Kevin Venegas and Justin Davis, two of Minnesota United’s longest-tenured players, made club history as its first two Major League Soccer signings.
The outside defenders officially were announced as charter members Thursday, kicking off what will be an active offseason of player signing. Minnesota, which on Tuesday introduced new coach Adrian Heath, opens training camp Jan. 23 and begins playing MLS games in March.
“It’s a honor,” said Venegas, officially the Loons’ first signing since he inked a deal before Davis. “It means a lot. It shows what the club thinks of you in terms of the future.”
Venegas, 27, joined in Minnesota in 2012, one season after Davis, 28, helped the then-Stars win the North American Soccer League championship. Both players endured professional uncertainty as the 2012 season ended and Minnesota, then owned by the NASL, faced elimination unless a new owner stepped forward.
Twin Cities businessman Bill McGuire purchased the team and Venegas and Davis have been successful players in their first four seasons with Minnesota United. They were pleased to see their faith, loyalty and talents rewarded.
“They could have signed a designated player or an international player for a fancy name,” said Davis, the only player on the Loons roster last season who hoisted the 2011 championship trophy. “But there is a core group of guys who helped build things here. Hopefully people see the club does care about that and it’s not just in with the new and out with the old.”
Terms of the deals were not disclosed.
Venegas and Davis, offensive-minded defenders, helped fuel Minnesota’s vaunted attack. The Loons blitzed the NASL for a combined 101 goals as they led the league in scoring for the 2014 and 2015 seasons. Davis made the league’s Best XI team the past three seasons. Venegas joined him in 2015.
Davis led the team in minutes played the past two seasons and contributed a total of six goals and three assists. Venegas led or tied for the team lead in assists the past three seasons, posting 17 during that span.
Heath said Tuesday that he desires to coach players “who want to be here in Minnesota” and “to play good, attacking football.” Venegas and Davis fit both bills.
“I hoped to be with Minnesota in MLS,” Venegas said. “I’ve never played for another professional team so I’m comfortable here. Not that I’m scared of change. But some great players go stagnant because they’re not in the right environment to improve. So going into MLS with a club that knows me is really important. It’s more about building on my career than starting over.”
Venegas said he spoke with Heath by phone on Wednesday and called it “a nice gesture. It’s important to have a connection. I want to be important to this team and that starts with having a relationship with the coach.”
Davis played phone tag with Heath, who was in South America with team Sporting Director Manny Lagos on a player scouting trip. Davis said Heath left a voice message.
“He said he looks forward to working with me and that he sees a lot of potential,” Davis said.
Additional players will be signed in the Dec. 13 expansion draft and the Jan. 13 SuperDraft, as well through other channels. All will compete for playing time next season, a reality not lost on Venegas and Davis despite their lofty status.
“The club made us a priority,” Venegas said. “Now it’s our opportunity to take advantage and prove why they chose us.”
Portland matches in February
Minnesota United will play three preseason games in Portland, Ore., in February as part of a tournament hosted by the Portland Timbers. The tournament, which the Loons took part in before last season, includes games against Real Salt Lake, Vancouver and Portland.
The preseason matches are the first announced by United, which opens training camp on Jan. 23. All four teams are in MLS’s Western Conference. The Loons will play each team at least twice during the regular season.
The team is likely to play additional preseason games before the tournament at another location outside of Minnesota.