A little more than one year ago, on August 7th, 2019, Minnesota United FC announced the signing of their latest and youngest Designated Player, Thomás Chacón.
The then-18 year old attacking midfielder had the potential to be one of the league’s top No. 10 options. He was one of the most notable signings in the Loons’ short MLS tenure.
“[Thomás] is going to bring a lot of youthful energy and it’s a big thing for the club to have a player of his quality and a player of his potential be a part of our family,” said MNUFC Sporting Director Manny Lagos at the time of the signing.
Now, just a year later, the Uruguayan’s current role with this team is much more complicated, and the Loons seem to have turned their attention toward bringing in another young talent to become their next go-to No. 10.
After the acquisition, Minnesota put a lot of time, energy, and marketing dollars pushing Chacón as the organization’s “next big thing.” Introduced to the Wonderwall and United fans during halftime of their US Open Cup semifinal against Portland on the day of the signing, there was immediate anticipation for what the kid could potentially bring to the Loons, both in the short and long term.
“[We’re] obviously really excited about the signing,” head coach Adrian Heath said. “[Thomas] is a player we’ve been following for more than 18 months. Considering he’s only 18 years of age, we think he’s got an incredibly bright future. I’m really pleased that the club has decided to invest such a large amount in a young talent.”
Chacón made his Minnesota debut August 22nd in a 1-0 loss at Sporting KC and started in their September 11th 2-0 defeat in Houston.
While he didn’t contribute much on the field in 2019, the expectation was that Chacón would make a couple appearances, get his feet under him, and hit the ground running in 2020.
The hype train kept rolling faster and faster into the offseason.
Every hypothetical depth chart from fans and journalists alike had the 19 year old either in the starting XI or, at worst a top-choice option off the bench for Heath in 2020. Even after the trade with Chicago Fire for experienced left-side specialist Raheem Edwards, the consensus was that Chacón wouldn’t be starved for time on the pitch, and his preseason appearances only fueled that expectation.
Then, when Heath’s lineup was announced for the Loons’ season opener in Portland, many were shocked to see the DP’s name nowhere to be found. The same happened once again in their second match against San Jose.
Not in the starting XI. Not on the bench. Not in a jersey at all.
A 2-0-0 record to start the season cooled down some of the #HeathOut discussion over not dressing Chacón, but the questions were still there over why their young investment wasn’t seeing the pitch — or even the bench.
A pandemic and four MLS-less months created a lot of time for discussion and debate over where exactly Chacón fits in United’s current roster makeup.
Still, optimism reigned heading into an MLS is Back Tournament that seemed like a perfect platform for him to breakout and get minutes. More subs, more humidity, and less fitness appeared to be the recipe for coaches to go deeper into their benches and provide opportunities for players who haven’t yet received them.
However, after finally showing up in the dressing 18 in Heath’s lineup, Chacón once again was left off the pitch in a 2-1 tourney-opening win against Sporting KC.
Finally, at halftime of a 0-0 match with RSL, Heath finally called upon him to enter at left-wing. There was a lot of rust to shake off, which was understandable, but Heath reiterated how important it was to get Chacón on the field and hinted he would have a bigger role the rest of the way.
“I knew he was going to get an opportunity when we decided to put him on and he showed little glimpses of what he can do,” said Heath after the match. “Obviously, he’ll be better for that because I can’t remember the last time that Thomas was on the field.”
Despite those words from the Gaffer, we didn’t see another minute of playing time from Chacón through the remainder of the tournament, and Heath seemed to heavily favor Edwards, Marlon Hairston, and Jacori Hayes as those attacking-midfield depth options. But those players and Minnesota United as a whole performed extremely well. Advancing past the group stage and all the way to the semifinals before eventually being ousted by the Orlando Nanis,
The substitution preferences from the manager and the quality play from those choices seem to suggest Chacón won’t magically become a top-tier choice moving forward in the 2020 season.
But the kid needs playing time if he’s going to improve.
So what do you do? Do you cut the cord and negotiate a transfer? Or do you initiate a loan?
It’s way too early to move on from Chacón completely. He was obviously brought in more for what he could do in the future, and you have to keep that perspective if you’re Lagos, Mark Watson and Heath.
A loan is by far your best option, and it’s a win-win for both club and player.
Sending Chacón to a USL or international club allows him to get the playing time he needs to develop and become the difference-maker United will be looking to plug in to their core in a couple years when guys like Ozzie Alonso and Kevin Molino eventually see their time in Minnesota come to an end.
From a club perspective, you have the guys in place and you’re already winning now, and just because a youthful player doesn’t mesh with your roster at the moment doesn’t mean he can’t become an essential piece down the line. If the rumors and increased reports about Minnesota’s next No. 10 are true, Chacón will be pushed further down the depth chart, but that also makes the decision so much easier and more clear.
Win with who you currently have and trust your potential superstar to grow his skillset elsewhere.
If the front office makes the correct decisions now, a long future of success could be shaped for Minnesota United.