See more of the story

Minnesota United newcomer Sang Bin Jeong found his future by looking back.

Way, way back — all the way to Loons coach Adrian Heath's playing days with English club Everton's championship teams in the 1980s.

The Loons' pursuit to acquire him by transfer from Wolverhampton in the Premier League — by way of a Swiss club — included discussion with Heath when negotiations intensified that Jeong called "the talk."

"I know the history of Minnesota," he said. "I really liked his style of play. We are similar players."

Heath retired as a player in 1997, five years before Jeong was born. But that didn't stop the 20-year-old forward from studying his new coach back in his glory days.

"I went on YouTube and searched him a lot," Jeong said in Korean through a translator. "All that I could find."

The more he watched the undersized overachiever, the more he saw shared beliefs how their forward positions could be played in and around their team's striker, and how Heath might be the one with coaching philosophies to help him reach his career aspirations.

Jeong described their talk as "something that got to my heart."

"With him, I can progress in my career," Jeong said. "The style of play Adrian has is something I believe will help me a lot."

So he left the Swiss club Grasshoppers on loan after a disappointing season sidetracked by injuries that limited his integration into the team and an inability to both secure an English work visa and adapt to a new country and culture. All of it led, he said, to a loss of confidence.

He played 13 games and called the season a "hardship" and "probably the toughest in my Korean life."

Loons technical director Mark Watson said he expects no such work visa problems here, but said it could take 10 days to three weeks for all of Jeong's immigration paperwork to clear.

He told Loons management he will go by the name Sang Bin Jeong — his family name Jeong last rather than first, as it would be in South Korea — because when in Western countries he'll do as they do.

Jeong arrived on a $2.5 million transfer and signed a three-year contract with a club option that could keep him in Minnesota and Major League Soccer through 2026.

His acclimation so far has included a bowl of Korean noodles that, by all accounts, he found surprisingly good. He also has met his new teammates, including former South Korean league teammate Doneil Henry, and was set to attend Wednesday's night Timberwolves-Atlanta NBA game.

Jeong played with Henry for the Suwon Samsung Bluewings in the 2021 season, scoring six goals in 30 games. He has played for Korea's U-17 and U-23 teams and made his senior team debut in a World Cup qualifier in June 2021.

Heath is hopeful Jeong develops to play for South Korea in the 2026 World Cup coming to the U.S., Canada and Mexico. By then, he'll be 24 and perhaps a prime candidate to sell to a high-paying European team.

Jeong said he learned a "little bit of English" while living in Switzerland.

"I can't express myself yet the way I want to, but I have a very good understanding of it, especially on the soccer side, the soccer English," he said. "The U.S. will help me a lot to at one point speak English."

Jeong is the only active South Korean player in MLS and the sixth in league history from a country that both Heath and Loons technical director Mark Watson say is one of soccer's great untapped markets.

The current Loons roster also includes young players from South Africa, Honduras and Colombia. The team first scouted Jeong playing for Korea's U-17 national team in 2019.

Watson said it takes time to learn about a new market such as South Korea, and that it takes "trusted sources" and time to build a network necessary to sign a player such as Jeong.

"This has been going on since the first time we saw him play," Heath said. "This is not something just over the last few weeks. He has all the attributes for a modern-day forward: He's still very young. We hope we can develop him into the player we think the people of Korea think he's going to become."

The Loons have one U-22 initiative slot open. Heath said the club could use that or another roster spot to add another South Korean to help Jeong adjust.