Citing "a little bit of unfinished business" remaining from the first time around two years ago, coach Adrian Heath brought back 2017 first overall pick Abu Danladi to a Minnesota United team suddenly swimming in strikers.
Danladi, 26, was raised in Ghana and educated in California. After two seasons with Nashville following the 2019 MLS expansion draft, he has returned to a franchise for which he played his first three pro seasons.
"This is home, you know," he said.
Home is where he was the Loons' first SuperDraft pick ever — selected before current United States men's national team defender Miles Robinson, Bloomington's Jackson Yueill and new teammate Niko Hansen.
None of Danladi's three seasons in Minnesota were more successful than his rookie year, when he scored eight goals in 27 games. Four of them were game-winners in a season he was finalist for MLS Rookie of the Year. He scored a total of only three goals over his next two seasons with the Loons, playing in 16 games his second season and 24 games in his third in a young career slowed by hamstring and other injury issues.
Danladi was left unprotected in that expansion draft because of those injuries and selected by Nashville with the second pick because of his youth and promise. But there he scored only three goals in 26 games over two seasons before he became a free agent.
"Everybody knows I was really disappointed when we lost him," Heath said.
Danladi talked with Nashville management about returning for 2022 and had discussions with Atlanta, but ultimately decided there's no place like home. He signed a one-year contract with a club option in 2023.
"It was an easy choice coming here," he said. "I'm always grateful for the chance to be here. Minnesota gave me an opportunity to be a pro to start with. They gave me so much. You know, the organization is still in my heart wherever I go, it doesn't matter."
His No. 1 overall pick status in 2017 speaks to his skill and speed — if he can remain healthy. He has changed his diet and his routine, spending more time working on his body before and after training sessions.
Danladi also added collagen, turmeric and other supplements intended to treat what he calls "deep, deep muscle."
"Little injuries cause the big ones," he said. "If you keep the same thing and it keeps happening over and over, you need to know it's not working. You need to change something."
All of it in the name of injury prevention.
"He has always had talent," Heath said. "He's older, more mature, knows his body better. I'm crossing my fingers for him. The reason Abu's career has stuttered like it has is all about staying healthy. If he's healthy, he'll be one of the best strikers in the league, trust me."
The Loons remade themselves over the winter. They added speed, athleticism and younger legs up front alongside 28-year-old Adrien Hunou, their highest-paid player. They signed Danladi and intend to bring back former Loons player Luis Amarilla, too. Both are 26.
The club signed 21-year-old South African international Bongokuhle Hlongwane, whom Heath calls "incredibly explosive," and also drafted 6-2 Tani Oluwaseyi this year and Justin McMaster last year.
"I'll say Abu Danladi looks great," veteran defender Brent Kallman said. "I just tried to chase him around and it wasn't very pleasant to do so."
Danladi's Minnesota United debut came in the inaugural 2017 season's third game, as a second-half sub. Five years later, he is back with the same franchise, but with a different team aimed at what he calls "winning some silverware."
So what about that unfinished business?
"I agree," Danladi said.