Calling Minnesota United’s fourth consecutive season in the playoffs both difficult and inconsistent, coach Adrian Heath and his Loons head into an offseason that will include player exit interviews and contemplation.
Both Heath and star midfielder Emanuel Reynoso have signed new contracts, Heath through 2024 and Reynoso through 2026.
Both commitments provide stability for a team that has what Heath terms “some really big and tough decisions to make over a lot of people” after a season with too many injuries and suspensions from yellow-card accumulation.
“People will stay. People will go,” Heath said. “New people will come in because that’s the nature of the game and of MLS with the salary cap.”
Here are five questions the Loons face headed toward the 2023 season:
Q. Why will Heath will return as coach?
A. He’s one of only two active coaches who has led his team to the playoffs the past four seasons — with three first-round losses — and has an extended contract negotiated and agreed upon before the season started.
The Loons were 5-7-3 and about to go on an 8-1-2 run into late August when the deal was announced in June.
“I love this job I’ve got,” Heath said when his team reached the playoffs on Decision Day. “I love working here and today was really important for me. As I’ve said, I would love this to be my last job and the only way it’s going to be my last job is if we keep being successful.”
Q. Who else will — and won’t — be back?
Right back and 2019 All-Star Romain Metanire has played his last game for the Loons. He’s 32, his contract expires at year’s end and he played just 22 minutes this season because of hamstring injuries.
The Loons in July signed 28-year-old Paraguayan right back Alan Benitez through 2024 to solidify that position, and he scored a game-winning goal to beat Nashville in August. But former USL Championship player DJ Taylor won that job over Benitez, who is more wing attacker than fullback because of his talents and defensive liabilities.
The futures of Benitez, countryman Luis Amarilla, Argentine attacker Franco Fragapane and veteran defensive midfielder Wil Trapp are uncertain on a team that gets versatile Hassani Dotson and defensive anchor Bakaye Dibassy back from season-ending injuries. The Loons’ biggest need remains a tall, young center back who can play well with the ball in the air.
Amarilla playfully predicted 25 goals in 2020 and scored nine this season in his second stint with the Loons. Amarilla, recently acquired forward Mender Garcia and Reynoso fill the team’s three designated player slots, investments from which the club needs more production.
Fragapane’s first full MLS season was uneven and fiery in a way both good and bad. Don’t rule out a return to a South American team.
Team captain Trapp anchored the defensive midfield spot the past two seasons, but his contract that paid him $784,875 this season is expiring. His return depends upon where versatile Robin Lod plays long term, Heath’s faith in Kervin Arriaga and whether the team exercises options on young Joseph Rosales and Jonathan Gonzalez.
“We’re hoping to keep Joseph here,” Heath said. He added about Gonzalez’s team option, “We’ll see what happens. I wouldn’t be hesitant to bring him back.”
Q. Where does Lod play long term?
A. The Loons signed Lod, 29, in midsummer to a new three-year contract with a team option through 2026. Heath only half-jokingly says the versatile Finnish national team player can play anywhere, except maybe goalkeeper. Lod started the season as a striker or right-side attacker playing off his dominant left foot. He finished it it as central or defensive midfielder.
The Loons were at their best with Lod playing in the midfield behind forward Bongokuhle Hlongwane’s pace on that right side. They were 8-2-2 in games when Lod started at midfield.
Lod’s position probably depends on the futures of Rosales, Gonzalez and Trapp, or vice versa.
“We’ve gotten a lot of good results when [Lod’s] in central mid,” Heath said. “But we certainly missed his goals. We’ve taken a goal scorer out of a goal-scoring position. It speaks volumes that he has probably been the best player in every position he has played.”
Q. What’ll be the hot topic of discussion during player exit interviews?
The Loons not only had too many injuries this season, they had too many game suspensions for silly yellow-card accumulations. It left them without everyone from Reynoso, Trapp and Lod to Fragapane and Arriaga at crucial parts of the season. Heath said he doesn’t mind aggressive tackles, but he does mind what got his players suspended.
“Our discipline has been really poor,” Heath said. “That is something we will address.”
Q. When are two goalkeepers too many?
A. The Loons entered the season uncertain how they’d keep goalkeepers Tyler Miller and Dayne St. Clair both happy. The answer was they couldn’t, but they kept both anyway.
They paid Miller $445,938 to play three games behind St. Clair, who seized the job after Miller fell ill before the season’s third game.
The Loons have a club option on Miller’s contract. Headed for a reserve spot on Canada’s World Cup team, St. Clair is the Loons’ future in goal.