MINNEAPOLIS — In the end, the elation was worth the wait for Abu Danladi.
Selected first overall in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft, Danladi enjoyed a show of faith by Minnesota United FC. Turning down numerous trade offers for the top spot, the Loons drafted the UCLA forward in hopes that he’d immediately become a crucial part of their attack.
Danladi may not have played as much as he would have liked during the first two months of the season, but, given his first start in the season’s tenth week, the rookie made the most of the moment by scoring his first MLS goal to lead the Loons to a 2-0 win over rival Sporting Kansas City that sent a loud message to the rest of the league.
“We got the win, so it was amazing,” Danladi said after the match. “I really enjoyed it. I’ve done a lot of work.... I’m trying to find the right words to explain it. Everybody came in, the crowd deserved it. It’s a great feeling.”
Danladi’s big moment came in the 22nd minute after left winger Miguel Ibarra worked down the wing and delivered a dangerous ball to the rookie, who calmly slotted his chance into the bottom corner.
“Miguel served it right on a plate for me,” Danladi said. “I score most of my goals in the 18, so it’s about being in the right place at the right time.”
For head coach Adrian Heath, it was a crucial moment in the young player’s career.
“It’s a great landmark for the kid,” said Heath, himself a striker during his playing career. “The way we asked him to play was not natural for him, but he did it and he got a great finish. A great ball from Miguel. Abu didn’t blast it, and he caressed it into the bottom corner. He’s had a really good day, and a fine start to his professional career.”
Danladi’s first start came in place of Johan Venegas, who was relegated to the bench for the first time this year. As Minnesota continues an impressive stretch, having earned 10 points since the start of April, Danladi’s emergence only strengthens the Loons’ attack while leaving Heath with some tough lineup choices.
It also shares a strong parallel with another former Heath pupil, Cyle Larin. Larin made his first start six weeks into the 2015 season for Orlando and also scored his first MLS goal in that starting debut, putting the wheels in motion for a Rookie of the Year campaign.
Heath doesn’t think a similar level of success is out of the question for Danladi.
“I think he can, but now it’s up for him,” the Minnesota coach said. “I only pick the team, players drop themselves. You don’t leave people out of the team that are playing well. He’ll keep his place, but it’s up to him to work hard Monday to Friday, listening, learning. If he does, he has a bright future.”