No, it’s not an April Fools’ joke.
In a deal announced Friday that seems almost too good to be true for Minnesota United FC, the defensively dreadful Loons received Colorado Rapids’ Sam Cronin and Marc Burch in exchange for Mohammed Saeid and Josh Gatt.
While United (0-3-1) has set records early this season, allowing an outrageous 18 goals in four matches, Colorado Rapids allowed the fewest goals last season at just 32 in 34 matches en route to a second-place overall finish in the regular season and a Western Conference final appearance.
Cronin, Colorado’s 30-year-old captain and defensive midfielder from Atlanta, and Burch, a 32-year-old starting left-back from Cincinnati, were a big part of that success.
"We are bringing in experience that maybe we’ve been lacking and leadership qualities,” United coach Adrian Heath said of Cronin and Burch. “The fact that they play every week on a team that is so successful, as they were last year, they are going to bring a little bit of that with them. … They have been used to winning in the last year. They took their lumps early on because they had to go through a learning process, but they’ve come out the other side. They’ve been through a little bit of what we are going through now.”
Cronin and Burch will be available to United on Monday, so not in time for the 7 p.m. Saturday match against Real Salt Lake (0-2-2) at TCF Bank Stadium. Both Saeid and Gatt missed practice Friday morning. A series of transactions brought the Colorado pair to United.
While it was essentially a two-for-two deal, Colorado had to technically waive Cronin, as he signed a three-year deal that came under free agent rules, United sporting director Manny Lagos said. United then also made a trade with Chicago to move up the waiver priority list from 22 to one in exchange for a third-round pick in 2019.
To acquire Burch, United sent Saeid and Gatt to Colorado, Lagos said. United also sent an international roster spot to Colorado as part of the transaction.
Lagos said United had been looking at the two players since December’s expansion draft, where Burch was unprotected, but Cronin was protected. Lagos said he had “serious talks” with Cronin that didn’t pan out then but ultimately culminated in Friday’s transaction.
“Our interest in Sam has never waned,” director of player personnel Amos Magee said. “There are just other priorities as the season began, and we worried that that ship had sailed. So when we figured out that it hadn’t quite sailed … we obviously jumped at it.”
Heath said assistant coach Mark Watson, who worked with Cronin when Watson coached at the San Jose Earthquakes from 2010-14, had a glowing review of the midfielder. Heath said he plans to start Cronin, whom he called a “very smart” player, in the holding, or defensive, midfield alongside Collen Warner.
Burch has a “great left foot,” according to Heath, and is solid offensively and defensively. Heath also said Burch “has an edge” to his personality that might have rubbed some people the wrong way through the years, but United just might need some of that zing.
Saeid, a 26-year-old midfielder, came to the Loons from the Columbus Crew in the expansion draft and started and played three matches for United. Gatt, a 25-year-old forward/midfielder and former U.S. national team player, signed with United in mid-February in his return to the U.S. after an injury-riddled career in Europe and had yet to play for the club.
Heath said while Saeid had just moved into a new apartment last week, the first thing the Swede said to him after hearing the news about the trade was “‘I get it. It’s professional sport in this country.”
“They’ve been great to work with,” Heath said. “In fact, Josh probably had a, maybe a chance to start this weekend because he’s gradually improved and got himself up to fitness to the extent where I think now he could contribute. So we’ve done Colorado a favor there.”