Minnesota United exercised 2020 contract options on veteran midfielders Kevin Molino and Ethan Finlay, but declined to do so on fan favorite and longtime Loon Miguel Ibarra.
All three decisions were part of end-of-season roster maneuvers as the team prepares for MLS’ forthcoming free agency and re-entry drafts.
United technical director Mark Watson emphasized Ibarra could still return to the organization, which he first played for in its NASL days in 2012. He would first need to pass through Monday’s first re-entry draft. Then the team can reach agreement with him on a 2020 wage less than the $310,000 he made last season.
“This is a no to his option year for 2020,’’ Watson said. “But we’re still hopeful that working with his agent he could potentially come back.”
Ibarra, 29, is the longest-tenured Loon, leaving only since 2012 to play seven games for Club Leon in Mexico. Fans nicknamed him “Batman” to former United star Christian Ramirez’s “Superman” before Ramirez was traded in 2018.
Ibarra saw his playing time reduced last season after Molino and Finlay returned from yearlong knee injuries. The team later acquired Finland’s Robin Lod and Uruguayan teenager Thomas Chacon for the future.
“Obviously, Miguel has been a big part of this club,” Watson said. “And if it doesn’t work out and this is goodbye, we’ll thank him for a number of good years. He is somebody who has given his heart and soul to the club.”
United also picked up options on Marlon Hairston — a 25-year-old midfielder acquired from Houston in last week’s trade of Darwin Quintero — and young defender Wyatt Omsberg. It declined veteran defender Lawrence Olum’s option as well, and veteran goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth won’t return in 2020.
The Loons chose to pick up options on Finlay, who made $400,000 last season, and Molino, who made $500,000. Watson calls the team overloaded with wide/attacking midfielders even after trading Quintero, one of their three designed players.
It’s all a dance of salary-cap numbers and player values, to both the United or another team, that United management is orchestrating.
“They’re difficult decisions,” Watson said. “Every player has a number attached to him and you’re trying to balance everything. There are cap numbers. There are option years. There are positions of need and areas we hope to improve. You take all those factors into consideration.”
United finds itself needing a star striker, with Angelo Rodriguez unlikely to return in 2020 and promising but injury-prone Abu Danladi gone to Nashville SC in Tuesday’s expansion draft. It’s also searching for another secondary striker now that Quintero is gone, even though United signed Chacon last summer for that role.
“We’re looking at all our options in the league and outside the league,” Watson said.