After starting its Major League Soccer roster with three defenders, Minnesota is shifting its focus to two scorers.
Johan Venegas joined the Loons in a trade following Tuesday’s expansion draft while three-year Minnesota veteran Christian Ramirez is expected to sign by week’s end. Venegas, an offensive-minded midfielder, impressed new Loons coach Adrian Heath with skills shown in international play. Ramirez, meanwhile, led the North American Soccer League in scoring in two of the past three seasons.
“We’re very close, the next day or so,” Heath said of inking Ramirez to a contract. “You don’t like to lose somebody who scored 51 goals in three years at whatever the level.”
Efforts to reach Ramirez for comment were unsuccessful.
“He worked himself into a successful position, so rightly so he’s taken his time to look around,” Heath said. “Our job is to convince him to stay.”
Heath got his man when it came to Venegas. The club worked out a trade before the expansion draft, selecting New York Red Bulls defender Chris Duvall with the second pick overall and trading him for Venegas.
“This kid has huge upside,” Heath said of Venegas. “His best days are ahead.”
The move gave Minnesota more credibility from soccer observers who noted the club trailed fellow expansion club Atlanta by a wide margin in terms of acquiring players. But Heath ignored both the talk and the fast-approaching 2017 season opener in March, taking his time to add the desired pieces. Minnesota now has eight players with room for another 20 on its roster.
Venegas, 28, no relation to veteran Loons defender Kevin Venegas, struggled to get minutes with Montreal last season He appeared in 25 games and started seven as the Impact reached the Eastern Conference semifinals. He scored one goal and added two assists.
“Montreal really liked him, but they got on their run they had and he only played 10 minutes at a time,” Heath said.
International play with his native Costa Rica allowed Venegas to showcase his skills. He tallied seven goals in 30 career national team appearances, including three goals in 10 appearances this year. He scored a goal in Costa Rica’s 4-0 drubbing of the United States in November.
“I’ve always loved everything about his game,” said Heath, who will fly to Costa Rico on Thursday to meet with Venegas.
His trip will include watching games between the U.S. U-20 men’s national team and Costa Rica on Dec. 17 and 19. That means scouting forward Jeremy Ebobisse, the projected top pick in the SuperDraft on Jan. 13. Minnesota holds the first selection.
Ebobisse played two seasons at Duke before signing an MLS contract. The league loaned him to Charleston of the United Soccer League.