As Minnesota United players and coaches arrived at the National Sports Center on Monday for the first week of preseason training, the buzz surrounding the organization’s recent acquisitions was apparent.
Just days prior, the Loons traded $200,000 in allocation money to LAFC for their new starting goalkeeper Tyler Miller and signed a much-needed depth piece for both midfield and defense in Phoenix Rising standout James Musa.
Add this to their SuperDraft selections Noah Billingsley, Michael Bentley and Andrew Booth, and there were plenty of fresh faces on the pitch to go along with the familiar names.
Even though preseason practice had begun, the front office wasn’t done adding to the roster. Here’s a quick look at some of the others:
Tuesday, the team sent a 2021 third-round pick to FC Dallas in exchange for Hayes — a midfielder — providing even more depth for Ozzie Alonso and Jan Gregus while also taking some pressure off youngster Hassani Dotson.
“It’s not very often you get the opportunity to bring somebody in who is young, who has experience in the league,” head coach Adrian Heath said of Hayes. “We’re really excited to get him in.”
The 24-year-old was drafted 18th overall by Dallas in 2017 and has been a model of consistency since he arrived in the league, appearing in 12 matches and starting nine within the first three months of his rookie season before being sent out on loan.
Each of the last two seasons, Hayes appeared in 16 and 19 games, respectively. It’s that combination of reliability and experience that could make him a frequent choice off the bench for Heath.
Less than 24 hours after Hayes took the pitch for the first time in a Loons uniform, the Black & Blue made another splash, signing their first homegrown player in franchise history in Emmings, a goalkeeper from St. Paul.
Emmings, just 15 years old, stands a towering 6’5″ and currently plays with Minnesota’s U15 academy squad.
“Our goalkeeper coach [Stewart Kerr] thinks he has a huge upside,” said Heath. “He’s got a lot to learn but he’s got a lot of natural tools to become a top-class goalkeeper.”
The MLS Homegrown Player rule allows teams to sign local players from their own development academies directly to the main roster, but their salary doesn’t count against the cap as long as the player is in a “supplemental” roster spot and not a senior roster spot.
In layman’s terms, the team essentially lays claim to the local player by signing them to a contract, keeping them from being poached by another team. The player can still move around the academy and organization as the front office sees fit, and they won’t count against the team’s salary cap until they are actually in a senior roster uniform.
In Emmings’ case, he will continue to play in the developmental academy for the foreseeable future, and could eventually join Forward Madison, the Loons’ USL affiliate, a few years down the line for essential playing time against professional competition.
In less than a two-week span, Minnesota United have turned a fairly thin roster with a few major question marks into a solid group of talent with substantial depth at multiple positions. In addition, they have set themselves up well for the future with more budding young talent to support Dotson, Mason Toye and Chase Gasper among others.
The additions likely aren’t over, either.
Luis Amarilla (Probable)
With Minnesota sending forward Angelo Rodriguez to Colombia’s Deportivo Cali, the Loons logically have a replacement in line for a second striker. Multiple reports from international publications, supported by both the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Minneapolis Star Tribune, indicate Minnesota has come to an agreement with Paraguayan striker Luis Amarilla. The center-forward is currently with CD Universidad Católica, in Ecuador’s top-tier LigaPro Serie A. Amarilla appeared in 24 games last year, scoring 19 goals and adding six assists.
At just 24 years old, Amarilla would be yet another young piece and would provide another solid option at a position where the Loons remain the thinnest. In fact, Amarilla would be a good bet to be the starting striker March 1 against Portland, not only due to his own ability, but also when factoring in Toye’s effectiveness off the bench.
Emanuel Reynoso (Target)
Additional reports are floating around that the Black & Blue are aggressively looking to fill their final designated player spot, which would go to an additional top-level international talent that could ideally come in and make an immediate impact.
The front-running name? Argentina’s Reynoso.
Reynoso, an attacking midfielder, currently plays for Boca Juniors in Argentina and is one of their key contributors. While nothing concrete has been reported regarding a potential deal between the two sides, Minnesota’s interest in the 24-year-old has been widely noted.
Just two weeks ago, there was extreme disappointment voiced by the Black & Blue faithful in the lack of acquisitions or moves made by the team this offseason.
It’s amazing what a difference 14 days can make. Three draft picks, two trades — one for a much-needed starting goalkeeper — and a free transfer have turned the tide and given the fans something more to be excited for in 2020, especially when factoring in the additional effort being made to continue to add talent and improve this roster.
Looking at the depth chart compared to the beginning of the calendar year shows more depth, filled voids and a squad that can realistically make another playoff push.