Over their first two seasons in Major League Soccer, Minnesota United FC lacked a commanding presence in the center of midfield. On Thursday, the Loons think they took a major step towards correcting that by signing Slovakian international Jan Gregus to a Designated Player contract.
Gregus, who spent the last two-and-a-half seasons with Danish club FC Copenhagen, joins attackers Darwin Quintero and Angelo Rodriguez as Minnesota’s third DP. He primarily lined up in a box-to-box role with Copenhagen, but Loons GM Manny Lagos sees the 27-year-old playing as more of a defensive midfielder in Minnesota, the same position he’s played in recent outings with Slovakia.
“I think for us, I look at him when he plays for the Slovakian national team behind [Real Salt Lake midfielder Albert] Rusnak, behind [Napoli’s Marek] Hamsik in that No. 6 role,” said Lagos, who closed the transfer with Copenhagen and agreed to terms with Gregus in Denmark over the weekend. “So, as we decide whether we play with one holding mid or a double pivot, I would say he’s got both qualities, but I would say he’s a defensive midfielder that also supports the attack.”
Holding mid has been a trouble spot for the Loons ever since they moved to MLS. Ibson, Collen Warner, Fernando Bob and Maximiano received nearly all the minutes at the position last season, but none will return to Minnesota following a 2018 in which the club conceded a whopping 71 goals. Gregus will step into that void, though he doesn’t exactly fit the hard-tackling, turf-churning mold often associated with defensive midfielders. He’s more of a ball controller, someone who should set the pace in the middle of the field and effectively find attackers after the Loons win the ball.
“I really love his technical side,” said Lagos. “He’s really good at spraying the ball around the field. He takes a lot of set pieces, he’s really good at hitting the ball with both feet and from distance, so we just think he’s a great connector. I think he’ll do a good job of finding some of our offensive players.”
Gregus could end up being the biggest addition of Minnesota’s offseason, but he’ll be far from the last. With his acquisition, the Loons now have 17 players under contract. They still need to add significant numbers before preseason begins next month, with Lagos putting an emphasis on targeting more central midfielders – even with Gregus in the fold, Minnesota only have three on the roster – and bolstering their backline.
The Loons should still have plenty of room to add. Their significant roster purge following the season and the allocation money they acquired from LAFC in the Christian Ramirez trade last summer gave them plenty of flexibility heading into this winter. They’re still on solid ground with the salary budget after the Gregus signing, and they retain the option to add at least one more big-money player in 2019. Lagos declined to say whether Minnesota have the potential to use Targeted Allocation Money to buy down Gregus’s contract and open a DP spot, but the club do have that option with Rodriguez.
Lagos wouldn’t say if the Loons would go that route, but he made it clear he feels good about landing Gregus. He feels it’s a positive first signing of the winter for Minnesota, who are hoping to make a splash at brand-new Allianz Field in 2019 after a tough start to life in MLS in 2017 and 2018.
“It’s big,” he said. “We’re still a month out from preseason and a little over two months out from opening day, and we’ve got a lot of work to do in a lot of areas, not just player acquisition, but also in terms of really assessing how we can build on the positives of the last two years in MLS. We certainly acknowledge that we need to get better in a lot of areas, and we need to be a much more competitive product on the field next year.”