Stejskal: Minnesota look for attacking help; Benedetti still on the table

Minnesota United FC celebrate their shootout win over Cincinnati in the US Open Cup

If Minnesota United FC are to make a real run at a Western Conference playoff place in the fall, sporting director Manny Lagos knows he’ll have to land a couple of impact players this summer.

Though their start was far smoother this year than it was during their expansion season in 2017, Minnesota are still lagging in the standings. The Loons sit ninth in the West after they coughed up a 2-1 second-half lead and conceded a 97th-minute goal to fall 3-2 at the Colorado Rapids on Saturday. They’re only seven points behind sixth-place Vancouver and hold a couple of games in hand on the Whitecaps, but their total of 16 points through 15 games isn’t exactly impressive.

Season-ending injuries to wingers Kevin Molino and Ethan Finlay and defensive midfielder Sam Cronin have added some urgency to Lagos’ task in the upcoming summer transfer window. He knows his team needs more if they want to make a real run.

“We’re not quite there yet,” Lagos told over the phone Saturday morning. “But I think as the season grows and as we grow as a group and a team, I think we’re looking toward the second half of the season toward kind of building into the loss of those [injured] players. Obviously, there’s a transfer window coming up and we’re certainly looking forward to trying to see if we can address that mechanism in terms of building the roster and getting more competitive.”

Minnesota may already be closing in on one target. Jeff Rueter and Kristian Dyer reported last week for The Athletic that the Loons are looking to acquire 23-year-old winger Romario Ibarra from Ecuadoran club Universidad Catolica. Lagos didn’t have much to say when asked about the report, but he did acknowledge that the club are looking at wingers and defensive midfielders in the summer. A source told that the Loons are looking to use Targeted Allocation Money to sign a young attacker once the transfer window opens on July 10.

The source added that it’s unlikely that Minnesota will sign a second Designated Player this summer to pair with Darwin Quintero, who was acquired in March as the first DP in team history. 

“Not to sound vague, but I think right now we’re hopeful to be active in this window and we’re working very hard to do so,” Lagos said when asked if the club would sign a DP or use TAM in the summer.

It was widely reported during the offseason that the Loons attempted to sign Colombian playmaker Nicolas Benedetti to a DP deal from Deportivo Cali. According to reports, Lagos traveled to Colombia to negotiate and Minnesota made Cali a $4 million transfer offer for the 21-year-old. That fell short of Cali’s reported $8 million asking price, however, and wasn’t even in the same ballpark as a reported $10 million bid from Dutch club Ajax in May.

While it was reported last month that he was close to sealing a move to Holland, a separate source told that Benedetti is still considering a move to MLS. The source said that Benedetti is open to signing with other MLS teams beyond Minnesota, but that the Loons have right his first refusal should he join the league.

“I think any players that we try to look at and follow, whether things work out or not, we’re going to continue to follow,” Lagos said when asked if Minnesota are still in touch with Benedetti. “We try to create relationships with players and agents and clubs that we’re working with. Again, our goal is to keep in mind what makes us better in both the short- and long-term and make sure we keep relationships going so that if things do come up but it’s not the right time or place for something, hopefully in the future it still can be.”