When Minnesota United players began their new season with fitness testing, Finnish midfielder Robin Lod measured second only to rookie Noah Billingsley.
United coach Adrian Heath hopes it’s an indication for Lod’s first full MLS season, one in which he will also play for Finland in the European championships this summer.
“I just think he will be in better physical condition to play the way he can play,” Heath said.
United invested big targeted-allocation money last July to obtain Lod from Spain’s second division. It lured him to MLS with $952,496 in guaranteed-compensation salary, which was second only on the team to star Darwin Quintero’s $1.75 million.
At the time, Heath called Lod a left-footed possession player custom made for MLS; he can score goals and create them from multiple midfield positions, and at varying speeds both out wide and through the middle. And do it all in the prime of his career at age 26.
Lod played 10 MLS games after he arrived in the middle of his European offseason. He started in six of them and played 583 minutes. He didn’t score a goal or register an assist and was anything but the impactful player Heath projected.
United supporters noticed, particularly Lod’s missed chance with his off-foot that sailed high over an open goal in the 22nd minute of a scoreless first-round home playoff game against the L.A. Galaxy. The Loons went on to lose 2-1.
“Yeah, thanks for reminding for me,” he said.
That was then.
Now Lod is back, with a winter of training and rest behind him and a taste of the new league and new life that await. He is wearing a new number — 17 instead of 16 — in what he calls a “proper” preseason.
“It was a bit of everything,” Lod said of last season. “There were a lot of changes: moving to a different country, coming in the middle of a season to a new league. There were a lot of small things coming together. It was difficult for me. It was hard.”
He has looked fit and sharp in early training. On Saturday, he played a ball back for a Kevin Molino goal that Heath called “top class” in United’s 5-0 preseason-opening victory over Florida International University.
Or as Heath calls it, “He has come back in great nick. The best of Robin Lod is ahead of him.”
Heath, after placing his faith in Lod with such a financial commitment last summer, remains convinced about Lod’s skill and talent.
“I’ve got an awful lot of time for Robin,” Heath said. “I know one or two people were disappointed with one or two things last year. But trust me, it’s not easy getting off the bench when you’re on your end-of-season holidays, and suddenly you’re playing on a team that’s going for the playoffs. He’ll be a lot better for his break.”
United also traded for midfielders Marlon Hairston and Jacori Hayes, and signed James Musa, all to provide depth when several returning United players — Americans and internationals both — could be called for extended national team duty this summer.
One of them will be Lod, who started for Finland last fall when it qualified for a major tournament — either the European championships or World Cup — for the first time in 112 years.
“He’s got an incredibly big year coming up with the Euros around the corner,” Heath said. “He’s a quality, quality footballer. We know that. Now he knows what’s coming. He’s had a good offseason, and he’s in really good shape. I expect big things from his this year.”
That season starts with his improved fitness in a new league he’s learning and a new country. His wife and young daughter will join him before the March 1 opener at Portland.
“The Euros are starting this summer, but it’s not on my mind right now,” Lod said. “It is going to be a big season, the first season in MLS where I can have a good preseason and have a full season. I’m really looking forward to it.
“I want to be effective. I want to score goals and make some assists, like I didn’t do last season. I really want to be a progressive player going forward.”