Minnesota United defender Chase Gasper has faced individual challenges during a rookie season in which he started 12 of the past 13 MLS and U.S. Open Cup games.
Saturday’s assignment to shadow Orlando City star Nani was different.
Nani’s acclaimed 15-year career has taken him from Sporting CP at home in Portugal to Manchester United where he played alongside countryman Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney before he joined teams in Turkey, Spain, Italy and then returned to Sporting CP. In February, Orlando signed him at age 32 to a designated-player contract.
It was those nine seasons in Manchester that impressed Gasper when he was growing up in suburban Washington, D.C., and watched from afar as his favorite team won four Premier League titles while Nani played there.
“I grew up idolizing him,” Gasper said. “Lisbon, Manchester United, he’s one of the best wingers, one of the best Portuguese wingers ever. I watched Manchester United when he was one of their star wingers. Speed, skill, flair, goal-scoring ability, goal-creating ability, he had it all. He still has it.”
Saturday Nani scored in the 70th minute on a penalty kick for Orlando City in a 1-1 tie with the Loons.
United coach Adrian Heath called Nani an opponent with “extreme talent” who can’t be allowed time or space to work and whose ability to play the ball in the air shouldn’t be underestimated.
“I used to study this guy and worship him and now I’m going to mark him,” Gasper said before the game. “I’m definitely going to get some chills. I’m going to have to pinch myself before the game. Stay calm, don’t get overtaken by the moment. Keep doing what I’ve been doing the last 12, 13 games now. He’s definitely a guy you have to watch out for. He can create anything out of nothing.”
United captain and veteran midfielder Ozzie Alonso didn’t play because of what the team listed as a leg injury unrelated to his sore shoulder.
He was replaced by rookie Hassani Dotson, who has played multiple positions this season.
Veteran midfielder Ethan Finlay also returned to the first 11 while Robin Lod moved to a sub’s role.
• Sub Abu Danladi received an early call to action when Angelo Rodriguez came up clutching his right hamstring on a run with the ball in the 27th minute. “As a soccer player, you train to prepare your mind that anything can happen,” he said. “I was just like, ‘Make sure you don’t forget your shin pads.’ ”
• His U.S. immigration paperwork complete, United’s newly signed Young Designated Player Thomas Chacon is due to arrive in Minnesota on Sunday from Uruguay. The team announced at halftime that he’s arriving at 11 a.m. at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport Terminal 1.
• Striker Mason Toye on Saturday served the second game of his two-game suspension for spitting on a FC Dallas player last week.