Oh, the memories...
I remember this time of last year clearly. There were still so many unknowns about Minnesota United (too many of which remained question marks for far too long), but our first chance to get real, like, players arrived in the Expansion Draft. One year later, and the roles are flipped: we consider which players we could stand to part with while Los Angeles Football Club must decide which (unprotected) MLS players should be part of their new squad. The draft is a little under a week away, so if you’re wondering what the protection process looks like, our own alissaknop has a great breakdown. I won’t delve into what’s covered in there, but I will weigh in on which eleven players should be protected.
There do have to be three protected international players. Francisco Calvo is one of the first names on my list, even without his international status. Jerome Thiesson falls in the same category. It’s a little more difficult to pick a third, but it’s between Sam Nicholson and Michael Boxall for me. Adrian Heath seems to view Boxall as a starting XI-caliber player, but I like Nicholson’s potential a tad more.
As far as the other eight players go, there are some obvious ones, and some more difficult decisions. Bobby Shuttleworth, Ibson, Ethan Finlay, and Christian Ramirez are key members of the Loons and would be a pain to play against. Though I’d rather he be used as a part of a trade down the road, Kevin Molino is a valuable player. Sam Cronin and Boxall, who wasn’t part of the mandated three internationals are both experienced players. While I’d love to see Vadim Demidov protected just in case he would appeal to LAFC, I think Miguel Ibarra would make a good eleventh protection. Some people are questioning whether he should be kept around (myself included), but regardless of whether he will stay or be moved, he’s got value.
There are a couple of unprotected players that I should probably justify. Brent Kallman would be a tough loss for United, if for no reason other than that he’s a Minnesotan. Marc Burch isn’t a bad player per se, but he is replaceable, and left-back is an area of need already. Collen Warner was picked up from the Houston Dynamo in last year’s draft, and to be quite honest, I could see him being selected by LAFC this year. Johan Venegas has lost the backing of quite a few fans after being taken last year (from the Montreal Impact) as well, and Rasmus Schuller hasn’t proved to be worth one of the eleven spots.
Our expansion buddies down in the South are back at it again. Atlanta United have plenty of rumors already going around, plus a great signing. Mitch Hildebrandt, the former Loon who was named USL goalkeeper of the year after an impressive season with FC Cincinnati (you probably watched him in the US Open Cup), is Georgia-bound.
While rumors don’t necessarily mean signings, and new arrivals don’t necessarily guarentee more points, it still is hard to look at what’s happening in Atlanta and not say, “That’d be kinda nice.”
But we shouldn’t give up on this offseason just yet. The MLS season hasn’t even ended (MLS Cup: Toronto FC v Seattle Sounders). There are clear areas that the front office cannot ignore, so we’ll certainly see some action at some point. Speaking of that, we have a rumor to discuss!
And there is Jeff Rueter dropping the first real rumor of the offseason. It’s not surprising that the LA Galaxy are willing to part with Gyasi Zardes; the Galaxy had a very disappointing season. Zardes has scored 34 goals in 131 appearances for LA and 6 in 37 for the United States Mens’ National Team. He only scored twice in twelve appearances this past season and hasn’t scored for the USMNT since Copa America Centenario in June of 2016.
Zardes’ salary is up there—he was paid $577,500 for the 2017 season, falling in the Designated Player category by almost $100k (since he is a homegrown player, he did not count as a DP for the Galaxy). Is Zardes the player to be United’s first DP?
In a (long) word, noooooooooo. Zardes’ stock is falling at the moment, now is not the time to buy in. He’s not a bad player, but there isn’t a spot for him in the team, nor is there really room in the budget. Zardes’ isn’t really a true winger or true forward, but neither position is an area of concern. There are plenty of wingers—Ibarra, Finlay, Nicholson, Leiton, Molino—and plenty of forwards—Ramirez, Danladi, Venegas—who can start.
It’s good to see that the Loons are being linked with players near the DP level though. As long as Zardes moves elsewhere, we can view this rumor as a potential indicator for what’s to come later on this offseason.
Minnesota United announced on Tuesday that president Nick Rogers would be departing the club and would not be replaced. As expected, United’s official statement did not shed too much light on whose decision this was, but it seems to hint that this was the call of CEO Chris Wright.
The news release speaks of a new direction for “initiatives relating to the MNUFC fan community and experience”. All aspects of this will report to Wright, presumably giving him full control of this area.
Frankly, it’s about time for something to happen in regards to fan relations and Minnesota United’s publicity. Marketing strategies, if existent, were often interesting. Fans were regarded as expected commodities, not valued supporters who need to be won over. Game promotions? We had to pay extra. Giveaways or free bonuses? Great as they are, dollar dogs don’t count. It’s time for some change, and Wright is willing to take the helm and correct the ship.
Wishlist #3: Stefano Pinho, F, Miami FC
I have to confess that this is unrealistic. Stefano Pinho is likely to move this offseason, but a return to Minnesota isn’t practical. As stated above, forward isn’t an area of need right now, but Pinho is still a fun player to watch, especially in this past season with Miami FC. I’d love to see him in a Loons kit again.
For the next edition of this column, I’m hoping to do a mailbag section to answer questions and give you an opportunity to read my thoughts on (soccer) topics of your choosing. If you’ve got a question or topic, there are three ways to let me know: post in the comments section below, reply to the tweet promoting this column or one that will mention the mailbag, or drop us a DM on Twitter. I’m looking forward to hearing from you guys!