Heath believes Minnesota United have MLS-level defenders in Venegas, Davis

Kevin Venegas - Connor Hallisey - Minnesota United - Sporting Kansas City

Minnesota United took another step toward making their MLS debut on Thursday, announcing long-time NASL Loons Justin Davis and Kevin Venegas had signed multi-year contracts

Davis and Venegas are both dual-threat players, able to press forward in attack as well as defend against opposing wingers. These types of players tend to thrive in an Adrian Heath system, as Heath employs full backs for overlapping runs and consistent movement.

Davis joined Minnesota in 2011, making a transition from being a forward to slotting in as the regular left back. He’s United’s all-time leader in minutes played and was a three-time NASL Best XI honoree.

MLSsoccer.com caught up with Minnesota United's head coach as he took a break from his scouting trip in Argentina.

“They’re individually technically very good, athletically very good," Heath explained. “I think both play the way I like to play. It’s not just that they run down the field and cross it, they combine with midfield players and play off the front guys."

Davis made his name combining with former Loon and US national team winger Miguel Ibarra, who was with Minnesota from 2012 until his sale to Liga MX side Club Leon in 2015. With Ibarra’s blistering pace and ability to cut toward the center of the field, Davis found plenty of space on the wing to press into attack. In 2015, Davis led NASL defenders with five goals en route to a Golden Ball nomination. While his counting stats were a bit down in 2016, he was still on the ten-man shortlist for the Ball, the NASL’s MVP award.

Davis is also something of a cult hero for a goal celebration of his from September of that year. In a match against Indy Eleven, he scored the only goal in a 1-0 victory, a 77th minute strike off of a cross from Venegas. He ran over to supporters leaning over the nearby retaining wall, grabbed their can of hard cider, and took a celebratory swig. In every home match since, he’s been greeted with cider as he thanks the supporters after the final whistle.

Left back is often considered one of the weakest positions in the US player pool; it’s safe to expect Davis to be the regular starter in MLS.

Venegas, meanwhile, has been with Minnesota since 2012. He scored that season’s NASL Goal of the Year and is known more for his attacking prowess than his defending. While he’s good for a few goals every season, it’s his field vision and passing ability that have caught his new manager’s eye.

“They’re both terrific athletes,” Heath said. “They’re good in both halves of the field. Especially their attacking play. Kevin is a great deliverer of the ball. I’ve watched some of their games from the season, and some of the crosses he’s put in are Beckham-esque.”

While he may not carry the prestige of David Beckham, Venegas brings quality to United. He’s been the team’s primary set piece taker since Ibarra’s departure in 2015, able to bend in an accurate corner kick from either flag. A natural right back, he saw his first time at right wing during this 2016 season and may be a flexible option for Heath in MLS.

“When I used to play, full backs very rarely crossed the midway line,” Heath mused. “First and foremost they were defenders. Yeah, we want [Davis and Venegas] to defend, we want them to be good defensively, but in the modern game you’ve gotta be able to play the full length of the field. I think these two are. They’re both what you would classify as classic modern-day full backs.”

All told, Venegas has grown quite a bit over his five seasons with Minnesota and was a 2015 NASL Best XI member. He led the NASL in assists with six during the Spring Season. His dead-ball delivery only adds to his value as he steps to the next level.

Minnesota United is confident that they have two worthy members of their corps already with the full backs. The club will take part in the Expansion Draft in two weeks’ time and can focus on other areas of the field as a result.

“I think the fact is now that we take the urgency elsewhere,” Heath acknowledged. “There are certain positions where we need to bring in two players per position. We know two of them now, but we need to bring in competition… I think they can make it difficult for the coach not to start [these two] at full backs.”

Heath also confirmed that the club had been in talks with two-time NASL Golden Boot winner Christian Ramirez and hinted at “negotiations” with two other members of the NASL team. Heath and technical director Manny Lagos are in the middle of a two-week scouting trip in Central and South America, looking to add international talent to the fold.