Minnesota United’s Adrian Heath often mentioned his team’s “quality in the final third” during four seasons as head coach.
Or more often than not, its lack thereof.
It is jargon for that rare talent to finish plays and score goals deep in opponent territory, something Heath knew a bit about during his playing days with Everton in England’s first division.
It also is something his Loons didn’t possess much until Argentine attacking midfielder Emanuel Reynoso arrived in September on a club-record $5 million transfer fee and joined veteran Kevin Molino and 2019 signee Robin Lod.
Last season, the Loons transformed themselves from expansion team that didn’t sniff the playoffs to postseason-bound by upgrading their defense along its spine from goalkeeper to midfield.
They also scored just 11 goals in their final 11 games, including a 2-1 loss to L.A. Galaxy in a first-round home playoff game.
This season, the Loons beat FC Dallas in the regular-season finale and Colorado on Sunday in a first-round playoff game, 3-0 each.
Add it up and they have scored 18 goals in their past 11 games heading into Wednesday’s Western Conference semifinal at Sporting Kansas City. Heath praised his attackers’ imagination and combination play on Sunday for an attack that could have, should have scored more than three goals. Central midfielder Jan Gregus calls it “the boys are on fire now” and praised Reynoso’s play in the “holes” where he creates space and scoring chances.
“Conceivably, we could have had six or seven goals with the chances we had,” Heath said. “I think Kevin could have had four or five on his own.”
Molino scored two goals each in those past two games and six in those 11 games. Lod scored a goal in three of the past four games, five in the past 11 and assisted on all three goals against FC Dallas on Decision Day.
Reynoso has seven assists in the past seven games, including on all three goals against Colorado. He scored his first MLS goal against Dallas and should have had his second against Colorado had not a wide-open shot hit the post.
“I’m being perfectly honest: If Robin Lod, Reynoso and Molino are fit and healthy and playing well, I don’t think there’s many better attacking midfielders behind a striker in the league than them,” Heath said. “I really don’t.”
Reynoso has changed everything with his presence, his vision and his instinctive passing since his transfer from Boca Juniors in Argentina’s top division.
“This kid is quality,” Molino said in an ESPN postgame interview Sunday. “His awareness on the field is fantastic, and I just want to continue working with him for the rest of the season and see where it takes us.”
Molino, Reynoso and Lod played together in a front four with Ethan Finlay the past two games, with Lod playing a “false” striker in a lineup that lacked a true one. He played ahead of the other three and with his bending left-footed strikes showed the same kind of chemistry Molino found almost immediately with Reynoso.
“I knew what Robin was,” Heath said. “I might have been on my own at times. I might have been a voice in the wilderness, but there you go. I wouldn’t change Robin for anybody in this league, in his position. And Kevin, we know what Kevin is all about. As I said, we’ve got three of the best attacking players in the league. I really believe that.”
Heath knew what he was getting, too, when his club negotiated from January to August before it reached a deal to acquire Reynoso. But he might have gotten more than he expected.
“Reynoso is massive for us,” Loons veteran defender Michael Boxall said. “In previous years, we have gotten a fair amount of our goals from counterattacking. Now with Rey, he gives the ball when players need it, right on time and right on pace to their foot. He is able to carry our load in the final third, where we can get set and put pressure on teams. … It’s fun to watch when those guys are really clicking.”