Loons start anew in 2022 without some familiar faces

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Minnesota United welcomed faces familiar and new alike, waited on some players yet to arrive and trained on to start yet another season's training Tuesday in Blaine with others gone elsewhere to MLS teams.

After a winter when they added youth and speed to a veteran team, the Loons, after three consecutive playoff appearances, play on without captain Ozzie Alonso, designated player Jan Gregus and veteran Ethan Finlay in decisions made for a payroll that grows while the league's salary cap doesn't.

Players have reported for physicals and first training sessions while the team waits for several players to arrive. Included are star midfielder Emanuel Reynoso, designated player Adrien Hunou, starters Robin Lod and Michael Boxall, young South African international Bongokuhle Hlongwane and Joseph Rosales as well as still-to-be-signed striker Luis Amarilla. Heath said Tuesday he is hopeful all will join the team next week in Florida or soon after that.

Reynoso, Hunou and Rosales all have been delayed in returning to the United States because of COVID-19 issues, Heath said. Lod is doing military service back home in Finland and Boxall will play a Feb. 1 World Cup qualifier with his New Zealand national team before rejoining his United teammates.

Amarilla was recently named to his Paraguayan national team; his contract must be finalized. The Loons also await Hlongwane's immigration paperwork with the intent he'll join them in Florida.

Starting right back Romain Metanire is rehabilitating a hamstring muscle torn in a first-round playoff loss at Portland fewer than two months ago. Heath said he's hopeful Metanire will be fully healthy by the Feb. 26 season opener at Philadelphia.

When asked if he expects any difficulty getting Reynoso back into the country after his arrest back home in Argentina last month, Heath said, "No, not at all."

Reynoso was detained for more than a week by Argentina authorities because of accusations he struck a teenager with a gun.

Heath said the club intends to add two or three more players before the season opener. One of them is Amarilla, who played one injury- and pandemic-shortened season with Minnesota United in 2021.

While they add players, the Loons said goodbye to Alonso, Finlay and Gregus after letting all three become free agents. The Loons offered Alonso a contract he declined.

They all signed elsewhere as free agents while the Loons signed 21-year-old Hlongwane to MLS' new Under-22 initiative, brought back injury-prone former No. 1 overall pick Abu Danladi after two years away and drafted 6-2 St. John's University forward Tani Oluwaseyi in the MLS SuperDraft's first round.

"We certainly got younger," said defender Brent Kallman, one veteran whom the Loons brought back on a new two-year contract. "We still have a lot of veteran players who know how to win and lead, which is good. We injected a lot of young players and you can see it. A lot of new energy."

Alonso signed with Atlanta United to play for coach Gonzalo Pineda, who was a Seattle assistant during Alonso's final seasons there. Gregus signed with San Jose after injuries and coach's decisions sidelined him most of the season's final weeks last fall.

Finlay signed with Austin FC after he joined the Loons midway through their inaugural 2017 season in the state where he was born.

All were in their 30s for a Loons team that has decidedly gone younger.

"We certainly lost three quality players who have been really important people for us," Heath said. "Not just on the field, but off the field. Ozzie came in and he made the playoffs three years consecutively. I think he's made it 13 times consecutively since he has been in the league. It's an awful lot of experience, an awful lot of know-how."

"Now it's time for the younger guys to step in. This is their opportunity."

One more keeper

The Loons on Tuesday signed goalkeeper Eric Dick to a one-year contract. He has started one MLS game since Sporting KC took him 13th overall in the 2018 SuperDraft.

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