MLS does Loons — and their fans — no favors by scheduling matches during international window
Seven key Loons players are on national team duties and will miss Saturday’s match against Vancouver
Minnesota United will try to make the most of it.
Seven key Loons players are on national team duties and will miss Saturday’s home match against Vancouver. The list of absences grows to eight with All-Star midfielder Emanuel Reynoso’s holdout dragging into a fourth straight game.
MNUFC has always embraced having players represent their countries, from the biggest stage at the World Cup on down to friendly matches. But in previous seasons, the Loons and other clubs would share preferences with MLS on whether they wanted to play during FIFA international windows or have those matches moved to weekdays at other points of the season. Minnesota opted for heavier schedules outside FIFA windows, and that at times had been granted.
That wasn’t an option this season with MLS taking a mid-summer break to play the new Leagues Cup with teams from Mexico’s Liga MX and still have time for its 34-match regular season. During the current international window, roughly 90 MLS players have been called up to their national team, including three from Vancouver (0-2-2, 2 points).
So, the show must go on for MLS and Minnesota, even without instrumental attacker Robin Lod, top goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair, veteran center back Michael Boxall, key central midfielder Kervin Arriaga, hustling winger Bongi Hlongwane, No. 1 left back Kemar Lawrence and helpful midfielder Joseph Rosales.
“There is no excuse,” manager Adrian Heath said Tuesday. “I will not make an excuse that we have seven players away this weekend.”
But Heath understands how supporters at Allianz Field and those watching on Apple TV might feel let down.
“When people pay the money, you want to put the best product on the field that you can do,” Heath said. “This weekend, unfortunately, that’s not going to be the case.”
The Loons’ makeshift starting lineup will count on remaining starters, playmaking midfielder Franco Fragapane and standout defender Micky Tapias, while giving new opportunities to players such as young new winger Cameron Dunbar.
Heath pointed to how St. Clair got his opportunity to win back the starting spot after Tyler Miller fell ill with food poisoning in Week 3 last season. St. Clair stepped in and went on to become an MLS All-Star and member of Canada’s team in the FIFA World Cup.
“Everyone is ready to go whenever called upon,” Dunbar said Friday. “That is what makes a good team, if everyone is bought in and wants to do the work and wants to give their all.”
It will be another chance for restricted Designated Players Luis Amarilla and Mender Garcia to live up to their top-line roster slots. Each have scored one goal this season, but Heath didn’t like what he saw in Garcia in the first half of the 2-1 win over Colorado last Saturday and subbed in Amarilla at halftime.
Minnesota (2-0-1, 7 points) is fortunate to not have any significant injuries on top of the international absences. In Colorado last weekend, Heath rested Wil Trapp and built up Hassani Dotson with his first start since ACL surgery last April. They figure to be in the middle of the park come Saturday night.
Heath said the strain on the roster might result in a formation change versus the Whitecaps, while also trying to keep players in their best positions. It also means that players who regularly find themselves outside of the 20-player game-day team sheet will be elevated to the bench.
New signing Sang Bin Jeong does not yet have his work visa, so the South Korean is ineligible to play Saturday. The plan is for him to travel to Canada to obtain it Monday, and if that goes well, he will be in line to make his Loons debut against St. Louis City on April 1.
The Loons will not play during the next three FIFA windows this season (June 12-20, Sept. 4-12, Oct. 9-17). But MNUFC will likely still lose players outside those windows for confederation cups such as the CONCACAF Gold Cup in June and July.
Heath wants to see MLS change its policy of playing through international windows.
“I think as the league grows and the quality of player that we are bringing in starts to get better and the money that we are spending now, then we have to look at what everybody else in the world does,” Heath said. “And maybe (move) some fixtures and put them in the midweek throughout the rest of the year.”
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