Minesota United on Tuesday officially signed first-round draft pick Noah Billingsley, four days before MLS teams must set rosters for this weekend’s opening games.
United drafted Billingsley 18th overall in January’s SuperDraft. A college player at UC-Santa Barbara, he played forward most his life until he was made a defender his junior year there. He started his last 36 games and scored one goal, a game winner.
Billingsley and teammates Michael Boxall and James Musa all are from New Zealand.
He has played this preseason behind Romain Metanire at right back and could perhaps play some left back, too, United coach Adrian Heath said.
He’s 6-2, 22 years old and tested off the charts on most of United’s physical testing before preseason began.
Asked if Billingsley can find time in MLS or if he’ll spend some or most of the season with United’s Madison USL affiliate, Heath said, “We’ll see. The one thing he’s proved in preseason is he can play, I think he could have the same sort of impact that Chase (Gasper) and Hassani (Dotson) had last year. We’ve been really pleased with him this preseason.
“I said to him he has to come and try to force his way in. It’s going to be difficult. He has Romain in front of him at the moment, but football is a funny game. Things turned around at times. He’s played left back as well. I think he maybe could play there in a pinch as well.”
United “still talking” about Reynoso deal
United continues to negotiate with famed South American Boca Juniors club about young attacking midfielder Emanuel Reynoso, without a deal after weeks of discussion and two trips to Buenos Aires by Loons technical director Mark Watson.
“We’re still talking,” Heath said when asked if he remains hopeful about a transfer. “It’s got to the stage now where I’ll concentrate on what we have with this group moving into the first game.”
The current MLS transfer window closes in May.
“I’m still hopeful we can bring in another one or maybe two pieces before the window finishes,” Heath said. “I don’t think this is the finished squad. If it is, I’m more than happy, though. I’m really, really pleased with the group.”
Ike, Ozzie follow their own play to opener
United trained in Blaine on Tuesday in preparation for the season opener Sunday at Portland. The Loons have come through preseason healthy.
“One or two little knocks, but nothing that will be an issue for the end of the week,” Heath said. “It has been a really good preseason, a great atmosphere within the group. Great work ethic, so I couldn’t be more happy than we are at this moment.”
Veterans Ike Opara and Ozzie Alonso have trained and played preseason at their own pace to get themselves ready for another season.
“They’re at an age now where they know what’s good for their body,” Heath said. “We put a different plan together for them. The surface at times we have to be careful with, but they both train full together. They should have no problems for the weekend.”
Dotson, Toye Olympic-qualifying bound
The U.S. men’s national Under-23 team plays its first Tokyo Olympics qualifier game March 20. United’s Hassani Dotson and Mason Toye are expected to be called for training camp before that.
United has a bye between a March 21 home game against Montreal and an April 4 home game against San Jose.
“We’ve spoke to the federation and I think they’ll work with us if they’re the first team,” Heath said. “But we have to give them permission to leave because I think it’s a great honor for the kids. I wouldn’t want to stop them. Obviously, needs are a must sometimes.”