Souhan: Reynoso, in more ways than one, leading the Loons’ surge

·4 min read

His deflected free kick had tied the score minutes earlier, and now Emanuel Reynoso was taking a pass from defender Alan Benitez along the right sideline as two Houston Dynamo players crowded in.

He's used to it. As Minnesota United's best and most exciting player, Reynoso has grown accustomed to opponents trying to impose claustrophobia, to remove time and space, to encourage him to discard the ball like a fugitive discarding an incriminating piece of evidence.

That doesn't always work out as well as his opponents would like.

Minnesota and Houston were tied, 1-1, after Reynoso's free kick was deflected into the Houston net by a Dynamo defender in the 79th minute. Five minutes later, Reynoso was receiving the star treatment along the sideline, and he did what an unselfish star should do, nudging one of his patented soft, deft passes back to Benitez.

Benitez's defender had left him for Reynoso, so now Benitez was as alone as you can be near an opponent's goal. He found a wide-open Luis Amarilla in front of the net, Amarilla scored easily, and Minnesota was en route to a 2-1 victory, a record of 8-2-1 over its past 11 games, and third place in the Western Conference.

These are heady days for the franchise, in part because Reynoso has added goal scoring to his play-making. Encouraged by United coach Adrian Heath to shoot more often this season, Reynoso has scored 11 goals, tied for the second-most in franchise history. He needs three more in the remaining seven games to tie the franchise record.

More important, Reynoso scoring could make the Loons a dangerous team in the postseason.

Dangerous was not the proper description of the Loons in the first half against an inferior opponent on Saturday at Allianz Field. Reynoso often looked more interested in body blocks than touch passes. He received a yellow card as United fell behind 1-0 at the half.

"I thought there were moments of proper Rey,'' Heath said, while allowing that no one on his team played all that well early.

Proper Rey showed up just in time.

"I've said it since he came here,'' Heath said. "In terms of talent, there's nobody as good as him in the league … I've said all along, if we're going to do anything between now and the end of the season, and maybe in the postseason, he's going to be a really important piece for us.''

So many Minnesota teams can offer artistry these days, in the form of Luis Arraez's bat, Justin Jefferson's fingertips, Sylvia Fowles' power, Kirill Kaprizov's hands, Anthony Edwards' buoyancy, Mo Ibrahim's wiggle and Reynoso's sudden, soft, feet.

Great passers are too often credited with seeing the chess board. That's not quite right. In chess, the pieces don't all move at once.

In team sports, great passing is more like short-term time travel. Wayne Gretzky, Joe Montana, Magic Johnson reacted to what was about to happen, not what was. That's what Reynoso does.

No matter how many goals he scores, Reynoso's artistry will be in the deft touch pass, sometimes with the outside of his foot, that looks innocuous until the ball skips past defenders and into open space where only his teammate can reach it. To pass better than Reynoso, you'd need to use your thumbs.

"We know his qualities,'' Loons midfielder Wil Trapp said. "Top two in the league. When he's clicking and doing the things that we know he's capable of doing, it changes everything for us, and it also makes the opponent so much more worried about what we can do, and that opens up space for …''

Trapp listed half the roster. "That makes us a more dangerous team,'' he said.

"I said at the beginning of last season and definitely by the end of the season that he can be the best player in the league,'' defender Michael Boxall said. "But no one player can win a game by themselves. They need teammates around them to help them a bit …

"For me, I don't think there's another player in this league that I would take over him.''