It has been a trying season for Minnesota United forward Abu Danladi, to say the least. After a promising eight-goal rookie campaign, nagging injuries have limited the 2017’s No. 1 overall pick to just four appearances in the last two months. Now that he is back on the field, though, he is putting himself in a position to be a factor in the Loons’ playoff push.
Danladi approached his rehab with a healthy mindset. He worked diligently with the training staff to remedy his recurring hamstring problems and meticulously studied the switch to a 3-5-2 formation from the sideline so he would be ready when his moment came.
“It has been really frustrating for me, watching my teammates play and it looks like so much fun,” Danladi said. “In situations that have been tough, I wish I were out there and able to help. Injuries are one of those things that happen in soccer. It is all about how you deal with it.”
By all accounts, Danladi has dealt with it well. His efforts were rewarded with his first goal of the season last Saturday against Vancouver in his first appearance since June 3. MNUFC Assistant Coach Ian Fuller, though, said Danladi’s goal was the culmination of more than 18 months of working on his movement and timing his runs better.
With his considerable pace, a healthy Danladi is a nightmare for defenses. His challenge has been to not get into space too early and to try to draw defenders out to create more room in behind. He did that to perfection against the Whitecaps, holding up just long enough before racing past defender Marcel de Jong to meet the pass from forward Darwin Quintero.
“I think his movement is getting better,” Fuller said. “With all of the pieces we have around him right now, if Abu puts a run on, nine times out of 10 they are going to find him. He has incredible talent. There is no question about that. We just need to make sure that Abu stays fit. When he is fit he is really dangerous.”
Now that he is fit enough to play, Danladi enters a crowded competition for playing time up front alongside forwards Christian Ramirez and Angelo Rodriguez. Danladi’s speed offers an intriguing change of pace option, especially off of the bench late in games. He will have to earn it, but if Danladi maintains his current trajectory Fuller said he can “guarantee he is going to find more minutes.”
“Just playing in general and coming back and being on the field has been a blessing. I missed that,” Danladi said. “Wherever the coach puts me on the field to play, I will play. It doesn’t matter if it is 10 minutes, 15 minutes or 90 minutes. I will do the best I can to help the team, give it all and fill into the spots that the team needs.”
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: MILLER’S MOVE TO WINGBACK
Minnesota United’s 3-5-2 featured a new wrinkle against Vancouver with the more defensive-minded Eric Miller slotting in for Alexi Gomez at wingback.
For Miller — who is accustomed to playing in a more reserved fullback role — the move required an adjustment, but he did show off some of the attacking instincts that made him Minnesota’s Mr. Soccer in 2010 as a midfielder with a pair of near assists against the Whitecaps.
“Wingback is a little bit more of an attacking position than what I have played in the past, but I am happy to do whatever Adrian wants and I am happy to be there,” Miller said. “Our team has a lot of guys who are super quality going forward. Having guys who are that good going forward makes it easy for the rest of us.”
Whether Miller’s move is a lasting one remains to be seen, but the early returns suggest he is up for the box-to-box demands of the position.