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Calvo, Venegas Ready to Bring Winning Pedigrees to United

by on 4 January 2017

On Tuesday, Minnesota United formally unveiled new acquisitions Francisco Calvo and Johan Venegas. The Costa Rican internationals arrive at different stages of their careers, but they both emphasize clearly: they aim to win from day one.

“It was the right time”

Despite being just 24 years old, Francisco Calvo is a remarkably accomplished and well-traveled player.

After playing in Saprissa’s youth system, Calvo left to study at San Jacinto College (Houston, TX) on a soccer scholarship. While it gave him a little familiarity with the United States, the defender knows he’ll still be learning in MLS.

“Of course it’s different, MLS from college,” Calvo said on Tuesday afternoon. “I’m really excited to be here. Minnesota is a really good team to grow in, to grow up with the team.”

After returning to Herediano, Calvo transferred to Danish side Nordsjælland. While European football is a dream for most, the fit wasn’t quite right.

“I was really young, I was like 19. I don’t think the same way I did before. I was just a kid. I want to be in my country now.

“A lot of people want to play in Europe. The team I played for were the last champions of the league, so it was a really good project. I just didn’t play too much — I played three matches as a sub. I wasn’t comfortable there, so I thought to move again to Costa Rica.”

Want to know more about Calvo and what his signing means for Minnesota? Click here.

Calvo joined Saprissa in 2015 and found immediate success. Splitting time at center back and out wide on the left, Calvo scored 14 goals in 63 games. An incredible tally for a defender, he recognized that it’s a special gift of his.

“I love to score,” Calvo affirmed with a smile. “My teammates in Saprissa know I’m good in the area for set-pieces. They tried to find me, and I made some moves to score. My first focus is defense, but if I can help the team with goals, I will be happy.”

After winning two championships in his stint with Saprissa, Calvo recognized that it was time to try foreign leagues again. As with many of his teammates, MLS clubs were eager suitors. Caught in a bidding war with Los Angeles and Atlanta, many were surprised that Minnesota came away with the spoils.

What set the Loons apart for Calvo? It turned out to be a personal touch.

“I think Minnesota is going to be a really big team in the US. My ambition is that, in the first year, we can fight for something.”      – Francisco Calvo

“Adrian (Heath) traveled to Costa Rica and talked to me. He told me that he wanted me to be in the team. For me, that was really good. In the meeting, it was my future wife, my mother, and my little brother… It was nice. You feel happy when that happens.”

However, it wasn’t just the face-time that sealed the deal. Ultimately, the defender believed in what MInnesota was setting themselves up to become. “I think it’s a good project. I think Minnesota is going to be a really big team in the US. My ambition is that, in the first year, we can fight for something.”

Heath wasn’t an unknown to Calvo, either. One of the player’s friends (former New York Red Bull Roy Miller) had played against Heath’s Orlando City side. Miller praised Orlando’s playing style, saying they were tough to play against. When Heath asked for a visit in Costa Rica, it was a no-brainer.

Though early expectation for the Loons in 2017 have set a low bar, Calvo won’t settle for a slow build. “Every place I go, I want to be a champion. The best thing for a soccer player is to have a gold medal. Hopefully, we can make a good thing.

“I don’t think we’re going to be in last place this year. We’re going to have a good season this year. That’s my goal.”

“In Minnesota, I feel like I’m home.”

Johan Venegas, on the other hand, has already spent two years in Major League Soccer. Brought in by Montreal in July 2015, the attacker spent time with Didier Drogba, Ignacio Piatti, and Matteo Mancosu. However, it wasn’t an easy adjustment right away.

“I took six months to feel good, to feel like home in Montreal,” Venegas admits. “It was a hard time for me. The situation from Costa Rica to Montreal was a big change. Now, I feel good. I feel better. Here in Minnesota, I feel like I’m home. I’m really happy.”

Across his two seasons in Montreal, Venegas started in 16 of his 32 appearances. With a stacked attacking fleet, the Impact rotated their pieces very frequently. However, he’s a crucial part of Los Ticos, having scored 7 goals for the national team. Most notably, he opened the scoring in Costa Rica’s 4-0 rout of the USMNT this past November.

Venegas is confident the change in scenery can help his game. “The first time I heard the trade, I felt happy. It’s a new opportunity for me and for this club to have success in MLS. I’m looking to playing more minutes, to give all I can on the field.”

Last month, Venegas had some face-time with Heath in Costa Rica after the trade. The manager laid out his expectations for the attacker, revealing how he figured to deploy him. On the day Minnesota brought him in, Heath admitted that Venegas had been on his wishlist since he came into the league. All of this has helped the player get used to the idea of playing in a Heath system.

“I feel best underneath the striker. I have more space. I can play all of my soccer there.”      – Johan Venegas

“He spoke to me about his ideas for me and the club,” Venegas explained. “He let me know what they want, so I understand everything. After we spoke, I started thinking right away about the preseason and the season. The club has given me a new opportunity to start growing in MLS. It’s a big challenge for me. I want to go for all.”

One question that Venegas’ time in Montreal never seemed to answer was what his best position was. With Drogba and Piatti firmly installed in the center of the pitch, Venegas was often pushed out wide. However, he features prominently towards the center of Los Ticos‘ formations.

If it were up to Venegas?

“I have two positions: second striker is my favorite position, but I can play wide on the right. I feel better underneath the striker. I think it’s best for me. I have more space in that position. I can really play all of my soccer there.

“I want to be the player that I know I can be. That’s my mentality — to help my teammates with my experience. I want to have a good season, and I’m dreaming to win MLS Cup here in Minnesota.”

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  • Alex Schieferdecker

    Does Leslie Jones know about Calvo?

    • Jeff Rueter

      You saw the part about “future wife,” right?

  • Matt

    Really like the way Calvo talks. He and Kevin Venegas will be fun to watch with their attacking mindset from defense.

  • Brian Quarstad

    Great interview, Jeff!