Many of the current offseason storylines surrounding Minnesota United center around players currently on the roster or those recently departed.
It’s understandable when the team’s potential franchise, elite-level goalkeeper is “on the fence” about returning — at best — and the team recently traded away arguably the most popular player on the roster. Due to this, a lot of the chatter about improving next year’s roster has been focused on trades or transfer signings, which makes sense.
However, as we just saw this season with rookie sensations Chase Gasper and Hassani Dotson, or as Atlanta United has experienced the last two seasons with stud defenseman Miles Robinson, your biggest contributor doesn’t necessarily have to be the guy you trade for or spend a small fortune on.
It’s 2020, and American soccer is officially in a spot where you can realistically get your franchise’s next impact, future-altering superstar in the SuperDraft.
The 2020 MLS SuperDraft begins Thursday morning at 11:30 a.m. CST, with the Loons holding the 18th overall pick. With no second- or third-round selections this year — the latter was also sent to Houston in the Darwin Quintero deal — they won’t pick again until Monday’s fourth round at No. 88. Minnesota’s final selection of the draft will be at 96th overall.
As has been the case in recent years, the top portion of this draft class is stacked with pro-ready talent coming out of the college ranks.
Who will the Loons take 18th overall? Who should they select with that pick? Let’s explore the options, shall we?
Cherif Dieye – Wing/Louisville
Dieye is an extremely dynamic wing player who fits both Minnesota’s needs and style of play. Dieye has no problem moving himself into the attacking third, and with no Quintero or Abu Danladi, plus Dotson potentially playing as more of a true forward this year, the Loons could use another attack-focused midfielder to help pick up the slack.
The only potential downside to Dieye is that he would have to eat up one of the Loons’ two available international roster spots, and with the front office having to probably look international for their 2020 goalkeeper, those slots could be coveted. With that being said, if Vito Mannone doesn’t re-sign, a third slot opens up, so it’s not the end of the world either way.
Nebojsa Popovic – CF/Michigan
Drafting Popovic, the 2019 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, would relieve a lot of pressure in the attacking third for Minnesota. It would bring on a true center forward, a position the Loons don’t have much depth in at the moment behind Mason Toye and Angelo Rodriguez and allow an attacking midfielder like Dotson to play his more natural position.
Also, it’s no secret that while the Black and Blue had little problem getting in goal-scoring situations last season, they went through stretches where the ball just would not end up in the back of the net. Popovic is an attacker who can not only set up his teammates, but with a team-best 10 goals for the Wolverines in 2019, he can score as well.
Noah Billingsley – CB/UC Santa Barbara
“Center back? Why in the world would Minnesota spend their first-round pick on defense? They’re stacked!” While that statement is true, there is plenty of reason why adding another young defender, like Billingsley, would be beneficial for the Loons.
First, Ike Opara and Michael Boxall aren’t getting any younger, and while they both still play at an extremely high level, we’ve seen firsthand how important a strong back line is to the structure of this team. Suring up the future of that back line, and getting someone in early to work and gel with Gasper, could be the key to sustained success down the road.
Second, you need an insurance policy if Mannone decides to take his talents across the pond. The objective will be to find a goalie who can replicate what Vito was able to do in 2019, but if that doesn’t happen, the defense will have to be even better this season than it was last year. More depth and more young, fresh legs in the defending third are a great way to minimize the impact of losing the league’s best keeper.
The 6-foot-2, 180-pound Billingsley helped record 12 shutouts for UCSB last season and could be an effective peace to help keep Opara and Boxall fresh the entire season.
Nkosi Burgess – CB/Seattle U
Burgess, the 2019 WAC Defensive Player of the Year, would be another nice option if Minnesota decides to go the route of improving defensive depth.
His proven durability and consistency after making 18 starts for the RedHawks last season could be a major plus for the Loons and give Coach Adrian Heath more options off the bench.
So, what’s the realistic likelihood the Loons land another Dotson or Gasper in tonight’s draft? If you were to ask the question three years ago, the answer would be extremely slim. But now, with the growing talent pool in college soccer and the resources being put towards making sure these prospects are ready for the pro game when they get here, it’s even more likely this year than it was last year.
The 2020 MLS SuperDraft will be done via conference call and can be streamed on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or the ESPN App. The first and second rounds take place Thursday with the final two rounds on Monday.