Calling himself both proud and “extremely” disappointed after his team’s transformational 2019 season ended abruptly Sunday, Minnesota United coach Adrian Heath promised change after the team’s 2-1 first-round home playoff loss to L.A. Galaxy.
He just wasn’t prepared so soon to contemplate the specifics for a team that toughened so much defensively but couldn’t score when needed.
“I want to get better all over if we can,” he said. “There’s not one position. We know where we need to strengthen. If we do and get the right pieces with what we’ve got, I think we’ll improve again, like we did this year. That has to be the aim.
“We have to bring quality players in and make some big decisions. We have to get better.”
Seven of the 11 starters Sunday — including All-Star Romain Metanire and underrated Jan Gregus — were not around in 2018. What changes come for 2020 will in part answer some of these questions facing United before its fourth MLS season:
Q: Will United exercise star Darwin Quintero’s team contract option for 2020?
A: At season’s start, this was assured. Not anymore. The 32-year-old led the team with 10 goals — four on penalty kicks — but wasn’t nearly the dynamic offensive threat he was on a losing team in 2018.
Quintero’s $1.75 million salary is by far the team’s biggest. Expect management to think hard about whether are better uses for that money and his designated-player slot — one of three on the team — for a star who didn’t start in the U.S. Open Cup final or in Sunday’s playoff debut.
United scored just 11 goals in its final 11 games, with none by an attacker in the final five matches. Quintero scored two of those 11.
But to replace him adequately might cost even more for a team that could say farewell to striker Angelo Rodriguez, too.
Quintero in August said he’d stay “calm” until United management makes that decision.
“I’m happy here, my family is happy here,” Quintero said in the days after the U.S. Open Cup final.
Q: Are sporting director Manny Lagos and coach Adrian Heath the ones to lead United further forward?
A: It sure appears so. Both are in negotiations on new contracts, according to a source, after directing a turnaround in what each had called a three-year plan that started with the inaugural 2017 MLS season.
Q: Can United sustain its vast defensive improvement?
A: It already has started work on that. Center back mates Michael Boxall and two-time MLS Defender of the Year Ike Opara — a big part of that defense’s backbone — agreed to multiyear contract extensions during the season, according to a source. Four-time MLS All-Star and 11-year veteran Ozzie Alonso is signed for another year as well.
Q: Does Alonso have one more quality season in him?
A: “Of course, I want to play,” said Alonso, who turns 34 next month. “I have a contract through next year, so I’m going to play next year.”
He’ll spend his offseason in Miami and Cuba before training begins again in January.
“I’m not 20 years old anymore, so I have to keep training because I want to come back ready for next year,” he said. “I’m going to be 34 next year, so it’s going to be big for me to be ready for preseason.”
Q: Will goalkeeper Vito Mannone return?
A: He played all 35 MLS games this season. On loan from Reading FC in England’s second division, he is the favorite to win MLS Goalkeeper of the Year award when it is announced Thursday.
“I’m open,” he said after Sunday’s game. “I’m not going to be making decisions like this in a moment like this because I gave everything for this club. My emotions are still up and down. I want to relax, talk to my family, talk to my agent, talk to whatever clubs want me, and obviously I need to talk to Minnesota.
“There are many things that need to happen, and I’m really not the only person that’s deciding my future at the moment.”
United would have to buy Mannone’s rights from Reading, which could be expensive. The team hired renowned goalkeeping coach Stewart Kerr in August in part to groom rookie draft pick Dayne St. Clair, who has impressed. The question is whether St. Clair will be ready to assume the starter’s job by next season.
Q: Who has played his last game as a Loon?
A: Time will tell. Miguel Ibarra has been a part of the franchise since 2012, but his return, to name one, could depend on what financial decisions are made with players such as Ethan Finlay and Kevin Molino. Rodriguez played sparsely late in the season and last scored a MLS goal on June 29.
Q: Who’s the future?
A: Draft picks Chase Gasper at left back and Hassani Dotson in the midfield sure look like it after this season. So, too, does 20-year-old striker Mason Toye.
United invested heavily in newcomers Robin Lod and Thomas Chacon. Lod’s $952,496 guaranteed-compensation salary is second only to Quintero’s. He didn’t have a goal or assist in 11 games (and missed an open net Sunday) after he was signed in July during his offseason.
Just 19, Chacon played 85 minutes in two games after he was acquired in August. Heath has said he was signed “for five years, not five weeks.”
“Robin, just like Thomas Chacon, still have their best days of ahead of them,” Heath said. “People forget Robin was on holiday when he signed. He already had his season. He has been chasing his fitness, but he’ll get better.”