Rasmus Schuller can sometimes go largely unnoticed in Minnesota United’s midfield.
When his midfield partner is flashy Brazilian Ibson, who can pull out casual spin-o-ramas and distance strikes with a shrug, it’s not surprising that Schuller’s role is a little less ostentatious.
But Schuller’s teammates could never overlook him.
“He is a beautiful human being. He has gorgeous blond hair, flowing,” goalkeeper Matt Lampson said. “Sometimes I’m distracted in games because I see him prance around, and it’s just, like, flapping perfectly in the wind.”
Lampson, who is Schuller’s roommate on road trips, missed that golden flow last weekend when Schuller was on national team duty. But the shock of blond is back with the team for Saturday’s game at TCF Bank Stadium against Atlanta United.
Schuller has played every minute of the three games he’s been available this season. In fact, he’s a game from surpassing his minute count from last year. He played only seven games with four starts before the club loaned him in August to his former club, Helsingin Jalkapalloklubi, in his native Finland.
Schuller, one of United’s three initial targeted allocation money signings, first lost his starting role from underperforming. Then hip flexor and thigh injuries kept setting back his comeback. Schuller said sporting director Manny Lagos approached him with the loan idea after the July 15 friendly against Atlas last season, and the midfielder immediately agreed that going back home would be good for him.
It was. Schuller’s team won the league and cup trophies, and he said he even earned the best player honor for the cup final match. His play also regained the attention of the Finland national team coaches, who brought him back into the rotation.
“The situation was that it didn’t look like I was going to be a starter in the team and play a lot, and I didn’t have that football rhythm in me,” Schuller said. “So it was a really good choice to go somewhere else and get minutes in and get playing again and get into that rhythm.”
Now, he said he has “a lot of self-confidence” and feels “very good being back here now.”
Midfielder Sam Cronin and Ibson seemed to be the lock as starters entering this season, but with Cronin’s ongoing concussion issues, Schuller took the job.
“It’s another partnership. It’s like two center backs or two front men. You have to learn to play off each other,” coach Adrian Heath said. “You work on the qualities of your teammate. We know Ibson wants to go and chase and get on the ball. The other guy’s responsibility is, when that happens, we have to make sure we get good spots. And Rasmus has picked up on that.”
Heath has said on multiple occasions that the Schuller of 2018 looks like the player the club thought it was signing back in 2017. Lampson said every successful team needs a player like Schuller.
“I love the effort that he puts out on the field,” Lampson said. “He’s a workhorse, covers a ton of ground and doesn’t look for any reward for it.”
Center back Michael Boxall said Schuller, who he called a fearless tackler, keeps his holding midfield position more, which allows Ibson the freedom to carry the ball forward and create chances.
“I like how his passes are to get the ball forward,’’ Boxall said. “In this league, if you have too many sideways or backwards passes, teams get their shape too quickly, and it’s tough to break down teams when they’ve got nine, 10 players behind the ball.
“And when you get him the ball, he’s always looking to play penetrating balls to players higher up the field and behind their back four, which helps us get up the park and put the pressure on the other team.”
Despite all this work, Schuller’s spot on the team isn’t necessarily secured. New addition Maximiano — another Brazilian who plays the true No. 6 defensive midfielder position — is gaining fitness. But adversity is something Schuller’s pretty familiar with overcoming.
“It’s not a coincidence and not a surprise for me that he’s doing well now. It was just a matter of time,” outside back Jerome Thiesson said. “It’s proof of big, big character what he did, did this loan, taking a little step back. That’s because he’s that smart and that much of a professional athlete.”
• A source close to the team confirmed United is about halfway through a loan deal with purchase option for 25-year-old Peruvian winger Alexi Gomez. Mainly a left back, Gomez can play on either wing or in either outside back position as well as in the central attacking midfield. Gomez most recently played for Atlas in the Mexican first division, but the club terminated his contract. Gomez would take up United’s final available international roster spot.
• Thiesson is a game-time call because of his hip injury. That was the same as last weekend when he traveled but didn’t play.
• Fellow outside back Tyrone Mears is fit enough to play after his calf pull.