Minnesota United FC open their 2021 slate April 16 at the Seattle Sounders in a rematch of last year’s Western Conference Final, and head coach Adrian Heath expects a few additions before the Loons return to action.
Speaking with Darren “Doogie” Wolfson on the SKOR North sports radio station, Heath said they’re actively looking to add two or three more signings. The club has a No. 9 vacancy, even after signing Juan Agudelo as a free agent, and needs another wide attacker after Kevin Molino departed for reigning MLS Cup champions Columbus Crew SC in free agency.
“It's obvious that we need a center forward, that's been well-documented,” Heath said. “Obviously we lost Kevin Molino, who's such a big piece of the attack last year on the left-hand side.
“They're the two main ones, but if we can bring another one in, which we are trying, we have room on the roster to do so. I would be very disappointed if come opening night when we run out in Seattle, we haven't got two or three new players on the roster by then.”
Aside from Agudelo, Minnesota have spent the offseason trading for versatile defender Jukka Raitala from CF Montréal, signing homegrown forward Patrick Weah and landing central midfielder Wil Trapp as a free agent after his Inter Miami CF days. They also signed wide player Niko Hansen in mid-March after two years with Houston Dynamo FC and traded for center back Callum Montgomery from FC Dallas.
But the club’s in “very strong negotiations," Heath said, to strengthen a roster that nearly made MLS Cup in 2020. Back in 2019, they also advanced to the U.S. Open Cup final before falling to Atlanta United.
“We've talked about, can we get better every transfer window, every season? If you look, the trajectory's been going this way,” Heath said. “Now for us to continue that, we're probably going to have to win something next year because we've been really close over the last sort of 18 months.
“That's the aim. We set high standards, the club does with us and we do with the players. As I say, I'm pleased with the group. We know we're a couple short, but there's a really good mood and a really good vibe within the group. So far so good.”
Heath also addressed the status of Ike Opara, speaking candidly about how the center back has battled concussions throughout his career. Opara played in just two games during 2020, missing from the MLS is Back Tournament onward.
There’s still no definitive update on the 2017 and 2019 MLS Defender of the Year's availability, though his return would seriously boost Minnesota’s outlook.
“It's common knowledge he's had concussion issues and we're trying to work it out,” Heath said. “We want to get to a stage [of] what's either best for us or best for the kid. What we don't want to really do is go through the frustration, like we did last year, for another year. Hopefully we'll come to some sort of situation where it'll be best for all parties.”
One of Opara’s best qualities is his aerial ability, both on attacking set pieces and thwarting opponents, so concussions pose a major worry. Heath, while hoping the 32-year-old can return, also recognizes the bigger-picture concerns.
“You always hope that that's the case because, as I always say to the players, this is a small period of your life, being able to be a professional footballer,” Heath said. “So you want to enjoy it and prolong it as much as you can. Ultimately there's a lot of living left for Ike and he has to make the right decision for him.”