Just when Minnesota United FC finally strung a few passes together, a slide tackle of personnel problems is on its way to take out the Loons.
To use a soccer analogy, that is.
When United (0-2-1) takes on the New England Revolution (0-2) on Saturday in Foxborough, Mass., it will be without 10 players because of a combination of injuries, national team duty and a suspension. That leaves the Loons one person short of a full, 18-man match-day squad.
The loss of four of them, all starters, owes in part to the team’s schedule having to mesh with terms of its contract with the University of Minnesota to use TCF Bank Stadium for its home games.
“We knew a few weeks ago this was coming around. How it’s come to this, don’t get me going on that one,” United coach Adrian Heath said. “But hey, it is what it is.”
The team had been expecting to lose defender Francisco Calvo (Costa Rica) and midfielders Johan Venegas (Costa Rica), Rasmus Schuller (Finland) and Kevin Molino (Trinidad and Tobago), all starters, to their national teams’ World Cup qualifiers. While many other leagues around the world suspend play on these international competition dates, Major League Soccer gives teams the choice to play during the four windows occurring in the regular season.
Of the dates in March, June, August/September and October, there will be 13 matches involving 15 of the league’s 22 clubs. United plays on two dates in those windows — Saturday and a home match against Sporting Kansas City on Oct. 7. Two teams, the New York Red Bulls and FC Dallas, play on three.
MLS usually breaks for another window of international play that hits during the playoffs in November, a league spokeswoman confirmed. The league also instituted its own break in July for the CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament.
While United could have opted out of playing on these dates, its contract for using TCF Bank Stadium for 17 home matches this season likely made that problematic. The contract with the University of Minnesota prevents the Loons from using the stadium on weekdays during the spring and fall semesters or on the same weekends as home Gophers football games.
“It was more to do with that sort of stuff, which is pretty frustrating,” Heath said. “I’ll leave it at that.”
Harder to avoid were injuries to goalkeepers John Alvbage and Patrick McLain, defenders Joe Greenspan and Thomas de Villardi and midfielder Bernardo Anor. Defender Justin Davis’ red card suspension was possibly proof that bad karma is a real and powerful force.
If there is an upside to all of these missing pieces, Heath has found it.
“Some of these guys have been knocking on my door asking why they’re not playing. Well, have a guess what? As I kept saying to them, your chance is going to come,” the coach said. “Although we’re missing four or five people who might have played, I’m really confident that this group can go in and give a really good account of themselves Saturday. So I’m quite looking forward to it.”
One player looking to solidify a spot in the starting lineup is midfielder Ibson. The Brazilian replaced Schuller at halftime in the Colorado match and spurred the team’s offense to score two goals before anchoring its 10-man defensive effort to preserve the 2-2 draw and United’s first MLS point.
“It’s an opportunity for the other players,” Ibson said in Spanish through a translator. “We just came back from a good result. So now come out and work our butts off, and we should be fine.”