Minnesota United signed first-round draft picks Justin McMaster and Nabilai Kibunguchy on Saturday, and then former Wake Forest striker McMaster went out and scored his second goal in three preseason games, in a 3-1 victory over FC Cincinnati near Orlando.
Each signed a one-year contract with three option years after the Loons moved up in the MLS SuperDraft to select them 17th and 18th overall. Saturday's victory made the Loons winners in three preseason games.
Coach Adrian Heath called both potential top-10 picks had either not been sidetracked by injuries. He called McMaster a potential No. 1 overall pick before he tore his ACL two years ago. Defender Kibunguchy played at Cal-Davis.
"It's just the beginning for them, but they've shown enough potential and promise for us to be really excited about what they might become," Heath said.
Heath compared McMaster some to Kevin Molino, the former Loons star who signed with Columbus Crew during the offseason.
"He gets in some really good pockets of space, knows when to come in and knows when to stay wide," Heath said. "Probably more athletic than Kevin. We're going to have to see if Justin can start to combine and score goals the way Kevin has done."
Heath there's been no decision on the future of injured two-time MLS Defender of the Year Ike Opara. Heath has suggested he'd prefer one sooner rather than later for both parties.
That could mean a contract settlement with a player who hasn't played a game in more than 13 months by opening night or shortly thereafter. Opara signed a new multiyear contract after he was named 2019 Defender of the Year. He didn't accompany the team to Orlando for these two weeks and didn't train with it in Blaine last month.
The Loons return to Minnesota on Friday after that morning's preseason finale against Orlando City, and any players or staff who wants one will receive a COVID-19 vaccine upon arrival back home. The team will rest over the weekend and then prepare for the April 16 season opener at Seattle.
Jan Gregus, Romain Metanire, Robin Lod and Jukka Raitala all were back in Orlando on Saturday from their national team duty and quarantined on their own.
"There's enough time for them to play next weekend if they feel right," Heath said.
Abila on the way?
Heath after Saturday's game called himself "more optimistic today than I was two days ago" that the Loons soon will obtain a left-side attacker and starting striker Roman Abila from the same Boca Juniors club in Argentina on which star midfielder Emanuel Reynoso played.
He said it's possible the two players could arrive in time to play some with new teammates Friday in Orlando, depending on negotiations and visas.
Former USL Championship's Reno 1868 FC striker Foster Langsdorf started Saturday, and Heath said he could be the opening night starter if Juan Agudelo's slight hamstring injury lingers and the Loons don't get Abila or another striker in time.
"If Juan's not fit and we don't bring anyone in, then Foster will play," Heath said. "We don't have any qualms about that. He's really smart and wants to do well."
What's in a preseason?
Heath isn't celebrating much his team's 3-0 preseason start in which it has outscored Charleston Battery, Columbus Crew and FC Cincinnati. But he did praise players' "fabulous" attitudes, their scoring talent and attention to defend the box and opponents' transition.
"I've had preseasons where I've won every game and then had a terrible season," Heath said. "I went to Burnley (in England) where we lost every preseason game and ended up earning promotion that year. You never know."
• McMaster on his MLS arrival: "I'm a young guy and I'm adapting to the intensity, but it's really good so far. I feel very welcomed."
• Newly acquired Niko Hansen left Saturday's game at halftime because of what Heath called a "really sore big toe" that has lost its nail. "He's going to be OK," Heath said. "That's just a really, really tender area at the moment."