Adrian Heath - Minnesota United - talking to scrum
Courtesy of Minnesota United Communications

Minnesota United staff happy with Expansion Draft selections, Venegas deal

Going second in Tuesday's MLS Expansion Draft meant Minnesota United had to play from behind -- but the new club's technical staff were happy with the deals they made, including landing a starting-quality goalkeeper and an attacker who had been high on their wish list.

"“All of our players are under 28," said Amos Magee, the Loons' director of player personnel. "They’re guys who are either on their way to their prime or just hitting their prime. We believe we have a core that’s on the rise. We feel great about it.”

Atlanta United's selection of Donny Toia off Montreal's roster with the first overall pick on Tuesday meant Minnesota lost the ability to select targets like Harry Shipp and Calum Mallace. They responded by taking Chris Duvall from the New York Red Bulls, eventually trading him and general allocation money to Montreal for Costa Rican midfielder Johan Venegas, who had been protected by the Impact in preparation for the draft.

“We thought the trade as worth doing because I think he’s one of the best players in the league,” head coach Adrian Heath said of Venegas, who scored against the United States on Nov. 14 in the Ticos' 4-0 World Cup qualifying rout. “You only have to see what he did to the U.S. last month to see his quality. We think it’s a great pickup for us.”

Minnesota's next two picks, Collen Warner and Mohammed Saeid, could help fill the core of the club's central midfield. Warner started 24 games for the Houston Dynamo in 2016 and was out of contract. Saeid, meanwhile, ranked fourth in the MLS Audi Player Index for box-to-box midfielders. The 25 year-old Swede had five assists for Columbus Crew SC in 2016.

Can they both start in the same lineup, though?

“I hope so," Heath said. "We think, with the system we want to play, the players we selected will complement each other well.”

Heath touted Warner’s physical presence in front of a defense while also citing Saeid as a “good continuity player” from box-to-box.

In the fourth round, United took 'keeper Jeff Attinella from Real Salt Lake, where he has been a reliable fill-in for Nick Rimando but never managed to unseat him for the full-time No. 1 job. 

Minnesota sporting director Manny Lagos is very familiar with Attinella, as the keeper was involved in an NASL-title-winning penalty shootout against Lagos’ Minnesota side in 2012 while playing for the Tampa Bay Rowdies.

“You’re looking at a guy who’s still growing into a really good goalkeeper,” Lagos said. “He’s well-respected in the league and has a lot of upside. I think we’ve got a great goalie, and that’s important.”

United closed out the draft with New England Revolution center forward Femi Hollinger-Jenzen. A third-round selection in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft, Hollinger-Jenzen comes to Minnesota after earning rotation minutes behind New England’s deep forward pool. In 273 minutes, mostly off the bench, Hollinger-Jenzen scored twice and added an assist.

Minnesota’s hope is that Hollinger-Jenzen can develop into a reliable scoring option.

“We think Femi, as a young kid, is really exciting,” Heath said. “I’ve seen him quite a lot over the last year and a half. There’s a huge upside with him and a lot of potential.  You can see by the reaction of people up in Boston that they’re disappointed to have lost him. I like working with strikers, with Cyle Larin and the likes of Dom Dwyer and (Kevin) Molino. If we can get working with him… we could have a really exciting player on our hands.”

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