How ambitious is Minnesota United?

The late, great soccer reporter Grant Wahl used to compile power rankings based on MLS clubs’ desires to achieve more.

That ambition was measured in a few ways, but spending was a big component of it. When Minnesota United opened up Allianz Field — which took $250 million in private financing —  the club jumped from 15th to 10th in Wahl’s 2019 list in Sports Illustrated.

Spending on players was another main facet Wahl measured. Since joining MLS in 2017, the Loons have never been (nor likely will be) a club that writes big checks on incoming transfers. Its club-record transfer fee ($5 million for Emanuel Reynoso in 2020) was exceeded by five other clubs on one player apiece just this spring in the primary transfer window.

New Chief Soccer Officer Khaled El-Ahmad has taken a tightly measured approach since joining the club full time in late January. He and MNUFC’s technical staff brought in eight total players before the season started; none have moved the needle on the field.

Those eight players average only 126 minutes played this season; the Loons have logged 1,710 total this season. Those eight players’ average guaranteed compensation is $120,281, while the league average is $594,390.

El-Ahmad’s biggest moves thus far have been transferring out two players.

When malcontent Reynoso went AWOL again this spring, El-Ahmad showed star treatment is a thing of the past. He quickly offloaded the two-time MLS All-Star to Club Tijuana for upwards of $1 million, if performance metrics are met.

Then last week, El-Ahmad and the Loons were nearing a transfer of versatile midfielder/defender Kervin Arriaga to Serbian club Partizan for approximately $500,000, a source confirmed to the Pioneer Press.

Set to become a free agent after the season, Arriaga was not signed to a contract extension through the first six months of the year. He told the Pioneer Press in May it was “a dream” to play in Europe, so his interest in remaining in Minnesota might not have been strong anyway.

Arriaga, now 26, has built himself into a quality player in Minnesota, first as a central midfielder in 2022. But a meniscus knee injury cut short his 2023 season and that nagging joint delayed the start of his 2024 campaign.

Arriaga received a platelet-rich plasma injection in his knee in March, and when he returned in April, head coach Eric Ramsay put Arriaga on a three-man back line. He thrived in that new role, and his upswing makes it more difficult for the Loons and their supporters to say goodbye now.

Arriaga was in a swan song on Saturday in St. Paul. He brought out his newborn baby boy for pregame introductions and was teary-eyed postgame when showing thanks to supporters after the Loons’ 1-0 loss to Austin FC.

Arriaga was not a ballyhooed or high-priced signing — MNUFC acquired his discovery rights from Austin for $100,000 in 2022. His 2024 salary is a relative bargain at $259,667, according to the MLS Players Association.

It shows key players can be brought in from countless places (in Arriaga’s case: CD Marathon in Honduras), and they can develop and thrive in MLS. Creativity is a part of ambition, and El-Ahmad will need to unearth those kinds of players as he builds out a full roster going forward.

But one problem in the short term is the most likely next man up at center back is Victor Eriksson, a Swede whom El-Ahmad brought in during the offseason. He is the highest paid of the eight additions at $264,375, per MLSPA.

Eriksson’s rough start to his MLS career continued Wednesday when his bad clearance attempt led to a goal in the 5-3 loss to Dallas. Eriksson has even been linked to a return to Sweden this week.

The summer transfer window opens July 18 and the Loons are in need of difference-makers across the roster. Their current three-game losing streak has exposed depth issues with injuries and international duties.

MNUFC has made one addition for the summer, attacking midfielder Samuel Shashoua. He comes with an injury history and on another team-friendly deal.

If Wahl, who passed away while covering the 2022 World Cup, were still doing his ambition rankings, he would not be bumping up the Loons’ standing based on El-Ahmad’s additions so far.

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