Minnesota United’s season was a disappointment, but could a few additions make them dangerous?
‘Add one or two pieces to it, to make us stronger in certain areas, that is what we are going to do,’ manager Adrian Heath said
ST. PAUL -- Minnesota United manager Adrian Heath said the 2021 roster was the best he’s had in five seasons at the helm, which can feed disappointment over a first-round exit from the MLS Cup Playoffs. It also be a source of optimism as the club turns the page to roster management decisions before the 2022 season.
“We’ll dust ourselves down and let the players have some time off; let them recharge the batteries and we’ll come back again,” Heath said after a 3-1, first-round MLS playoff loss to the Timbers in Portland on Sunday. “We’ll come back hopefully stronger.
“Certainly this is the best group we’ve had since I’ve been here, so if we can add to it, which is going to be the objective in the offseason — to add one or two pieces to it, to make us stronger in certain areas — that is what we are going to do.”
While MNUFC has been linked to new additions in Brazilian forward Rafael Navarro and Honduran central midfielder Kevin Arriaga, the Loons must also make decisions on existing players.
Here are four topics and some key dates as the offseason begins:
Minnesota holds 2022 contract options on six players: Wil Trapp, Brent Kallman, Fanendo Adi, Jukka Raitala, Juan Agudelo, Adrian Zendejas.
Trapp, who will be 29 at the start of next season, played a team-high 2,804 minutes in the regular season and playoffs and is the player most likely to have his option picked up, a source told the Pioneer Press.
After the loss to Portland, Trapp said, “This (year) is a situation where you’re going to be motivated. I know I am. … It’s a place I want to be. I believe in this group, I believe in this club, and it’s something we need to move forward with.”
United has two veteran players entering free agency — midfielders Ozzie Alonso and Ethan Finlay — and their futures in Minnesota are cloudy. When asked about the likelihood Alonso or Finlay returning next season, a source referenced a tighter salary cap situation in 2022.
Alonso, who turned 36 in November, was re-signed after playing 750 minutes in the injury-filled and pandemic-shortened 2020 season. In 2021, he played 1,502 minutes across 25 games and was instrumental in Minnesota earning a fifth-seed in the Western Conference. He had a guaranteed compensation of $322,000 in 2021, per the MLS Players’ Association.
Finlay, 31, had three goals in 1,722 minutes in 2021 and was a sub when Heath had his first-choice attacking foursome on the field, including wingers Robin Lod and Franco Fragapane. The Duluth-born Finlay joined the team during their expansion season and has 19 total goals for the Loons. His 2021 guaranteed compensation was $450,000.
On the way out
The Loons are expected to part ways with Designated Player Jan Gregus, who saw his playing time diminish further in 2021. After playing 2,679 minutes in 2019, Gregus played 1,599 in 2020 and 772 this season.
With the addition of Trapp last offseason, the return of Alonso and the emergence of Hassai Dotson, Gregus, 30, was the odd man out. He also battled an ankle injury and played in only one game after mid-August. He has a guaranteed compensation of $883,500, and his return for 2022 would come with a significant pay raise.
The exit of Gregus would free up one of the three DP slots for next season; the other two spots are occupied by Emanuel Reynoso and Adrien Hunou.
The Loons have locked up two-thirds of its bountiful 2019 draft class with contract extensions for Dotson and fullback Chase Gasper. The club is believed to be close on an extension for Dayne St. Clair, a source told the Pioneer Press last week. St. Clair, 24, stepped in for Tyler Miller in the playoff game, but Heath said there wasn’t much St. Clair could have done to stop the three goals scored by the Timbers.
MNUFC will have to submit their “bona fide” offers by Tuesday and exercise options on players by Nov. 30. MLS will have a half-day trade window on Dec. 12
The Loons will need to protect 12 players in the expansion draft for Charlotte FC by Dec. 13. The new club in North Carolina will pick five total players from all existing clubs on Dec. 14.
Free agency and the waivers process open on Dec. 15, and the re-entry process will soon follow that. The MLS draft will be Jan. 12.
MNUFC’s 2022 season opener will be at Philadelphia Union Feb. 26 and their home opener will be March 5 vs. Nashville SC at Allianz Field. Minnesota will also be the New York Red Bulls’ home opener on March 13.