The MLS playoffs feel bizarre sometimes. The Loons played 34 games from mid-April to mid-November. They didn’t have their spot in the playoffs confirmed until the final whistle blew in game number 34. And now, two weeks after the conclusion to that very long season, they played a little bit of good soccer but a larger bit of bad soccer — and wham, season’s over. That’s an awfully long season to have the postseason be over after 90 minutes.
So what comes next for Minnesota United?
The Loons have until Wednesday to extend contract offers to anybody who’s out of contract. They have until the Tuesday following that to exercise any contact options. Here’s a list of players that are eligible for free agency (five years of MLS service and at least 24 years old), or are listed as out of contract on (the admittedly imperfect source) Transfrmarkt:
|Ozzie Alonso||DM||Free agent|
|Ethan Finlay||RW||Free agent|
|Fanendo Adi||ST||Team option|
|Juan Agudelo||ST||Team option|
|Brent Kallman||CB||Team option|
|Jukka Raitala||FB||Team option|
|Wil Trapp||DM||Team option|
|Adrian Zendejas||GK||Team option|
|Justin McMaster||MF||Team option|
|Ján Greguš (DP)||DM||Out of contract|
|Dayne St. Clair||GK||Out of contract|
|Jacori Hayes||MF||Out of contract|
Here’s where that leaves the various units of the squad:
Keeper: Tyler Miller reclaimed his starting spot this year and is the favorite to be between the pipes for the 2022 kickoff. St. Clair could be facing a crossroads in his career; he burst onto the scene at the end of 2020 when Miller got hurt, but took the fall for the Loons’ four-game season-opening losing streak. Zendejas has been the depth option all season.
Youngsters: Seventeen-year-old Fred Emmings is the hometown kid, but is he ready for more?
Defense: Boxall is 33, Bakaye Dibassy is 32, and right back Romain Métanire will be 32 early in the 2022 season. Even Kallman, who I forever imagine is 22 years old and Brian Kallman’s little brother, turned 31 this year. That’s kind of an old group! Even so, I am assuming that
Boxall and Kallman will both have their options picked up, given their performances. (UPDATE, thanks to Dan Wade: Boxall signed a new contract and the MLSPA didn’t seem to know about it.)
Chase Gasper is the left back for now and the future, but the backup spots are in flux. D.J. Taylor started six times this year, but by the end of the season, utilityman Hassani Dotson was filling in as a fullback instead of Taylor (or Jukka Raitala).
Youngsters: Soon-to-be 24-year-old Nabi Kibungunchy started 13 times for USL Sacramento this season; 24-year-old Callum Montgomery made 12 starts for San Diego in the same league, playing left back and left center back. 2020 draft pick Noah Billingsley only made one start this year for Phoenix in the USL.
Midfield: Alonso is out of contract (and 36 years old). Ján Greguš is not going to be re-signed, at least not as a Designated Player. Jacori Hayes is out of contract, too. That leaves Trapp - who led the team in minutes, and who I assume will be back - and Dotson as potential candidates to man the midfield. Reinforcements are likely needed.
Youngsters: 21-year-old Joseph Rosales was impressive in limited time in the second half of the year.
Attack: The front four of Adrien Hunou, Franco Fragapane, Emanuel Reynoso, and Robin Lod seems set, but behind them is (sound of wind whistling through trees). Finlay is a free agent, leaving Niko Hansen as first in line to back up on the wings. It’s kind of hard to believe that Adi or Agudelo would return, except perhaps as deep depth options.
The big news up front is that the Loons are reportedly close to signing 21-year-old Brazilian standout Rafael Navarro. Navarro’s 14 goals led Botafogo this year, boosting them to the top of Serie B and back to the top flight in Brazil.
Youngsters: McMaster (22) made seven appearances as a sub on the wings for the Loons, earning a single assist - if he comes back, he could be in line for a larger role. Aziel Jackson, now 20, got some minutes at forward for third-division North Carolina this year; Patrick Weah, about to turn 18, played twice for the Loons and seven times for Sacramento.
Overall, the squad seems a little thin for next season. The team’s first-choice starting XI will be back, with the possible exception of Alonso, depending on whether he’s first-choice in your book. But as with most MLS squads, the first-choice eleven isn’t necessarily the problem - it’s the depth behind that first string that can cause issues.
Manager Adrian Heath, at least, was optimistic after the playoff loss. “Certainly this is the best group we’ve had since I’ve been here,” he said, though he also used the word “inconsistent” to describe his team across the season.
Heath described something less than a total rebuild as his offseason plan. “If we can add to [the team], which is going to be the objective in the offseason, to add one or two pieces with it, make us stronger in certain areas, then that’s what we’re going to do,” he said.
So what’s next for Minnesota United FC? At the moment, what’s next appears to be more of the same.