BLAINE, Minn. — Minnesota United is seeking a mulligan in its quest for a goal-scoring striker out of South America.
The Loons signed Angelo Rodriguez in July 2018 to add more scoring punch than Christian Ramirez provided in his year-plus in MLS, but that didn’t work out through the 2019 season. So, the club bought out Rodriguez’s contract last week, and he is back playing in his native Colombia.
United’s next shot for more goals comes with Tuesday’s official addition of Luis Amarilla. The club has agreed with Argentina club Velez Sarsfield on a 12-month loan with an option to buy the contract of the 24-year-old Paraguayan striker.
Amarilla’s salary will take Targeted Allocation Money, meaning it will be one of United’s highest salaries this season. He will occupy an international roster spot and join the club as soon as he receives his U.S. visa.
Off the top, Amarilla had a better goal-scoring mark in Ecuador’s Serie A league than Rodriguez did in Columbia’s Categoria Primera A. Amarilla led the Ecuadorian league with 19 goals last season; Rodriguez had six goals in the season leading up to his arrival in Minnesota.
After Amarilla’s strong season, Minnesota had to fend off an offer from Chilean club Colo Colo to land him.
Part of the onus for United not swinging and missing on a striker again falls on head coach Adrian Heath, who has taken more responsibility in first-team personnel decisions. He was a leader on scouting Amarilla.
Heath traveled to Ecuador to watch Amarilla register a hat trick in Universidad Catolica’s 3-2 victory over Liga de Quito in the Ecuadorian Serie A quarterfinal match on Nov. 23.
Amarilla’s first and third goals were easy tap-ins from the goal’s doorstep, but the second was a more technical display. His quickness and ball control allowed him to beat a defender and then slot a shot around the goalkeeper, across the goalmouth and just inside the far post.
But it wasn’t the goals that impressed Heath that night in Quito.
“It was his general play that caught the eye in most of the things he did,” Heath said. “He led the line, worked really, really hard, linked up with players, and every time the ball went wide, he made really good runs in the box. I think he will score goals (for us).”
Rodriguez failed to score a goal in his final 12 games with the Loons last season, including the 2-1 loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy in the first round of the MLS Cup playoffs. He finished with five goals in 1,751 minutes across 28 games in 2019 after producing four goals in 11 games in 2018.
Heath has had an influence on the first-team roster decisions since he joined the club before its inaugural MLS season in 2017. He often will say he has been following players for years before the club acquires them; that’s not the case with Amarilla.
“The game I went and saw him, I was looking at somebody else. And whilst in the stadium, I rang our people here and said, ‘There’s a kid here I really like,’ ” Heath recalled.
“The more we’ve worked on it, the chance to look long and hard at it, I think he has unbelievable movement in the box,” Heath said. “Looks as though he’s a really good finisher, scores all types of goals. If you look at his goals from last year, tap-ins, overhead kicks, headers, he’s got a little bit of everything. He is somebody I think can score goals.”
When Minnesota signed Rodriquez as the club’s second Designated Player, Heath talked more about his hold-up play and possession of the ball in the attacking one-third of the field than his goal-scoring ability.
Now Heath is talking directly about goals, and we’ll see if it comes to fruition with Amarilla.