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A few weeks ago, I said that good things were cooking in Minnesota. Sitting at 2-0-2, four weeks into the season, your Loons are undefeated. They’ve had one of the hardest schedules to start and have fought tooth and nail to show they shouldn’t be slept on this year.

If draws against Philadelphia Union and Nashville NC went unnoticed, surely a pair of 1-0 victories over the reigning-champions New York Red Bulls and San Jose Earthquakes will have put the league on notice.

In the game against Philadelphia, it was the wingers that stole the show. In the home opener against Nashville, Hassani Dotsoni let us know that the Loons midfielders are more than enforcers. Against New York and San Jose, it was striker Luis Amarilla powering the offense and providing flashes of the sort of offensive brilliance MNUFC fans envisioned when he returned to the club in 2022.

This week, I’ll be taking a deeper look at Luis Amarilla and other Minnesota United options at forward, including Abu Danladi, Bongokuhle Hlongwane, Adrien Hunou and Tanitoluwa Oluwaseyi.

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Luis Amarilla 

In Head Coach Adrian Heath’s 4-3-2-1, there is only one striker up top. For now, the no. 9 leading the attack is Luis Amarilla. In his first two games, the Paraguayan made promising runs into dangerous positions, but was unable to convert a few good chances. 

In New York, he showcased that he also has some end-product to his game, striking home a saucy volley past the Red Bulls goalkeeper. Against San Jose, he made a well-timed cut in the box to score a lofty Robin Lod cross.

At 6’0’’ and 163 lbs, Amarilla offers potential as a dual-threat target forward—one that can battle for headers off set pieces, while also being able to hold up play when there aren’t clear attacking options. 

As Luis works his way back into the Loons lineup after a season away, building chemistry with teammates Emanuel Reynoso, Franco Fragapane, Bongokuhle Hlongwane and Robin Lod will be crucial. In the early-going, there have been moments when Amarilla has appeared a little passive. At times, he has been slow in building up counter attacks with teammates. Other times, he has looked a little too selfish. Thus is the life of a striker still building rhythm with new teammates. 

While on loan with LDU Quito last season, in the Ecuadorian Serie A, Amarilla scored 9 goals and had two assists in 19 games. With a pair of goals to his name already and promising displays thus far, more goals should be on the horizon.

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Abu Danladi

The story of Abu Danladi and the Loons is as poetic as they come. A former first overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft, he arrived in Minnesota with a lot of hype. At the time, he was expected to be a vital cog in a burgeoning MLS expansion team. In his first season in 2017, he looked the part, scoring eight goals and adding two assists. 

What began as a promising career soon derailed into one marred by injuries. In recent years, he’s struggled with hamstring injuries and abductor/groin pain. These injuries saw him fall out of favor with Nashville SC, ultimately returning to MNUFC in the offseason.

The Danladi hype has died down through the years, but the talent remains. The Ghanaian returns to a Loons team still looking for firepower and depth at striker. In preseason, he started all three games and registered a hat-trick in a scrimmage in Orlando.

It’s not a question of talent or capability for Danladi; it's all about availability. If he can stay out of the trainer’s room this season, we should see a lot of him, especially in late-game scenarios.

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Bongokuhle Hlongwane

In four straight games, Bongokuhle “Bongi” Hlongwane has yet to register a DNP. The 21-year-old South African native has mainly been deployed as a back-up winger for Fragapane, often coming in around the 70th minute to shift the tide of the match. In their last game against San Jose, he made his first career MLS start, getting the nod over Fragapane at winger.

His quick ascendance is astounding, and in his first start, he was as lively as ever—dribbling past defenders, passing through balls to teammates on the opposite wingers and creating shots inside the box. It was a promising debut for the young South African national.

Head Coach Heath has often preferred to lean on veteran players, but he, too, has fallen in love with Hlongwane’s pace and talent.

"The kid's got huge upside," Heath said. "When you get players really explosive and really quick, their individualism is their strength. But this kid has a bit of both. He can play with people. He's got a turn of speed. Pace is one of those things you can't buy. We have to work with him and use him in the right area.”

Coming in at winger in all of his appearances thus far, Bongi's speed and ability to get behind defenses has stuck out. No goals or assists to his name yet, but at only 21 years old, you can see why MNUFC holds him in high regard.

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Adrien Hunou

Adrien Hunou’s start to the season has been puzzling to say the least. At $2.6 million annually, the Frenchman is the biggest signing in the history of MNUFC. Given the price tag, it’s stunning that the former Rennes FC forward has only featured once this season—in the opener against the Philadelphia Union. 

Hunou has become a bit of an afterthought early on, something that seemed unimaginable after scoring 7 goals last season. Thus far, there simply hasn’t been much to go off of, and unfortunately for him, his most memorable play to date was an attempted chip shot that was deflected by the Philadelphia keeper in the waning moments of the game. 

It’s hard to be critical of a player that has played fewer than 45 minutes this year, but it is telling that he didn’t start during preseason and hasn’t played in the last two games. 

That said, the opportunities will surely be there for Hunou at some point. For now, he must control the controllables: working hard on the training ground, and when his number is called, reminding Head Coach Heath and Loons fans why he was so heavily sought after two years ago. 

Tani Oluwaseyi

With four players ahead of him in the pecking order, it’s very likely we won’t see much of 2022 SuperDraft pick Tanitoluwa Oluwaseyi in MLS action this season. The Loons signed Tani to a three year contract, so they are certainly intrigued with his long-term upside, however.

The Nigerian-Canadian forward scored 20 goals during his four years at St. John’s university, including 11 goals during his sophomore season. Standing 6’3”, Tani is explosive and has a strong build. Head Coach Heath believes he might be the quickest player on the roster. 

Fans who tuned in for MNUFC2’s opening match on Saturday night got a chance to glimpse Oluwaseyi’s talents for the first time in MLS NEXT Pro action as the 21 year old started at the no. 9 spot in a 4-2-3-1 formation.

Tani showed some impressive flashes throughout his first professional game, getting a splendid touch on a volley toward the goal in the 30th minute; creating a great chance via a header to Aziel Jackson in the 61st; and helping initiate the action that ultimately led to MNUFC2’s only goal of the match in 64th.  

If his season-opening performance is any indication of his long-term potential, MNUFC fans could have a lot to look forward to in this dynamic young attacker.

Expectations

Last season, the combination of Robin Lod and Franco Fragapane led the Loons in scoring. Through four games this season, Luis Amarilla is the team’s leading scorer, with two goals over his last two matches. The Paraguayan is finding form, which will make it hard to keep him off the starting XI. 

In years past, the Loons have sometimes been goal-shy, and while 4 goals in 4 games isn’t exactly prolific offense, it seems as though MNUFC has the pieces in place to create a more formidable attack in 2022. Hopefully, we’ll see Luis Amarilla and the midfield combine for more goals as the season goes on. On the pitch, you can see that the chemistry is building, so surely there is more to come. 

We should get another good indication of the Loons offensive potential when Minnesota United returns from the International Break to host the perennial-powerhouse Seattle Sounders this upcoming Saturday, April 2 at 7:00 p.m. CT.