It took a while, but at long last Minnesota United's latest two key attacking additions are ready to make their debut this weekend.
Forward Adrien Hunou and winger Franco Fragapane have been full participants in training as the new signings begin to get acclimated to their new club and new environment. Both were long-term targets for the Loons and neither player was acquired quickly, with drawn out negotiations that began months prior to officially signing followed by the inevitable delays in traveling to the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Regardless of the delay, though, they're here now, and that's the most important part, says head coach Adrian Heath.
“It’s been a great couple of days, it’s pleasing to get them here after a long, protracted negotiation," Heath told media on a virtual press conference Thursday. "We had to be patient, but I think the wait will be worth it.”
Heath confirmed both players will be available for selection against Real Salt Lake on Saturday (9 pm ET | MLS Live on ESPN+). Both are expected to play a part, though are at different stages of building match fitness.
Hunou, 27, was acquired from French club Stade Rennes and signed as a Designated Player. Across 160 matches with Rennes in his career, Hunou scored 38 goals while accumulating Europa League and Champions League experience. He hasn't played much this year, though, registering just 71 minutes in six games since January 7.
Fragapane, meanwhile, had been a constant starter for Talleres up until the day he was officially transferred. Literally. The 27-year-old winger started a Copa Sudamericana game for Talleres the night before his move was announced. He had 13 goals and 11 assists in 95 career top-flight appearances in his native Argentina before joining Minnesota.
"I had more than one player come up after training to say these two are going to be fantastic for us," Heath said. "We know we’ve got quality, we’ve got to integrate them in the best way possible. That’s going to be a work in progress, but we know we’ve got quality.”
Round two vs. RSL?
If selected, the two new signings could be walking into a heated atmosphere on Saturday. The first time Minnesota faced Real Salt Lake earlier this season, it ended in controversy surrounding RSL goalkeeper David Ochoa.
Ochoa, who made no friends in the crowd or in the Minnesota squad as he helped see out RSL's 2-1 win, turned and punted the ball into the stands upon the final whistle. The ball floated into the Wonderwall, Minnesota's supporters' group, and the Loons' players didn't take kindly to that. Several home players surrounded Ochoa, which led to RSL players defending their teammate in heated shouting matches.
After the game, Loons defender Michael Boxall called Ochoa "a bit of a clown" while Heath bemoaned his "antics". There will be no round two for Ochoa, though, as he is with the US national team as they prepare for a friendly against Switzerland on Sunday.
"[Our players] remember it, but I think the goalkeeper [Ochoa] is away, isn’t he?" Heath asked. "So, yeah. We won’t have to deal with that one, I think that’s the best way of describing that.”