How does one replace the reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year?
After doing everything in its power to bring back star keeper Vito Mannone — and failing to do so — that’s the exact question the Minnesota United front office faced as the calendar turned to 2020.
The Italian came over last offseason on loan from Reading of the English Football League Championship division and immediately staked his claim as one of the league’s best goalkeepers.
To say Mannone’s 2019 campaign had a direct effect on the team’s historic success would be an understatement. The 31-year-old tallied 11 clean sheets and 129 saves in 34 starts, and Minnesota earned at least a draw in 23 of those.
A late penalty-kick save to preserve an important 1-0 home win over FC Dallas in July was just one of the many marquee moments and performances that earned Vito the title of MLS’ best.
So, again, how does one replicate that kind of impact with somebody else?
As it became more and more clear that Mannone would not be returning to the Loons, rumors and reports started to surface regarding the options for his replacement.
Former Manchester City and current Burnley backup GK Joe Hart was one of the first and most notable names on Minnesota’s shortlist. While he notably has seen a steep decline in both on-field success and playing time in recent years — it’s been more than a year since he’s seen the field in game action — the experience and potential made him a viable option.
Other options included giving one of the internal goalkeepers, either 2019 first-round pick Dayne St. Clair or Waiver Draft acquisition Greg Ranjitsingh, a chance to take the reins.
Ultimately, Hart’s desired salary (reportedly $1 million) was realistically too much for his recent lack of production, and both St. Clair and Ranjitsingh, while both very talented goalkeepers, still need some time to develop.
MNUFC technical director Mark Watson and others involved in the search then began to focus their attention on the growing crop of domestic goalkeeping talent within MLS, and it was there they found their guy between the posts for 2020.
On Jan. 16, the Black & Blue announced they acquired Mannone’s replacement in a trade with LAFC in Miller. The 26-year-old Miller was then signed to a deal that would keep him with the Loons through the 2022 season, along with an option for 2023.
Miller had been LAFC’s starting GK since the team’s inception in 2018. In his two seasons on the west coast, Miller compiled an impressive 34-10-17 record.
In 2019, he helped lead LAFC to the Supporters Shield and the winningest regular season in MLS history.
Miller is your prototypical goalkeeper. He stands 6’4 and has oven mitts for hands. The Woodbury, N.J. native’s frame and quick reaction-time allows him to cover post-to-post effectively.
While Miller does have some big shoes to fill, his experience and success in the league should allow him to fit comfortably in his new role and provide fans the confidence that he can help get the Loons to the next level.
Ranjitsingh, Miller’s assumed backup for 2020, was acquired in November’s End-of-Year Waiver Draft after making two appearances last season for Orlando City.
It’s clear the Canadian has made one of the biggest impressions early on in the preseason.
Nearly all of the 26-year-old’s experience comes from his time in USL with Louisville City. There, Ranjitsingh tallied 33 clean sheets in 81 appearances, and led Louisville to back-to-back USL Cup Championships in 2017 and 2018.
Dayne St. Clair
Minnesota United drafted St. Clair seventh overall in the 2019 SuperDraft and are expecting big things in the future from the 23-year-old. Right now, though, it’s all about finding the right loan partner for him to get the playing time he needs to develop.
Last season, the Generation Adidas player was sent to USL League 1’s Forward Madison in April. There, St. Clair made five starts, allowing four goals and tallying one clean sheet.
Whether it’s in Madison again or elsewhere, St. Clair will get minutes in 2020, just not in a Loons uniform.