Nine days before players report for a new season, Minnesota United again tries its luck in the MLS SuperDraft on Thursday while it pursues keeping goalkeeper Vito Mannone and adding Paraguayan striker Luis Amarilla, among other moves.
United, after reaching the playoffs last season for the first time, owns the 18th, 88th and 96th picks in a two-day college draft. Last year’s draft brought them goalkeeping prospect Dayne St. Clair seventh overall, left back Chase Gasper 15th and Hassani Dotson in the second round with the 31st pick.
Mannone, MLS Goalkeeper of the Year in 2019, is back training with English second-division club Reading, which had loaned him to United last season. He is said to be in discussions with United about money and details such as a designated player slot before he decides on a future that won’t include a return to Reading.
The Loons’ offer would make him MLS’ highest-paid keeper — and maybe then some — in a league where he made $594,000 total compensation last season. Atlanta’s Brad Guzan was tops at $740,000.
If Mannone decides to stay elsewhere in the English Football League or in a comparable European league, United has investigated options in those leagues for Mannone’s replacement while it develops St. Clair at least one more season.
United management — restructured in November to make coach Adrian Heath and promoted technical director Mark Watson responsible for the first team — has searched South America, England, Europe and, closer to home, the USL.
The Loons seek to fill needs for a striker and a playmaking midfielder as well as depth alongside veterans Ike Opara and Michael Boxall at center back and starter Chase Gasper at left back. They’ll also add an assistant coach at Watson’s former spot.
Amarilla is a 24-year-old striker who scored 19 goals in 24 games and led Ecuador’s first division in goals in a breakout season on loan from a club in Argentina. He would fill a “No. 9” scoring spot up top for a team that lost striker Abu Danladi to Nashville in the expansion draft and is expected to loan or trade Angelo Rodriguez before the season’s start.
The Loons, who lost to L.A. Galaxy in the first round of the playoffs, also need to replace their “No. 10” — a playmaking midfielder — after trading leading scorer Darwin Quintero to Houston after last season. They’re financially prepared to sign a designated player at that position. The team’s other DPs are midfielder Jan Gregus and Young DP Thomas Chacon.
That new playmaker will join a collection of wings that include Chacon, Finland national team member Robin Lod and veterans Kevin Molino and Ethan Finlay, unless Finlay is part of another personnel move.
United management has searched the same French league that brought them right back Romain Metanire for another center back. The team wants someone who can ease the load on Opara’s legs and provide another option for Brent Kallman. The Woodbury native starts the season with five games left on a 10-game September suspension after he tested positive for a performance-enhancing substance.
Players report for physicals Jan. 18 and will train in Blaine before the team shifts to in Florida and Portland, Ore., in preparation for United’s March 1 opener in Portland.
Gasper is participating in a U.S. men’s national team camp that was moved on short notice last week from Qatar to Florida because of developments in the Middle East.