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United counting on new goalkeeper Mannone to be first successful loan

MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota United’s list of six previous MLS-era players brought in on loan would make for good trivia questions.

Who was the Loons’ first goalkeeper in MLS? John Alvbage.

Who was the Danish winger who didn’t score in his 11 games before his loan was terminated months early? Bashkim Kadrii.

Who were the two loaners who made only one appearance each with Minnesota? Jose Leiton and Brandon Allen.

Who was the Brazilian defensive midfielder who changed his name while in Minnesota and was limited by a knee injury? Maximiano, also known as Luiz Fernando.

Who was the Peruvian midfielder who played in 18 games — more than any other Loon loanee — but never scored, much less had many shots on goal? Alexi Gomez.

The Loons looked to distance themselves from this lackluster list with the Sunday, Feb. 10, announced addition of Italian goalkeeper, Vito Mannone, who arrives on a one-season loan from Reading FC, a club struggling in England’s second division.

The Loons' failure to hit on a successful loan hasn't been catastrophic because of the short-term nature of the deals — from six to 12 or 18 months — and most of these additions weren’t expected to be role players, much less headliners. Realizing a player isn't going to work out without long-term ramifications can been a blessing. Other times (see: Maximiano), the terms of the purchase option don't work out with the club on the other side.

But Mannone is expected to make a difference in Minnesota. His contract used Targeted Allocation Money (TAM), meaning he is one of the more-expensive players on the Loons' budget for 2019, and the club believes Mannone’s wealth of experience will help snap its MLS-worst mark of 141 goals allowed over two consecutive season.

Mannone, 30, has played at the heights of world soccer during his time at Arsenal, one of the “big six” clubs in the English Premier League.

At age 17, Mannone arrived the north London club on the heels of their “Invincibles” team in 2003-04, one of the greatest Premier League teams ever, featuring Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, Dennis Bergkamp and goalkeeper Jens Lehmann.

“Great experience,” Mannone said. “I always dreamt as a kid to join a big club like Arsenal and when I did it was incredible. … My legs were shaking the first few days, but then I got on with it as a job. I learned from the best.”

With the Gunners, followed by Sunderland, Hull City and Reading, Mannone has made 160 starts in English soccer since 2005.

“When you bring in somebody (with) Vito’s experience and what he’s done in the game, obviously there's going to be a competition,” United coach Adrian Heath said Monday.

Bobby Shuttleworth, who has started 57 games for the Loons in two seasons, knew this scenario was coming. The Loons had put goalkeeper on their offseason wish list and cleared most of the deck by letting go of last year’s backups, Matt Lampson and Alex Kapp.

“As I've said to Bobby, ‘You wouldn’t be the first guy to beat an oversees player out, if it happens,' ” Heath said. “It will very much be up to him and Vito and (rookie) Dayne (St. Claire) to work out who becomes the No. 1.”

Mannone was just trying to get his bearings Monday, training with the club for the first time and getting to know ‘keeper coach John Pascarella.

“It’s enjoyable,” Mannone said, before showing a sense of humor. “I had to rush from the doctor’s appointment, so hopefully I don’t get fined on the first day.”

Mannone is looking for a fresh start after he said he suffered an ankle injury in September, the beginning stages of the 2018-19 season at Reading. He was out for about six weeks, and afterward, he saw new leadership at the club -- and other goalies ahead of him on the depth chart.

“It’s nothing that I’ve done wrong on the pitch and anything that went wrong particularly between me or any manager,” Mannone said. “Just the way it is.”

While a decision on Mannone's long-term future won’t likely come for months, Mannone and the club already explored the possibility of him being the Loons' first loanee who is retained.

“I look forward to staying here and enjoying my time,” Mannone said. “We spoke to the club already. If my family is happy and I’m happy, maybe we look to the future and we go from there. … Obviously if both parties are happy, it’s a discussion we will have in 10 months time. To be honest, it’s difficult to say now.”