BLAINE, Minn. -- Minnesota United heard the scouting reports on Noah Billingsley coming out of University of California-Santa Barbara.
“When we got told that he was the fittest player that had ever been through (UCSB), it sort of raised a few eyebrows,” United coach Adrian Heath said.
Then Billingsley, the Loons’ first-round pick in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft, backed that up when he broke the club’s fitness test records on Tuesday.
“In terms of his athleticism, I think he’s going to have no problem on that front,” Heath said.
The stamina and speed shown by Billingsley, a 6-foot-2, 185-pound New Zealand native, bodes well for the demands of the right back position Minnesota forecasts him slotting into in the future. That’s a taxing role that includes getting down the sideline to join the attack and quickly retreating back to help on defense.
It’s also an early positive return for what the Loons hope is another success story in the MLS SuperDraft. Last season, Chase Gasper and Hassani Dotson were two of the top five players in the MLS rookie of the year award race. The club also had success with top picks Abu Danladi in the 2017 season and Mason Toye in 2019.
Minnesota took Billingsley with the 18th overall pick in the draft earlier this month, the lowest they’ve drafted due to their success in making the MLS Cup playoffs for the first time last fall. He is on the depth chart behind Romain Metanire, a French right back who was contender for MLS newcomer of the year in 2019.
“We liked a lot of what we saw, and we weren’t sure he was going to be available when we had our first pick, so we were delighted to get him,” Heath said.
Billingsley is the second Kiwi on the roster alongside veteran center back Michael Boxall, a fact that is just fine with their English manager.
“It’s growing,” Heath said of the contingent from that country. “But it is part of the Commonwealth, so it’s OK.”
No link to defender
While the Loons are in the market for a backup center back, that player is not estranged Manchester United defender Cameron Borthwick-Jackson.
That’s contrary to the Daily Mail in England saying MNUFC “has interest” in the 22-year-old Englishman, who has bounced around in a few loan spells and is training with Oldham Athletic down in League Two.
After United striker Angelo Rodriguez sat out Wednesday’s training session with a sore back, his participation in Tuesday’s practice might have been his last with the club.
The Loons have been looking to move on from Rodriguez since their MLS Cup playoff exit last October but haven’t found a suitor.
“Hopefully we might have a bit more news in the next 24 to 36 hours,” Heath said Wednesday.
Center back Ike Opara could join the club as soon as Thursday. He has been excused from the start of camp as he deals with a family matter. … Metanie and midfielder Kevin Molino combined for a pretty finish during Wednesday’s session when Metanine sent in a cross, Molino chested it to the ground and then rippled the back of the net with a lofted shot.