Frequent contributor Jon Marthaler has written about virtually every sport in the Twin Cities, and fills in on Saturdays for the RandBall blog on StarTribune.com. He'll cover the professional soccer scene in the Twin Cities, whether at the Metrodome or at the National Sports Center.
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It's almost difficult keeping track of all of Minnesota United's injuries in the midfield - and somehow, they just keep on piling up. "We're even lighter, if we can be," said head coach Manny Lagos.
Among the long-term injured, Aaron Pitchkolan remains out with an ankle injury, suffered two weeks ago against Tampa Bay. Max Griffin still has a hamstring issue, one that has kept him out for over a month. Lucas Rodriguez has been battling through a hamstring issue of his own, and is out for tonight's game in San Antonio.
Now Bryan Arguez, who had just started establishing himself as a key player for the team in central midfield, is again injured, and did not travel to Texas. It's enough to send you to the roster with one question: who's left?
The only bit of luck for the team is that Kentaro Takada has returned from his injury problems, and played all 90 minutes in last week's 3-2 win over Tampa Bay. He and Michael Reed will almost certainly play in central midfield.
Out wide, it's a different story. Miguel Ibarra remains healthy, but has had a disappointing year so far - no goals, no assists, and just one shot on goal this year, even though he has played almost every minute of the season. On the other side, Simone Bracalello has been the team's best attacking player in 2013 - but even he is listed as "questionable" on the injury report.
If he can't play, then it's probably down to Kevin Venegas, a former winger that was converted to a fullback this year. Venegas came on at halftime for Bracalello last week, and if the Italian winger can't go, it might again fall to Venegas to fill in.
Healthy(-ier) in the back, still hurting up front
At least the United defense is getting healthier. Captain Kyle Altman "should be good to go" for tonight's game, according to Lagos. Altman suffered a concussion in training several weeks ago, and some had feared that he might be out for the remainder of the first half of the season - his last games in a Minnesota uniform.
With Connor Tobin is available as well, Cristiano Dias settling in, and Brent Kallman doing well in his first two pro games, Minnesota appears to have plenty to choose from in defense - a luxury they don't have anywhere else.
Up front, Etienne Barbara is still out with a back injury, but Pablo Campos appears to be healthy for his return to San Antonio, where he was last season's league MVP.
It's pronounced "Jayson"
One bright spot for Minnesota has been the re-appearance of forward Geison Moura, who has been in and around the Minnesota team for most of the last three years. Moura, signed on a temporary deal to shore up the squad, scored against Tampa Bay on Saturday, and was the team's liveliest player after he came on in the second half against Des Moines.
"Essentially this is his secondary business; he's really sought after as an indoor specialist," said Lagos. "He's always trained with us in the offseason, and he's been part of this team in one way or another the past couple of years."
Moura played just over four matches' worth of minutes over the past two years in the NASL, picking up one assist along the way. In indoor, though, he was the 2012 MVP of the Major Indoor Soccer League with Missouri, and scored 17 goals last season for Wichita in just 14 games.
"That type of player, and that transition to sign him, was a no-brainer when we needed some players on the roster," said Lagos. "He took a little bit of the spring off to get married, and then came back. I think Geison and I have a really good relationship, and we discussed where he was at mentally and whether he could help out - and I think right now, he’s really excited to be part of the team."
A burgeoning rivalry?
San Antonio coach Tim Hankinson called Minnesota his team's "greatest rival" on Twitter this week, and it's true that the teams do have a history. Lagos, however, was not willing to go as far with the rivalry talk. "I’m not very good at saying those things," he said. "I will say this: all of those games have been great games, very competitive - honest, hard soccer that has produced a lot of excitement. It’s got the pieces in place to become a great rivalry."
The Scorpions have only been in the league for one season, but San Antonio and Minnesota played six times last year - including twice in the playoffs. The second of those playoff games produced one of the more famous moments in Minnesota's short NASL history, as Campos - now with Minnesota - headbutted Altman, earning himself a red card and providing the advantage Minnesota needed to upset the league's best team, 2-1.
Tonight's game in San Antonio kicks off at 7:30pm. You can watch all the action from your computer, at nasl.com or mnunitedfc.com. If you're in a social mood, the Dark Clouds - the team's die-hard fanbase - will be watching at the Nomad World Pub in Minneapolis.
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