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Loons and Adrian Heath agree on two-year contract extension

Minnesota United also working to send forward Adrien Hunou back to France

MLS: New York City FC at Minnesota United FC
Minnesota United manager Adrian Heath before the May 28, 2022, game against New York City at Allianz Field in St. Paul.
Matt Blewett / USA Today Sports
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ST. PAUL — Minnesota United remains committed to Adrian Heath.

The Loons and their manager agreed to a two-year contract extension before the 2022 season started, with a new term that runs through the 2024 campaign, the Pioneer Press learned Wednesday. It’s unclear if the contract includes option years.

“We are nowhere near where we want to be,” Heath said after training Thursday. “But I think that stability and the long-term planning will give us the opportunity to achieve what we all want to achieve.”

Hired before club’s first MLS season in 2017 and first extended after 2019 season, Heath and MNUFC agreed to the new deal before this year’s preseason camp opened in January, a source said. The deal came on the heels of Heath leading the Loons to three straight MLS Cup Playoff appearances. Only two other Western Conference clubs are on runs of three consecutive playoff berths, Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers. Four have reached that benchmark in the East.

CEO Shari Ballard said in a statement: “Adrian has been absolutely instrumental in driving competitive success. … I look forward to working with Adrian and our entire team to achieve even greater levels of success.”

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News of Heath’s deal was delayed pending new contracts for his three on-field assistant coaches — Ian Fuller, Sean Mcauley and Stewart Kerr. The last of those three deals was set last month, a source said. The club announced Heath’s contract Thursday. Salary figures were not included.

Heath has become the fourth-longest tenured coach in MLS behind Sporting Kansas City’s Peter Vermes (2009), Philadelphia Union’s Jim Curtin (2014) and Seattle’s Brian Schmetzer (2016). Those three have won trophies; Heath has not.

Heath — who holds the title of manager, given his duties as head coach and leading role in the club’s front office — has a record of 63 wins, 72 losses and 37 draws in Minnesota since 2017. Since its expansion and sophomore seasons in 2017-18, Heath is 42-34-28.

“It’s a bit of reward for what we’ve done over the last three, four years,” Heath said.. “I think if you look back at our records in the last three years, we talked about can we keep progressing, I think we have. I think the last few weeks have been a bit difficult and disappointing, but we have everything to play for this year.”

The club came close to hoisting silverware in two deep tournament runs. They lost the 2019 U.S. Open Cup final, 2-1 loss to Atlanta United and the 2020 MLS Western Conference final, 3-2 to Seattle. Minnesota bowed out of the MLS Cup Playoffs in the first round in 2019 and 2021.

Minnesota is off that pace this season. The Loons suffered the worst loss of its MLS era, 2-1 to Union Omaha in the U.S. Open Cup Round of 16 at Allianz Field in May. Omaha is in the third tier of U.S. soccer, USL League One, and got trotted 6-0 in the quarterfinals by Kansas City on Wednesday.

The Loons (5-7-3, 18 points) currently sit 11th in the 14-team Western Conference. Seven teams make the playoffs, and Minnesota is two points back from the final berth. There is 56 percent of the regular season yet to play.

Hunou on his way out?

Minnesota United is working to offload high-priced forward Adrien Hunou.

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MLS: US Open Cup-Union Omaha at Minnesota United FC
Minnesota United midfielder Adrien Hunou reacts during the second half against Union Omaha on May 25, 2022, at Allianz Field in St. Paul.
Jeffrey Becker / USA Today Sports

The Loons have been drawing up paperwork to move the underwhelming Frenchman back to his native Ligue 1 with Angers and it might be approved yet this week, the Pioneer Press learned Thursday. It’s unclear the exact nature of the transaction will take: a loan, a loan with purchase requirement/purchase option or a full transfer.

Translated reports out of France on Thursday had the deal in the form of a loan with an option to buy. Hunou was not present for training in Blaine on Thursday and might leave the U.S. as soon as Friday. The Loons play at Inter Miami on Saturday night.

Hunou arrived in Minnesota on a transfer fee north of $3 million from Rennes in Ligue 1 last season and his guaranteed salary was listed at $2.68 million for 2022, per the MLS Players Association figures. The 28-year-old did not live up to his place at atop the Loons’ payroll; he has no goals or assists in 128 minutes across nine matches this season.

Hunou’s playing time was drastically scaled back, with striker Luis Amarilla and converted right winger Robin Lod preferred in the No. 9 position by manager Adrian Heath. Hunou also was down the list of substitute options this season.

The Loons are looking to free up salary space and one of three Designated Player spots going into the summer transfer window in July and August. If the move goes through, MNUFC would have three senior roster spots and two international slots available.

This deal would end Hunou’s tenure in Minnesota halfway through a three-year contract, which included a club option for 2024. MNUFC has remaining payments due on Hunou’s transfer fee.

Hunou arrived in May 2021 and scored seven goals in 1,707 MLS minutes last season but was one of MLS’ biggest underperforming scorers compared to his expected goals (10.2), per fbref.com.

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