Busy and surprising. That’s how the Minnesota United FC contingent would describe its week so far in Los Angeles.
The club’s technical staff has juggled preparing for the Major League Soccer SuperDraft, set to begin Friday, with league meetings and subcommittees as well as continued roster building for the still understaffed Loons. The draft features mostly top collegiate players who have exhausted their NCAA eligibility.
While evaluating players at this week’s combine and interviewing potential picks might be done, United team officials’ plan could still change last-minute before the 2 p.m. start of the first two rounds at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
United has held the No. 1 overall pick since a coin flip with fellow expansion team Atlanta United FC in October. But even picking first among the league’s 22 teams is not completely a sure thing.
“It’s been happening all week, and it’ll be happening again for the next 24 hours,” United Sporting Director Manny Lagos said Thursday of other teams showing interest in a negotiation for the top selection. “I think we’re excited about the No. 1 pick and the asset it brings. So certainly we’re creating a plan. But we’re also open because we know the value of the pick.”
The main contender for that top spot is forward Jeremy Ebobisse. The 6-foot, 175-pounder played two seasons at Duke before taking the field for United Soccer League’s Charleston Battery and the U.S. U-20 men’s national team this year.
Another potential top-five pick, former UCLA midfielder Jackson Yueill, is a Bloomington native and has been a consistent starter for the U-18 and U-20 national teams.
But United isn’t just looking for on-the-field prowess in the four-round draft, which concludes with Rounds 3 and 4 on Tuesday.
Instead, coach Adrian Heath has preached since he was hired in late November that finding “the right character” is what’s important. As in, players who are eager to come to Minnesota and won’t just go where they’re drafted.
Lagos said while the United staff did a good job researching players ahead of this week, including speaking with college coaches and former teams, there were still one or two players who surprised him and Heath as far as “how mature and professional these kids are getting about approaching the chance to be a pro soccer player.”
“At least for me going into it, I wasn’t quite sure about the kids this year, about how valuable the No. 1 pick has been,” Lagos said. “And for me, this has been a week where we’ve been very pleased because the combine and the kids and the interviews have gone in a way that … the interest in the group has exploded.”
Heath said he and his staff had a clear plan of what they were looking for from this draft, particularly to address roster thinness. For example, the club — with 12 of 28 roster spots announced — doesn’t have a goalkeeper yet.
But the most important factor, Heath said, is finding an immediate contributor.
“When you look at what the last two [No. 1] draft picks have done, Jack Harrison went to New York and really ignited their season halfway through. And Cyle Larin down in Orlando has had a great couple years now,” Heath said. “If we could conceivably pick someone up who could make it into the first team this year and contribute and help us in any way, then it’s been a valuable week. Because not very often do you get free players.”
So while whom to pick and even when to pick might still be uncertain, the Loons do seem certain of at least one part.
“We’ve got quite a lot of thinking to do between now and tomorrow,” Heath said Thursday. “But we’re quietly confident we’ll come up with the right solution.”