MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Minnesota United FC announced the departure of 13 players minutes after MLS’ Option Exercise Deadline passed at 1 p.m. ET this afternoon.
Keepers Matt Lampson and Alex Kapp; defenders March Burch, Jérôme Thiesson and Bertrand Owundi Eko’o; midfielders Ibson, Fernando Bob and Collen Warner; and forward Frantz Pangop each had had their 2019 contract options declined. In addition to that, midfielders Harrison Heath and Johan Venegas were removed from MNUFC’s roster, being out of contract and without 2019 options.
Midfielders Alexi Gómez and Maximiano returned to Club Universitario de Deportes and Fluminense Football Club, respectively, following the completion of their loans to Minnesota. Both players had an option-to-purchase clause in their loan agreements, though neither saw it exercised.
Defensive midfielder Sam Cronin remains on injured reserve following a concussion sustained during the 2017 season.
Both Lampson and Thiesson were popular among Loons fans, and the former was recently named MLS WORKS Humanitarian of Year, becoming the first Loon to win an MLS postseason award.
Sporting Director Manny Lagos has spoken about the difficulty the club had finding a starting-caliber defensive midfielder during the 2018 season. Evidently, neither Bob (seven games, 616 minutes) nor Maximiano (11 games, 576 minutes) made a strong-enough case to prompt Lagos to retain their services for the 2019 campaign.
MNUFC also announced it is presently in contract negotiations with Eric Miller. The fullback remained listed on the club website’s official roster at time of publication but was not counted among a list of rostered players in Monday’s press release.
The moves come ahead of an important offseason for Minnesota. CEO Chris Wright received attention for assigning Lagos and coach Adrian Heath “passing grades” in an interview given near the end of the 2018 season. The Loons ended up finishing with 36 points and 70-plus goals conceded for a second consecutive year. Wright clarified his assessment, citing injuries to key players, among other difficulties, resulting in a lack of on-field progress from the club’s debut MLS campaign. He added there would be “no excuses” in Year 3.
With MNUFC set to open a state-of-the-art, soccer-specific home ground in Allianz Field next spring, the pressure is on the Loons’ brass to make sure the product on the field matches that around it.
The departures announced today reduced Minnesota’s international player count to four: centerback Michael Boxall, winger Romario Ibarra, attacker Darwin Quintero and center-forward Ángelo Rodríguez. With both Lagos and Heath having described MNUFC’s roster as in need of strengthening, the flexibility to sign multiple players from abroad and/or trade international roster spots should aid in achieving that goal.
Defenders Francisco Calvo and Brent Kallman; midfielders Ethan Finlay, Miguel Ibarra, Romario Ibarra, Kevin Molino and Quintero; and forwards Mason Toye, Abu Danladi and Rodriguez were already set to return on guaranteed contracts. Keeper Bobby Shuttleworth; defenders Carter Manley, Wyatt Omsberg and Boxall; and midfielders Collin Martin and Rasmus Schüller saw their 2019 options picked up.
Toye, Omsberg and Manley — all selected by Minnesota in the first round of the 2018 MLS SuperDraft — combined for just 1,227 league minutes this season, but also spent time on loan with USL sides. Forward Madison FC, a USL-One expansion team set to begin play in 2019, is expected to announce an affiliation with MNUFC as early as next month. That partnership — with Madison roughly a four-hour drive from the Twin Cities — should allow that trio, and any other young players MNUFC adds this winter, to receive competitive minutes while staying on the periphery of the Loons’ starting XI should they fail to crack the starting lineup.
Minnesota United FC Roster as of Nov. 26
Goalkeepers (1): Bobby Shuttleworth
Defenders (5): Michael Boxall, Francisco Calvo, Brent Kallman, Carter Manley, Wyatt Omsberg
Midfielders (8): Joe Cronin*, Ethan Finlay, Miguel Ibarra, Romario Ibarra, Collin Martin, Kevin Molino, Rasmus Schuller, Darwin Quintero
Forwards (3): Abu Danladi, Mason Toye, Angelo Rodriguez