Minnesota United on Friday finalized its end-of-season roster bookkeeping by exercising a 2021 team contract option on seven players, declining it on five players and continuing to negotiate with six others about returning for another season.
At the top of their list: leading goal scorer Kevin Molino, Paraguayan striker Luis Amarilla and 35-year-old captain Ozzie Alonso.
Loons coach Adrian Heath said his club offered Molino the "max deal he can get in America" and is awaiting an answer.
"We're hoping he accepts it and decides to come back and build on what he finished last year," Heath said.
Molino, 30, found instant chemistry with new playmaking star Emanuel Reynoso late into the season and all the way to the Western Conference final.
Heath also said Molino's decision will impact other decisions made by a team seeking to add three starter-quality players, one in the back defensive line, another in the midfield and a striker it has targeted and with whom it is negotiating. That midfielder could be free agent Wil Trapp, who plays Alonso's "No. 6" defensive-midfielder position.
Heath said the Loons could maneuver to add two new impact "Designated Players" with Reynoso.
"We need to keep moving it forward," Heath said Friday in a video call with reporters. "That has to be the mantra if we want to compete for the West final and maybe go further."
They can do so starting next week through free agency, the upcoming MLS SuperDraft and trades, including perhaps with the Austin, Texas, expansion team. The Loons are exempt from losing a player in the expansion draft because Nashville took Abu Danladi last year, but could use the Austin team to make deals for players exposed by other teams.
Heath said his team also has contacted the Argentina team that owns Amarilla's rights about a transfer or another loan, such as the one-year deal extended this season. Amarilla, 25, will make his request to play in Minnesota to his Velez Sarsfield team when he returns to South America next week.
Heath also has talked to Alonso about returning to play a to-be-determined role next season as well as his long-term future, which could include a coaching or front-office job somewhere, sometime.
"We think he can still play, whether that's every game might have to be something we'll have to discuss," Heath said.
The Loons also are in discussions with veteran defender Brent Kallman and mid-20s midfielders Marlon Hairston and Jacori Hayes about their futures with the team.
The Loons already had 10 players — including starters Reynoso, Michael Boxall, Jan Gregus, Robin Lod, Romain Metanire, Tyler Miller and Bakaye Dibassy — under contract.
That list includes two players whose futures are in doubt: Two-time MLS Defender of the Year Ike Opara and 20-year-old Thomas Chacon, the Loons' young designated player.
Opara hasn't played since two season-opening games in March with what Heath called other issues, and he also has a history with concussions. Opara signed a lucrative contract extension after the 2019 season.
Club officials met with him recently and will do so again soon. "If he says he feels he wants to come back and play next year, that's going to be great for everybody," Heath said. "In a perfect world, that's what will happen. I don't think we want to go through a year like we've just been where you don't know what's going to happen."
Chacon played 172 minutes in just four games during his first full MLS season. The Loons are seeking to loan him to a European team starting early in 2021. He was signed in August 2019 at age 18 to what was then a club-record transfer fee.
"He needs to start playing again," Heath said. "That's the most important thing. The Thomas situation has not been good for everybody, least of all the kid. … Obviously, Thomas has had an incredibly frustrating season."
The Loons picked up the 2021 contract option for veteran midfielder Ethan Finlay, who successfully teamed in a front four with Reynoso, Molino and Lod late in the season. They did same with young goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair, starting left back Chase Gasper, versatile Hassani Dotson and former USL players Sam Gleadle and Foster Langsdorf.
St. Clair has put himself into contention for the starting goalkeeper job with Miller, who's rehabilitating from August hip surgery. St. Clair recorded six clean sheets in 13 games that ended the season. The Keeper of the Future started looking like the Keeper of Now.
"It was very much Tyler's job and Dayne was sort of an understudy, second string if you like," Heath said. "Now all of a sudden, the dynamics of that has changed a bit."
The Loons didn't exercise a team option on these 2021 contracts:
• Veteran defender Jose Aja proved valuable when Ike Opara's season ended in June.
• Striker Aaron Schoenfeld was a tall, veteran presence back in MLS after four seasons in Israel.
• Others: Backup goalkeeper Greg Ranjitsingh, defender/midfielder James Musa and former USL player Kevin Partida.
Out of contract
MLS fifth all-time leading scorer Kei Kamara and 25-year-old midfielder Raheem Edwards both had contracts expire without an option. The Loons sent $150,000 in allocation money to Colorado in a September trade for Kamara, who played sparingly the next three months.
Kamara, 36, tweeted on Thursday to Minnesota supporters, wishing he could have played in front of them at Allianz Field. "Unlucky me. Till we meet again (Don't boo me)."
The roster as it was Friday, with 18 players contracted:
Dayne St. Clair