Minnesota United FC will not sign a Designated Player before their expansion season kicks off on March 3 at Portland, club director of player personnel Amos Magee told MLSsoccer.com on Thursday.
According to Magee, entering the 2017 season without a Designated Player was a conscious decision by Minnesota. Instead of landing a big-name DP and building out their roster around him, Minnesota chose to construct their core around a series of Targeted Allocation Money signings, a group of players who are making the jump with the team from NASL and a few others – like midfielder Kevin Molino, acquired on Thursday in a record-tying trade with Orlando – brought in from other MLS clubs.
Magee said that Minnesota have the money to sign a DP, but wanted to see how their current group – which, along with Molino, features pieces the club are high on in forwards Christian Ramirez and Abu Danladi and wingers Miguel Ibarra and Johan Venegas, among others – performs before potentially signing a DP based on positional need this summer or after the 2017 season.
“I think we as a technical staff got together and said, ‘OK, do we go out and spend $2 million on a Designated Player, $3 million, when we may have in Danladi, or we may have in Miguel, or Christian or somebody else, we may have a player that can be very, very good in that role already?’” Magee said over the phone from the Loons’ camp in Casa Grande, Ariz. “And so you’ve then taken a relatively young player, a talented player, a player we believe in and sort of relegated them in that role behind a Designated Player, as opposed to saying let’s get a really good core – and TAM players are big piece of that – and then let’s see where the right Designated Player is now going to elevate our core.”
“We signed several TAM players already that a couple years ago that would be DPs,” added GM Manny Lagos. “So to us, that’s kind of a sign of how we’re going to build the base of the roster and how we’re going to build the core. And then again, from that, with the timeline of making sure the team gets off and gets competitive, we’re going to see where our needs are going to be, both short- and long-term.”
Not having a Designated Player on the roster is a bold move for Minnesota, who will likely be the only team in the league without a DP to start the season. It’s certainly a rather dramatic departure from how 2015 expansion clubs New York City FC and Orlando City behaved, and stands in stark contrast to the Loons’ 2017 expansion partner Atlanta United FC, who have spent freely this winter.
While they won’t have a big money man on their roster in March, Minnesota don’t feel like that will put them at a competitive disadvantage. They like what they have in Ramirez, Danladi, Ibarra, Venegas and Molino, and feel very good about holding midfielder Rasmus Schuller and center backs Francisco Calvo and Vadim Demedov, all of whom were signed using TAM, according to Magee. The club is also bullish on outside backs Justin Davis and Kevin Venegas, two longtime Minnesota players who will join Ramirez in making the jump from NASL to MLS.
“I think we’re going to put a group out there that’s going to be competitive to make the playoffs this year,” Magee said. “I don’t think by any stretch of the imagination this is going to be writing off this year. No. We feel like this group is going to be competitive, game in and game out, and then whether it’s the summer window or if it’s next offseason, we’re going to be in a position to really pick the right Designated Player for this team.”
The strategy should allow them to have a decent baseline level of talent level for players 1 through 11 on the roster (especially in the back end of that group), but one issue that the team faces is that it doesn't currently have a player that can be counted on to regularly put the team on his back – a la David Villa, Kaka, Nicolas Lodeiro, Giovinco and Jozy Altidore in Toronto or any other number of DPs – during moments when the rest of the group is scuffling.
Players like that win points, and increase the margin for error for their teammates. That’s huge for any club, but especially so for expansion teams, who tend to experience more intense and more frequent ups and downs than their more established counterparts. The fact that Minnesota’s roster is relatively inexperienced in MLS terms and is still a bit lacking in depth only adds to that concern.
That said, I do like how this sets up the Loons – who are on the verge of signing veteran Swedish goalkeeper John Alvbage to start in net and are reportedly chasing FC Copenhagen midfielder Bashkim Kadrii – for 2018 and beyond.
Like every expansion team, they’ll hit a few bumps this season, and they might struggle to get past them a time or two. But they’ll end the year knowing what they have in some of their younger, more promising players and have a blueprint for where exactly they need to do to improve. Most importantly, they’ll have the space to go out and get a Designated Player – or two, or three – to address their holes.
The strategy could cost them points in 2017, but choosing to wait to sign a DP could also put Minnesota in a really solid position heading into their second season. It’s not sexy, but it might just be a heady long-term play.