform No. 6, same as the number aligned with soccer’s defensive midfield position and befitting a player Heath deems the league’s best at that position this last decade.
Gregus will wear No. 8, the number for the midfield position that plays a little farther up from the field. Heath said the two players could be interchangeable.
When asked Tuesday why he wore that jersey, Gregus said, “No. 6 was occupied. That was it. I had no problem. I don’t think the number has a big role, but 8 is good.”
Heath calls the two new midfielders complementary to the other, both equipped to help their team reduce the 71 goals its porous defense allowed last season and move the ball ahead quickly to its gifted offensive players, namely star Darwin Quintero.
Gregus’ height and proficiency at playing the ball with his head is expected to help at both ends.
“You can already tell,” Finlay said. “Jan, big guy, able to have a presence. There’s not only a toughness factor with Ozzie, but a big guy like Jan who can distribute with both feet, who’s very composed and has played on a big stage at a high level.
“You have guys like that, they’ll hit the ground running in the MLS. They won’t have some of the same issues some other internationals have, where it takes them six months. He’ll be able to step right in and have some success.”