Minnesota United FC preseason begins in ten days.
It’s hard to believe, for a number of reasons. For one, it’s below zero outside, and it’s hard to think about summer and grass and all of those American fútbol things in the bleak midwinter. For another, the Loons are pretty short on players; so far this offseason, they’ve declined a lot of contract options, lost free agents Ethan Finlay and Ozzie Alonso, and picked up a third-string keeper with one MLS game to his name.
Even so, there’s only eight weeks - eight weeks! - until MNUFC opens the season in Philadelphia. And while there is much still up in the air with this team, there is one extremely key thing up in the air: what is going on with playmaker Emanuel Reynoso?
In early December, Reynoso was accused of pistol-whipping a teenager in his native Argentina. He spent nine days in jail before being allowed to post bail. He’s since requested to be allowed to leave Argentina for MNUFC preseason, but as of late December, was still in his native country.
MNUFC has made no statement beyond “we are taking this matter seriously.” They are letting the process, such as it is, play out; until the authorities in Argentina make their findings, we’re all just waiting, apparently Reynoso included.
Last August, there was a minor kerfuffle among MNUFC fans when Finlay, on Michael Rand’s “Daily Delivery” podcast for the Star Tribune, said that he wasn’t sure what the team’s identity was beyond getting the ball to Reynoso and letting him do his thing.
Left unsaid was the truth, which is that “getting the ball to Reynoso and letting him do his thing” was not a terrible identity. No less an authority than MLSSoccer.com’s Matt Doyle called Reynoso “a genius No. 10” and “maybe my favorite player in the league.”
With Reynoso, the offensive plan is to find three willing runners that can finish to surround him on offense, and six competent defense-first players to cover for a front four that’s constantly on the other end of the field (and, let’s be honest, not exactly tracking back). Fans can fill in those names pretty easily because, for much of the last two years, that’s exactly what we’ve seen.
Without Reynoso, though, the plan becomes - what? When they were missing him last year, especially in the second half of the season, things did not go well:
- at DC United: The Loons came out in a 5-2-3, with the intention of defending with seven and letting the front three play three-on-three as DC pushed up. Minnesota seemed to lose every 50-50 ball and only scored off a set piece; it was a total beatdown, 3-1 that didn’t feel near that close.
- at Sporting KC: This was the “maybe Adrien Hunou can work as a second striker, while Fanendo Adi is a target man” attempt. The Loons were also missing Hassani Dotson and Chase Gasper, they kept making crazy mistakes with the ball, and they got beat 4-0.
- at Seattle: This was probably the most straightforward game Minnesota played without Reynoso, as they simply inserted Hassani Dotson into central midfield and left everything else alone. The Loons lost 1-0 but had their chances, and could have earned a point.
- at Houston: The Loons won this one, 2-1. Taking anything away from that is difficult because it was Houston’s 15th consecutive game without a win, and they felt bad enough about it to fire their GM afterwards.
The Loons do not have a Plan A and a Plan B, based on Reynoso’s availability. Reynoso is Plan A, but beyond that, I’m not sure you can even say they’re back to the drawing board; it’s more like “Well, we should really think about getting a board for drawing on.”
With him, they keep it simple, get the ball to him, and let him do his thing. Without him, they either try Dotson as a half-replacement, or have to come up with an entirely different way of playing.
Ten days to go until preseason.