ST. PAUL — Minnesota United selected Noah Billingsley with the 18th pick in the MLS SuperDraft on Thursday, Jan. 9.

Billingsley is a 6-foot-2, defender from Wellington, New Zealand, and was a senior at California Santa Barbara last fall. The 22-year-old switched from a forward to a defender in college and the Loons see him primarily as a right back in MLS.

Billingsley had one goal, a game-winner, and six assists in 18 games, all starts, during the 2019 collegiate season.

Billingsley, who has experience with New Zealand youth national teams, has a fellow countryman in Loons center back Michael Boxall. The Loons agreed to multi-year deals with both of the team’s starting center backs in Boxall and Ike Opara, the 2019 MLS defender of the year, during the 2019 season that ended in the club’s first MLS Cup playoff appearance.

“This strikes me very obviously as a depth move,” commentator Matt Doyle said of United’s first-round pick.

Last season, the Loons had two two first-round picks and a second-round selections, picking up goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair with the seventh pick, fullback Chase Gasper with the 15th and midfielder Hassani Dotson with the 31st.

“We’re at the part of the draft now, where if you hit on a Hassani Dotson, nobody knows it until July,” Doyle added.

Dotson finished third in MLS 2019 rookie of the year voting, with Gasper coming in fifth. St. Clair was a backup who did not appear in a competitive game for the Loons last season.

Keeper option emerges

One piece of unfinished business for the Loons is the chances of bringing back goalkeeper Vito Mannone, whose one-year loan from English club Reading has expired. United has been negotiating with Mannone, but there has been a hangup about him wanting to have the Designated Player label.

In the meantime, another option at goalkeeper for Minnesota has emerged in Joe Hart, who plays for Burnley in the English Premier League and has a resume including playing for titan Manchester City.