BLAINE, Minn. — Minnesota United supporters have grown accustomed to Adrian Heath’s go-to phrase on incoming players. It’s often some variation of having “one or two” additions in the works, and since fans have heard it so often, some roll their eyes at its regularity.
But during the club’s second day of preseason training Tuesday, Jan. 21, in Blaine, the Loons head coach worked up to doubling that refrain.
“I’m pleased with what we are hoping to do in the next week or so,” Heath said. “We are hoping there are going to be one or two more additions, and if we get them people in, I think that we will go into the new season full of optimism.”
Heath’s comment came in the first minute of a 10-minute session with the media at the National Sports Center, with his typical number growing as he kept talking.
One addition is on the verge of being announced: Luis Amarilla, a 24-year-old Paraguayan striker expected on a loan deal with an option to buy.
The other one would be a bigger catch: a central attacking midfielder commanding one of the three top-level Designated Player salaries. United technical director Mark Watson has traveled to South America this week to try to secure the deal.
Heath teased that addition during MLS media events in Los Angeles late last week, and he touched on it again Tuesday.
“That is ongoing,” the coach said. “We are optimistic, and until he’s signed, you are thinking about what might be. But we’ve identified the three people that we would like to bring in and talks are ongoing with all three.”
After 10 players left during the offseason, United has been active replenishing the roster. On Tuesday, the Loons traded a third-round draft pick to FC Dallas for midfielder Jacobi Hayes, and they brought in goalkeeper Tyler Miller last week in trade with Los Angeles FC.
The Miller deal saves salary and an international spot that would have gone to Italian goalkeeper Vito Mannone, if the 2019 MLS goalkeeper of the year would have accepted Minnesota’s contract offers to make him the highest-paid ‘keeper in the league.
“In the end, it worked out for us. We have hopefully three — maybe four — that we are hopefully trying to get over the line. We would like them in Florida (training with the team), if we can,” Heath said.
Those other two additions are expected to be depth pieces, including one center back. The goal would be to have those players join the club when they relocate to Melbourne, Fla., for two weeks of training starting Sunday.
After fielding the second-oldest roster of players in the league en route to the MLS Cup playoffs last year, United’s aim is to get younger and more athletic.
The unknown central attacking midfielder would be replacing Darwin Quintero, a 32-year-old Colombian who the Loons traded to Houston Dynamo in November after he led them in scoring the past two seasons.
Amarilla would be coming in as a replacement for Angelo Rodriguez, a former DP who has underwhelmed with nine goals in 2,621 minutes across two seasons in Minnesota. Amarilla would compete with Mason Toye, who had a breakout second season, at the top of the Loons’ attack.
After the United offense fizzled in a first-round playoff loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy in October, the Pioneer Press reported that Minnesota would move on from Rodriguez. But without a deal done yet, Rodriguez, who earned $667,000 last year, has reported for preseason camp in good spirits, Heath said.
“He will train and carry on as normal,” Heath said. “There has been a lot of speculation, but as of this moment, nothing is happening. If that’s the case, he will stay and work hard and get ready for the new season like everybody else.”
Heath expressed a desire for Rodriguez’s future — whether that means he is staying or going — to be wrapped up as soon as possible.
Two other United attackers are expected to have more productive seasons once it kicks off against the Timbers at Providence Park in Portland, Ore., on March 1.
Thomas Chacon, a young DP signed in August, had two shots in two games for Minnesota last season. The club tried to ease the now-19-year-old into the fold.
“We didn’t want to force too much pressure on him last year,” Heath said. “But he’s had a really good offseason program. He came in a week earlier than everybody, and he knows it’s a big year for him. We feel as though he’s going to contribute an awful lot more this year.”
Robin Lod, a 26-year-old high-priced midfielder signed in July, didn’t score in 583 MLS minutes across 10 games last year. With a salary of $952,000, he did score in the U.S. Open Cup final loss to Atlanta in August, but he, too, will be asked for more in 2020.
An early positive sign is Lod led the Loons’ fitness testing on Monday.
“He was probably the pick of everything we did,” Heath said. “He’s come back in great (physical condition). I’ve got an awful lot of time for Robin.
“I know one or two people were a little bit disappointed with one or two things last year, but trust me, it isn’t easy getting off the beach when you are on the end-of-season holiday, and suddenly you are in a team going for the playoffs.”