Back from injury and back from El Paso, Loons defender Brent Kallman made his first MLS start since September 2019 in a return last Wednesday that coach Adrian Heath called both “excellent” and “terrific.”
That was welcome news for Minnesota United, which had Sunday’s match at Sporting Kansas City canceled because of positive COVID-19 tests. The game Wednesday against Chicago at Allianz Field is set to be played as scheduled.
Nobody has more history with the franchise than Kallman, the Woodbury-raised center back who spent his entire pro career with it dating to its NASL years in 2013. He signed an MLS contract in 2017 three days before Kevin Molino arrived.
The club loaned Kallman to the El Paso Locomotive FC in the USL Championship in mid-August on his way back from a 10-game league suspension that ended last season and started this one, from hip surgery last fall, and then an issue with a hamstring he injured and reinjured after the coronavirus pandemic shut down training for more than two months.
The Loons’ signing of French center-back Bakaye Dibassy pushed him one more slot down the depth chart as well.
The Loons recalled Kallman in late September when their own injuries mounted and not long before a player, then another and another tested positive for COVID-19.
He played his first MLS games this season as a very late-game defensive substitution in a 1-0 stoppage-time victory at FC Cincinnati and then played all 90-plus minutes in a 2-1 home victory over Colorado, both late last month. His team has home games Wednesday against Chicago and Sunday against FC Dallas before their playoffs begin.
“It has been a crazy year for the world in general,” Kallman said. “I mean, a lot of stuff has been going on. For me personally, it definitely wasn’t a good thing because I’m coming back from the suspension and I had the hip surgery that I put off for years.”
Kallman, 30, called himself “in the best shape I think I’ve ever been in my life” and “feeling as good as I’ve had since I was 22, 23” in preseason training last winter after his hip was fixed. But the pandemic pause and then that hamstring injury came.
“I was just playing catch-up,” he said. “I was so far behind.”
Kallman credits his loan to El Paso for finding his fitness and the way back to a Loons team for which he has started 60 of his 65 career MLS games.
“When they said they wanted to loan me to El Paso, I was fully on board,” Kallman said. “I needed it. I need to play games. I needed to get my fitness back and my form back. Things went really well for me down there. I came into a great environment and they helped me get my form again and then I got recalled.”
Starting left back Chase Gasper’s absence for last week’s Colorado game moved Dibassy from center back to Gasper’s starting spot. Veteran Jose Aja’s absence, after he tested positive for coronavirus, moved Kallman into Dibassy’s spot at center back next to veteran Michael Boxall.
Heath said it took Kallman and Dibassy about 15 minutes during the Colorado game before each found his way.
“We were pleased with him,” Heath said. “It has been a really strange year for Brent for a lot of reasons. For him to come in his first start, an important game and do well … Brent was excellent.”
Heath called Kallman's preseason training form last winter "playing as well as anybody" while he served that suspension after he tested positive for a performance-enhancing substance. Heath called Kallman's recent return from El Paso "timely for us."
“It’s important that he came back and hit the ground running, which is what he has done,” Heath said. “I think he’ll be big for us the next few weeks.”