Scoring 11 goals over the last 11 games of the year isn’t exactly the way to end such a promising season, but that’s the reality Minnesota United faced after their 2-1 playoff loss to LA Galaxy back in October.
Heading into that stretch, the Loons had a stranglehold on the Western Conference’s No. 2 seed, trailing only the Supporter Shield winners LAFC. But their late-season stumble ultimately led them to the fourth seed, and potentially cost them further advancement into the MLS Cup Playoffs.
It’s apparent the front office saw that skid as more than a poorly-timed offensive slump, because retooling the final third became an obvious priority this offseason.
The makeover began with arguably the most notable trade in the Black and Blue’s short MLS tenure, as they sent coveted attacking DP Darwin Quintero to Houston for midfielder Marlon Hairston and $300,000 in allocation money. Minnesota then left fellow forward and 2017 first-round SuperDraft pick Abu Danladi unprotected, allowing Nashville SC to scoop him up in the expansion draft.
The final outbound move came later in the offseason, as the Loons and Angelo Rodriguez came to terms on a mutual “opt-out” of sorts, loaning the attacker to Deportivo Cali in his home country of Colombia, with the intention that he will sign there or elsewhere after the 2020 season.
So, how does the attacking third look of the Loons now? Here’s how it shakes out:
Amarilla was brought on board in late January on loan from Velez Sarsfield in Argentina. The Loons have an option to purchase the Paraguayan after his loan is complete.
In his short amount of pitch time in the preseason, Amarilla has already shown the ability to not only get himself into goal-scoring positions, but consistently finish with precision, which is something Minnesota has lacked during its first few years in MLS.
The 24 year old will have a ton of incentive to keep up that quality of play, because Mason Toye, one of last year’s breakout stars, is more than capable of taking over that starting spot if Amarilla struggles.
Much like rookies Hassani Dotson and Chase Gasper, Toye’s emergence in 2019 was unexpected. The 2018 first-round pick quickly made his mark as “Captain Clutch” with game-winning goals in the US Open Cup against Houston, on the road against Montreal Impact and at home vs. FC Dallas.
Toye was awarded with a call to the US U-23 National Team roster, and is on the provisional roster to represent his country at this Summer’s Olympics in Tokyo along with Dotson.
The Loons hope to get more late-game magic and heroics from Toye this year, and he will be the main backup option to Amarilla, and the two could even play alongside each other in certain 4-4-2 scenarios.
“Big Celery” is one of the more recent Black and Blue signings, as he makes his return to MLS after a four-year stint in Israel. Schoenfeld also reunites with former Columbus Crew teammate Ethan Finlay, and Minnesota hopes to benefit from their history and chemistry.
The tall, lanky 29-year old will also serve as a big target for corner kicks and crosses into the box.
The London, England native was a later round pick in this year’s SuperDraft and, while he shows promise, will likely start the year in Madison or on loan elsewhere.