Another Minnesota Native is coming home.
Minnesota United acquired right back Eric Miller and $50,000 of general allocation money from the Colorado Rapids in return for winger Sam Nicholson and his international roster slot. The deal happened late on the final day of the primary transfer window Tuesday.
United coach Adrian Heath gathered the players ahead of training Wednesday to break down the trade, as Nicholson was a rather beloved guy on the roster, always ready with a joke and a smile.
"It's never easy to let really good people go," Heath said. "He's been an incredible piece of what we're trying to build. He's a great guy on and off the field, incredibly popular. But we have to look at the big, overall picture. ... We've got the summer window where most of the leagues are going to be over. We've identified one or two things there. So that gives us a bit of room there."
This move gives United more flexibility once the summer transfer window comes around July 10. The club has a very clear vision of what it wants to do in that transfer window, which could be to make another designated player-level signing. Because last season Miller made a guaranteed compensation of $86,553.75 while Nicholson's was considerably more at $281,456.00, according to the MLS Players Association, United now has more financial ability in that next window.
Heath said he likely won't dip into the free agent market before that summer window unless any more injuries dictate it.
"At this moment, we feel as though we'll be OK," Heath said. "We've been working really, really hard in the build up for this next window. ... Just hope we can get them done."
Sporting director Manny Lagos said Colorado called late in the day Tuesday and the deal was done around 11 p.m. And while there are short-term benefits to this deal, the long term is what has really excited the club. While United traded Nicholson's international spot to Colorado for 2018, next season that spot will be free again. There's also more salary cap space, and Lagos said while he wouldn't comment on the length of Miller's contract, it was in general more favorable for United than Nicholson's.
"We're looking for players who are part of the plan to make sure we're getting better this year as well as getting better for the strength and core of this roster for the future," Lagos said. "There certainly are buckets of [designated player] level. There's [targeted allocation money]. There's discretionary [targeted allocation money] now. And there's just quality players that want to get into the league whose price points that we think their value's going to increase in the future. So for us, the movement today just helps create the flexibility for any of those buckets for us to be able to really make the choice at the right time for the right place to sign that player."
Short term-wise, United was in need of more depth at outside back with right back Tyrone Mears struggling with a calf/Achilles injury and left back Marc Burch possibly done for the season with a meniscus injury. Rookie Carter Manley and Jerome Thiesson, playing out of his preferred position at left back, have been starting recently.
"It' looks like Burchy's having an operation this week, so chances are his season's done or will be getting close to being done," Heath said. "Ty is still a couple weeks away. God forbid if anything was to happen to Jerry, we would be really up against it. So it just made sense all around."
Heath said when Colorado called about Nicholson, United threw Miller into the discussion because of those injury woes. He said former teammates like holding midfielder Sam Cronin, who came to United in a transaction with Colorado this time last season along with Burch, spoke very highly of Miller. And Miller's ability to play in either outside back position and even at center back is quality versatility.
Miller and Heath only spoke on the phone for about 10 minutes around midnight Tuesday night, but the player will arrive in Minnesota later Wednesday. Whether he will be up to play 1 p.m. Saturday against the Vancouver Whitecaps at TCF Bank Stadium is still up in the air.
Miller, 25, is 6-1, 175 pounds and a Woodbury native. He's actually very connected to United center back Brent Kallman, as they played together growing up and in college at Creighton. He's also engaged to Kallman's sister and former professional player, Kassey Kallman.
While Miller has been in the league with the Montreal Impact and Colorado since 2014 and has amassed 86 games, he had yet to feature in a game this season.
Nicholson, 23, came to United last summer in a transfer from Scottish club Hearts. In his short time with the Loons, he played 20 games with 14 starts and totaled two goals and two assists.
The winger seemed to have a prime opportunity coming up with starting winger Ethan Finlay's recent ACL tear. But Heath said with all the depth the Loons have out wide, this wasn't too big a loss. Heath said he feels like Cameroonian winger Frantz Pangop is finally coming into his own and ready for big minutes. This also gives more opportunity for Alexi Gomez to play higher up on the left. Forward Abu Danladi could even play out wide again, as he did a few times last year.
Other notes from practice Wednesday:
Only the starters were around for the session, as all the reserves will take part in a closed scrimmage with Minneapolis City SC later Wednesday evening. It looked like forwards Christian Ramirez and Danladi were rehabbing their hamstring injuries on the side.
Finlay was walking around the training facility on crutches with his right leg all braced up, meaning he underwent successful surgery on his ACL tear and is now on the rehab path.
United is off Thursday and will resume practice Friday.