Minnesota United moved up in Thursday's MLS SuperDraft to get two players it targeted on the same day young striker Luis Amarilla returned home to South America to play.
The Paraguayan striker is headed back to the Ecuadorian league from which he came two seasons. He will play on loan for the Liga de Quito club in Ecuador's top Serie A. He is bound there even though the Loons started discussions to bring him back to Minnesota for a second season.
The United entered Thursday's draft with the 25th and 38th picks and used general-allocation money and that 25th pick to acquire the 17th pick from New York City FC and the 18th pick from Toronto.
They used No. 17 to draft Wake Forest striker Justin McMaster and used No. 18 to select Cal-Davis defender Nabilai Kibunguchy consecutively. Then they used their second-round pick (38th overall) to claim Georgetown defender Sean O'Hearn.
Yet to develop a "MLS Next" second team as other teams have, the Loons have focused on targeting and developing college players instead. They've done so with successful second-round pick Hassani Dotson as well as Chase Gasper and Dayne St. Clair and now hope to do it again.
"We have a track record that shows our success selecting and developing young players out of college," Loons coach Adrian Heath said in a team statement.
The Loons traded $50,000 GAM and a conditional $25,000 GAM to NYCFC and dealt the 25th pick and $50,000 GAM in 2021 to Toronto FC.
"It's really special to be drafted by Minnesota because they really value their draft picks," said McMaster, a Jamaican who played as an amateur in the professional USL and played for Philadelphia Union's academy. "They show a lot of interest and really develop players."
O'Hearn said he's "excited to have a team that believes in college players and that they can contribute in MLS."
McMaster said he's anticipating playing beside star midfielder Emanuel Reynoso while Kibunguchy wants to play alongside two-time MLS Defender of the Year Ike Opara, who hasn't played a game since March because of an undisclosed condition. O'Hearn said he wants to play with Gasper and St. Clair, who other Washington, D.C.-area products.
McMaster played four seasons at Wake Forest in a college career sidetracked by ACL surgery. Kibunguchy considers himself a natural center back, but can also play the "No. 6" position to which the Loons recently signed veteran Wil Trapp.
Heath called McMaster "extremely athletic" and "dynamic on the ball" who is able to combine with teammates across the field.
"We firmly believe if he hadn't had his injury, there was no way he would have been available to us," Heath said.
Heath termed Kibunguchy a "Top-10 talent in this draft," who is also a "gifted and versatile" defender who can play either position. He called O'Hearn "uncompromising, hard-nosed and always up for a battle."
"What more can you ask for in a defender?" Heath asked.
Amarilla, 25, scored 19 goals in 24 games two years ago in the same league to which he is returning. The Loons acquired him last season on a one-year loan from Argentina team Velez Sarsfield.
Amarilla last year promised Heath he'd score 25 in his first MLS season. He scored three goals in 10 games in all MLS competitions last season because he sustained an ankle injury that ended his season after a Sept. 2 game. It required surgery near season's end.
Liga de Quito announced Thursday it obtained Amarilla on a one-year loan with an option to buy.