Minnesota United are not content with a trip to the Western Conference final in 2020. They want to continue their upward trajectory and aim for more.
The Loons fell painfully short of MLS Cup after taking a 2-0 lead against the Seattle Sounders after 65 minutes before the reigning champions stormed back for a memorable 3-2 win.
Now, focus fully trained on the offseason and making additions, Minnesota have a number of interesting decisions. They began by announcing their end-of-season roster update, which included continuing negotiations with key players like Osvaldo Alonso, Kevin Molino and Luis Amarilla. Those three are the start, but there are plenty of other big decisions the club will be making.
Head coach Adrian Heath was quite open in discussing each topic with media on Friday.
Will Kevin Molino and Osvaldo Alonso be back?
Two key pieces for Minnesota, Alonso and Molino's futures are still undecided.
Alonso, who just turned 35, was restricted to nine starts in 2020 due to injuries. He has made 37 appearances in two seasons with Minnesota after a decade with the Sounders and is regarded as one of the league's best-ever defensive midfielders. Player and coach had a conversation about the future and Alonso's long-term goals whenever he retires. No decision will be imminent.
“He needs a little bit of time to take it all on board and we said we’d revisit it again after the weekend," Heath said. "We think he can still play. Whether that’s every game, that’ll be something we’ll discuss. … We would like to bring him back. We’ll just have to work out how that looks.”
Molino, meanwhile, enjoyed perhaps his best ever season in MLS with nine goals and four assists in 1,264 minutes. He kept form in the playoffs, with four goals in three appearances. He's out of contract.
“The offer is there for Kev," Heath said. "It’s the max deal he can get in America, so we can’t do an awful lot (more). We’re hoping. I get it if he wants to see what’s out there, I understand, but we’re hoping he accepts and decides to come back. … If he doesn’t, nothing we can do about that and it’s the player’s prerogative.”
What about Luis Amarilla?
Amarilla's loan from Argentine club Velez Sarsfield is set to expire at the end of the month and Minnesota are working on a solution.
The club didn't trigger the purchase option as part of his loan agreement, arranged in a global soccer market pre-pandemic, but are in talks with Velez about the future of Amarilla. He's set to return to Argentine in the next week and Heath expects conversations to get more serious then.
“We’ll do everything we can," Heath said. "We’ve made it pretty clear we to bring him back. But when he’s not your player, there are a lot of negotiations to be done. The biggest and most important thing of all is that he wants to be here, he wants to come back. You’re always hopeful. Players have a lot of sway with clubs.”
Amarilla, 25, had two goals and one assist in his first two starts before the league's suspension then battled injuries for the rest of the season. He made only seven appearances. Heath believes he has about 18 months left on his Velez contract and Minnesota would be open to another loan or finding a permanent deal.
While Minnesota are hopeful for Amarilla's return, he's not their sole focus in attacking reinforcements.
“Even if we bring Luis back, we’re actively in negotiations to bring another forward in," Heath said. "As I’ve said before, we have to keep building and moving forward. … If Luis comes back, he won’t be the only striker we sign this offseason.”
Key additions, including maybe two DPs?
It may be a huge winter for the club, who have the potential to add two more Designated Players behind Emanuel Reynoso if they so choose.
Reynoso has been a resounding success early in his MLS career, with a goal and seven assists in his first 13 MLS appearances followed by a goal and seven assists in three playoff games. He contributed to every single Loons postseason goal.
“It’s possible (to get two more DPs)," Heath said. "It’s something we’ve spoke about. We want to be quite aggressive in what we’re trying to do. We’re down the road on a couple of these situations where if we could pull them off, they’d be big, big signings for the club. We’re getting there. We’re moving forward."
The talented Uruguayan hasn't made an impact in MLS since joining in the summer of 2019, with just 257 minutes to his name thus far.
“We’re actively looking to getting him out on loan as we speak," Heath said. "Europe continues to play. Thomas has had an incredibly frustrating season. I don’t want to get to March where Thomas is here and not in the team. We want to get him on loan. We’ve been speaking to a couple clubs in Europe, we think we’re close on that. When the window opens in Europe in January, we’re hoping Thomas can get there and play.”
What's the status of Ike Opara?
Minnesota's success in 2020 came without 2019 Defender of the Year Ike Opara.
Heath revealed Opara had "a few issues" this year and alluded to his history of concussions. The club had previously been coy to talk about specifics in regards to Opara's absence.
“We’re hoping to sit with Ike and come up with a plan of action that’s beneficial to everybody. It’s been a really frustrating year for everybody, most of all for the player. … Not only is he a big player for us, he’s got a big salary there. Do we feel as though he’s going to come back next season? He feels better than he has been but those are decisions we’ll have to make.
There's no guarantee the center back, who turns 32 in February, will be back next year. Opara is a two-time Defender of the Year and has made 180 MLS appearances as he battled various injuries throughout his career with the San Jose Earthquakes and Sporting Kansas City before Minnesota.
“If he says he feels great and can play next year, that’ll be great for everybody," Heath said. "In a perfect world, that’s what will happen. I don’t think we want to go through a year we just have where it’s day-to-day and not knowing what will happen with Ike, I’d like to get that resolved one way or another.”