Minnesota United made its postseason roster decisions on Monday, continuing its search for a defensive midfielder by saying goodbye to Brazilians Maximiano and Fernando Bob at that position while doing the same with midfield mainstay Ibson.
The Loons declined contract options on both Ibson and Bob in a series of decisions that sporting director Manny Lagos deems will position his team to improve for its third MLS season. It’s also the first at new Allianz Field, which opens in the spring.
The club also returned Maximiano on loan to his Brazilian team and Alexi Gomez to his team in Peru.
Lagos said meeting Maximiano’s “price point” for purchase from his Fluminense team, his recovery from an ACL injury a year ago and the team’s vision for its future “didn’t quite make sense” to bring him back in 2019.
The Loons auditioned both Maximiano and Bob, playing the two together late in the season before making the move Monday to seek a permanent upgrade at that number “6” position.
“Like all the decisions today that were tough, that’s an area of the field we really want to add a type of player that really pushes the quality of the team,” Lagos said Monday in a conference call. “These moves today allow us the ability to do that.”
The Loons declined contract options on defender Jerome Thiesson, Collin Warner, Marc Burch and backup goalkeeper/2018 MLS Humanitarian of the Year Matt Lampson, among others. They did the same with Ibson, a fixture in their starting lineup mostly since he arrived in 2015 before the team made the move to MLS.
Now 35, Ibson started 52 of his 58 matches the last two seasons. On Monday, Lagos called his contributions through the last four seasons “massive” and compared Ibson to the late Ace Ntsoelengoe, a charismatic South African who helped popularize soccer in Minnesota with the NASL’s Minnesota Kicks in the 1970s.
“There are certain players today who all have contributed and pushed the club in positive directions,” Lagos said. “Ibson deserves to be singled out for the contributions he has given the club and I think the community should be aware this is one of the most talented to ever play professional soccer in Minnesota. This really is a tough one for us. We really want to put out a massive thank you for what he has done for us.”
United’s moves announced Monday leave it with 16 of 30 roster spots filled as it heads into a window the next two months to make other significant changes before the season opener in March.
The club also has money to spend from previous moves including the August trade of popular Christian Ramirez, a deal that could give them as much as $1 million in salary space.
The team went 11-19-3 in 2018, won just one road game and missed the playoffs again in their second MLS season. It is seeking defensive upgrades after addressing offense by adding designated players Darwin Quintero and Angelo Rodriguez last season.
“It’s a big two months for the club — no doubt about it — to continue to build the roster,” Lagos said. “We feel we have an opportunity to have new roster spots and new resources to make some really good moves.”
Also on Monday, the Loons picked up contract options on defender Michael Boxall, midfielder Rasmus Schuller and goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth as well Carter Manley, Collin Martin and Wyatt Omsberg. They extended an offer to defender Eric Miller and currently are in contract negotiations with him — one of Woodbury’s own — as well.
Contracts for Quintero, Rodriguez, Francisco Calvo, Ethan Finley, Miguel Ibarra, Romario Ibarra, Brent Kallman, Kevin Molino, Abu Danladi and Mason Toye had already been guaranteed for the 2019 season.
Decision by decision, the Loons have built a core that includes the presence of Quintero and Rodriguez, what Lagos calls the maturation and steadiness of Calvo, Boxall and Kallman, and the promise of players such as Finley and Molino returning from injury as well. Lagos called Miguel Ibarra’s just-completed season a “huge year” and suggested he’s just entering the “prime of his career.”
“I feel like these players have been here for one or two years now, they’re embracing this project, embracing this community,” Lagos said. “They’re certainly going to be important as we build pieces around them.”
• The Loons also declined contract options on Frantz Pangop, Alex Kapp and Bertrand Owundi Eko’o as well. The contracts of Harrison Heath and Johan Venegas expired without an option.
• The option for Thiesson, maybe the Loons’ most consistent defender in 2017, was declined after injuries derailed his 2018 season. “One very, very good year and a frustrating year for him and for us because we really missed him on the field,” Lagos said. “We felt this was the right time for us to move on and keep looking for areas where we can improve defensively.”
• Lagos said veteran midfielder Sam Cronin’s future remains uncertain. He started 18 games in 2017, but didn’t play in 2018 because of a head injury. “For Sam, this is a really tough time,” Lagos said. “We’ll see if he can get healthy, see if this is a possibility. Right now, it’s not in the sporting world, but more in the medical world and we’ll see where his future lies.”