With several top players hurting, Loons coach keeps looking for spark

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Jerry Zgoda, Star Tribune
·3 min read
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Three games into their 34-game season, Minnesota United remains MLS' only team that hasn't yet earned a point while getting outscored 7-1.

Star midfielder Emanuel Reynoso has a hurting calf muscle, but not a single assist to start this season after he set a MLS Cup playoff record for them with seven in three games to end the last season.

He has been smothered at times by opposing defenses and slowed in Saturday's 1-0 loss to expansion Austin F.C. Afterward, Loons coach Adrian Heath said Reynoso has been "struggling again" with a "tight" calf with which he struggled in training last week.

"All that showed again today," Heath said.

Reynoso played into Saturday's 58th minute before he was substituted out, limping off the field. Former Boca Juniors teammate Ramon Abila came off with him after an unremarkable first MLS start.

"It was difficult for him," Heath said, referring to Abila. "We didn't give him an awful lot in the box. We didn't have enough sustained attacks. He'll be better for having some minutes."

Reynoso and Abila connected beautifully for the Loons' best scoring chance on a night when Austin F.C's Diego Fagundez's goal in the 17th minute stood all night as the deciding one.

Reynoso spun while controlling the ball in traffic, slipped it through a defender's legs and rolled a short pass to Abila, whose back-heel touch sent it right back to Reynoso.

But his dominant left-footed strike from inside the 18-yard box hit the left post squarely and bounded away.

It wasn't much space in which to work, but it was enough for a playmaker against whom opponents are plotting.

"When you're as creative a player as he is, it's knowing the other teams are scouting," Loons midfielder Hassani Dotson said. "That's pretty normal."

Heath afterward lamented the absence of injured defender Bakaye Dibassy for the third consecutive game to start the season and injured midfielder Robin Lod, who didn't play Saturday because of a chest injury.

He called his team "passive" and unsure.

"It's pretty evident we've got a few people not playing with a lot of confidence at the moment," Heath said. "At this moment in time, we're certainly not what we have been or what we'd like to be."

Heath is looking for more, even for those not fully fit.

"When you're playing with your best players not 100 percent, you need them to give you that little bit of quality, that little bit of spark," Heath said.

In Saturday's game, he turned to rookies Justin McMaster and Patrick Weah looking for some spark in the second half — and nearly got the equalizer on Weah's header from close range that Austin keeper Brad Stuver stopped late in the game.

"I said last week we don't do enough going forward," Heath said. "Overall, I'm disappointed we're certainly not playing with the same energy we did last year. We have to address that."

Starters' shuffleHeath shuffled his starters and subs Saturday both out of necessity and instinct. He started veteran and captain Ozzie Alonso alongside Wil Trapp in a defensive midfield that often included Dotson dropping down to join them in a three-man unit. Heath brought usual starter Jan Gregus into the game as a second-half sub.

"Well, that's the job the manager has to do," Heath said. "I have to pick the team that wants to win the game. I thought Ozzie's experience would give us a little bit more in there. I actually thought Hassani was outstanding. I thought he was the best player on the field, to be honest.

"It has not been a great night and we have to regroup, which we will do next week and work hard and, hopefully, go and turn it around in Colorado [on Saturday]."