Minnesota United held a press conference with manager Adrian Heath on Tuesday, so we got a few details about what’s going on with the club, eleven days before the Loons kick off their season in Dallas.
The big topic was the continued absence of Emanuel Reynoso, who was officially suspended by the team and the league last Friday. It represented a new chapter in the team’s relationship with its perennial MVP - a sign that, while the Loons are still hoping for Rey’s return, for the moment they are moving on without him.
“Obviously it’s a distraction that we could have done without,” said Heath. “I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t concern me and I’m not disappointed, but it is what it is.”
Heath also noted that, even if and when Rey does return, the team may still be without his services for a significant amount of time. “I’m not quite sure what type of condition he’s going to be in,” said Heath. “Is he working out down there? These are all open-ended questions.”
Minnesota’s Head of Sport Science, Sean Buckley, appeared on the team’s Sound of the Loons podcast a few weeks ago, and noted that the team has offseason plans for every player, and can see whether those players are logging in and checking off their exercises during the offseason - so it can be safely assumed that Reynoso has not been taking care of that plan, at least.
All of that said, Heath was clearly planning ahead for what the team might do in Reynoso’s absence. “Players are pretty resilient people, they understand that this is an opportunity for someone else in the team,” he said. “This is an opportunity for us to look at one or two different formations. This is an opportunity for us to see if we can tweak the system a little bit for the players we’ve got.”
Minnesota played a 4-3-3 in their friendly last Saturday against New York, with Wil Trapp as a defensive midfielder, Kervin Arriaga and Robin Lod as attacking midfielders, and a front three of Franco Fragapane, Luis Amarilla, and Bongokuhle Hlongwane. Heath also noted the possibility of the team playing with two forwards, whether that be Lod and Amarilla, or a combination involving Ménder García.
While Garcia’s six starts were split last year between striker, left wing, and right wing, Heath said that he sees the 24-year-old as a center forward. “I think he can play in the wide areas, but he’s going to develop into a number nine, playing on the back shoulder, playing on the last man,” he said.
The manager was also adamant that he’s still looking for attacking reinforcements, as well - from outside MLS. “There are players that we are actively talking to,” he said. “I’ll be really disappointed if we don’t add to the group by the time comes for the transfer deadline.”
For the moment, though, Heath is trying to look at February 25th. “As I said to the group, as much as Rey’s an integral part of everything that we’ve done over the last few years, the bottom line is that we have a game in a couple of weeks’ time” he said. “We have to make sure that we’re mentally and physically prepared for that game. At this moment in time, he’s not here, so let’s concentrate on the players that are here.”
Honduran midfielders Kervin Arriaga and Joseph Rosales were both back in Honduras on Tuesday, attempting to get their green cards as permanent United States residents. This would allow Minnesota to count them as domestic players, instead of them taking up the team’s limited international spots. While I couldn’t confirm that the club still has their initial allotment of eight international places, it’s worthy of note that the team’s online roster currently has ten international players listed, not including center back Miguel Tapias, who would also count for a spot - so it’s likely that Minnesota needs to get green cards for anyone they can. Heath also mentioned that Luis Amarilla was attempting to get his permanent residency, as well - and at least hinted that the team might need to open international spots in order to make new attacking signings.
Tapias does not yet have his U.S. work visa, but the club was hoping that the paperwork would come through Tuesday or Wednesday - and that if it did, he would play in the team’s friendly, his first official appearance in a MNUFC jersey.
Heath planned to play a split squad in Wednesday’s friendly against San Jose, with most of the team’s young players getting a chance for some minutes, and then aim for a first-team lineup on Saturday. “I would like to get as close as possible to the Dallas lineup in the Vancouver game,” he said. “Certainly we will be picking the team for the Vancouver game with the following week in mind.”
DJ Taylor is dealing with a lingering injury and may not be ready for Opening Day. Taylor, who made 23 starts at right back last season, was set for “a few minutes” in Wednesday’s friendly against San Jose. Veteran Zarek Valentin started at right back against New York in last Saturday’s friendly, and may yet be the starter in week one.
Left back Kemar Lawrence sustained his own injury against New York, but Heath said that it appeared that he would come through with no ill effects.
Left back Ryen Jiba and center back Doneil Henry have minor injuries, and did not travel with the team.
You’ll note that if every defender on the team is going to get hurt at once, it’s going to leave the team’s depth looking a little thin. Right now, the only defenders that are definitely not injured and definitely have their work visas are Devin Padelford, Michael Boxall, Brent Kallman, Zarek Valentin, and Alan Benítez.