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Abu’s Black and Blue Tenure

A retrospective on Abu Danladi’s short MNUFC career and why he’s no longer a part of the team’s future.

MLS: Orlando City SC at Minnesota United FC Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

On November 19th, 2019, Nashville SC selected Abu Danladi as their first expansion draft pick, second overall after Inter Miami CF’s selection of Ben Sweat from NYCFC. In only three seasons, Danladi went from 2017’s #1 SuperDraft pick to being unprotected to join an MLS expansion team.

In addition to the expansion draft loss, MNUFC updated their roster after picking up and declining contract options, re-signing players and letting contracts expire. When all the dust settled, only two forwards remained on MNUFC’s roster: Angelo Rodriguez and Mason Toye. In mid-October, the Pioneer Press reported that United was ready to drop Angelo Rodriguez from the team. In all reality, Toye is the team’s singular forward as we enter the offseason.

With that context, what is the impact of Abu’s departure?

It’s becoming clear that MNUFC will rely on the continued growth of Mason Toye after his breakthrough season. The team will be looking to make a splash in the offseason to find attacking talent that will not only compliment Toye, but provide bench strength and injury insurance. Danladi makes no sense to be a part of the team’s future.

When the United drafted Danladi as the #1 SuperDraft selection, there were already questions about his ability to stay healthy. As a UCLA Bruin, he had a reputation of being injury-prone. However, everyone was rooting for the new signing. At the age of 16, Danladi bravely left his home country of Ghana through the Right to Dream program. His positive, gracious attitude and desire to make his family and community proud was hard not to like.

Abu’s injury concerns were brushed aside as Danladi scored eight goals in 27 appearances and was recognized as the runner-up to the rookie of the year award. Despite the hot start, Danladi fought through hamstring and back issues that were considered typical MLS bumps and bruises. In hindsight, it foreshadowed a black and blue tenure.

That next season, and only 29 minutes into the 2018 home opener, Danladi went down with a hamstring injury. Sadly, it was a sign of the season to come. The official tally of Danladi’s 2018 injuries was left hamstring three times, right hamstring once and right ankle once. In 16 appearances, he scored one goal. If you were wondering, it wasn’t a wonder strike from the distance, but was a tap-in inside the box.

In 2019, Danladi’s third professional season resulted in more minutes, but nothing like his rookie season. He scored two goals with one being a exhilirating 90+2’ equalizer against Orlando City. Danladi appeared on the mend, but spent nearly the entire season on the bench. We’d gotten used to seeing Danladi sub Toye or Rodriguez in the 75th minute to bring speed and, ironically, fresh legs.

In all, Danladi’s story will be told in terms of an exceptional soccer talent embedded in a good soul, but one who never reached his potential. In 2019, MNUFC rebuilt the defense into a powerhouse. This offseason we’ll see a rebuild of our attack. An injury-prone, three-year project just does not fit that kind of plan. MNUFC moving on without Danladi makes perfect soccer sense.

Expansion team Nashville SC is the team that will give Danladi a fresh start. Despite the uneven results of the last three years in Minnesota, one thing won’t change — we will all be rooting for Abu.