In less than three weeks, new Minnesota United designated player Jan Gregus has been introduced to a new country, new climates, new employer and new teammates.
“It’s a little bit different than Europe,” said Gregus, a Slovak who last played with F.C. Copenhagen. “I will adapt to that. It will not be a problem or issue for me. I like it so far.”
He also has been introduced to his new mate in the midfield — four-time MLS All-Star Ozzie Alonso — during training sessions in Blaine and Tucson, Ariz., and three friendly games in the desert. Those games concluded with Wednesday’s scoreless final against fellow MLS club Houston Dynamo in a special 120-minute format.
Minnesota United management remade both its midfield and its team during the offseason. It landed Gregus and Alonso to play together in front of newly added defenders Ike Opara, who was the MLS 2017 Defender of the Year, and Romain Metanire from France’s top league.
All of it was done to make Minnesota United better defensively and thus better overall, maybe even good enough in Year 3 in MLS to match impressive new $250 million Allianz Field that opens April 13. The Loons allowed 71 goals last season, compared to the 40 that Opara’s best-in-the-West Sporting Kansas City team surrendered.
“With Ozzie, it’s easy,” said Gregus, who is 28 to Alonso’s 33. “We talk a lot. We train together. We’re getting better and better every day. He’s an experienced player.”
Gregus called it “helpful” that Alonso speaks the same language as some of United’s best players up front, among them star Darwin Quintero, Angelo Rodriguez, Romario Ibarra and Miguel Ibarra.
“He speaks Spanish and talks to the other guys who maybe don’t speak English that much,” Gregus said. “It’s going to be important for us to improve from a tactical point of view, and uniting this group is going to be important as well.”
Asked about his own Spanish, Gregus said, “Zero. I’ve tried to learn some basic words just to help maybe the strikers and other players.”
Alonso calls communication crucial among the midfielders right through the lines from back to front, starting with his partnership with Gregus.
“The first two games, we played pretty good,” Alonso said. “We’ll get to know each other more, but so far it has been good. Jan is a good player. He’s playing at a high level. If they put him in the middle and I go into his space, we have to have good communication. Our goal is to work hard, get the ball from back to front, get the balance in the game.”
Gregus and Alonso started all three of those friendly games alongside Rasmus Schuller in the midfield, playing only the first half each time. Gregus was featured prominently Wednesday, particularly as a free-kick specialist, and his low, hard shot from distance was turned away.
It’s a learning process that Gregus deems commensurate with the players’ abilities.
“When the player has quality, it does not have much to do with the time,” he said. “When the players are good, it’s going to click fast. … When we stay together and do the things we need to do, that’s going to help us and that’s going to help the team.”
• After Wednesday’s game, coach Adrian Heath said he's hopeful his team is within 48 hours of adding that starting goalkeeper it seeks. The Loons have shown interest in obtaining on loan 30-year-old Italian goalkeeper Vito Mannone, who played for Arsenal at the start of his career and now is with Reading in England’s second-tier Championship league.