A key theme of this Minnesota United season has been the constant presence of young players around the first team. Fans have seen eight players make their MLS debuts this year, all new acquisitions or players from MNUFC2, the second team.

The only issue: Many of those players have yet to make their mark, meaning that the Loons — losers of four straight games, heading into Wednesday night's home game against Vancouver — still have significant depth problems during their biggest roster crunch of the year.

Dayne St. Clair, Tani Oluwaseyi, Carlos Harvey, and Alejandro Bran are still away at Copa América. Teemu Pukki is still injured, and the club announced Tuesday that backup goalkeeper Clint Irwin and midfield stalwart Wil Trapp will both be out for weeks with injuries, as well.

And so on Wednesday, Minnesota will be without its top two goalkeepers, its top two center-forwards, and three of its top five central midfielders — not to mention the two center-backs whom it sold to other clubs.

In other words, the Loons are trying to replace the entire spine of the team, on the fly. "That 'What can go wrong, will go wrong' type situation is playing out to its fullest," said manager Eric Ramsay.

Some of the potential young replacements are having their own bad luck. Central defender Hugo Bacharach, the ninth pick in last winter's draft, tore his meniscus after playing one game for the first team and hasn't played since.

For others, though, opportunities have been available, and they have yet to take advantage. For example, the absence of Pukki and Oluwaseyi at center-forward should open the door for Jordan Adebayo-Smith and Patrick Weah, both of who have played that role in stints with MNUFC2 this season.

Instead, their opportunities have dried up; Weah and Adebayo-Smith have combined for three appearances, totaling 20 minutes, over the past three games.

Ramsay was quick to defend the pair but did note that their skill sets don't really line up with the way the team is playing right now.

"I think we have struggled over the course of this period without Teemu and Tani to sustain attacks," he said. "The ball turns over very quickly in the final third. … We're playing with players that are very direct.

"They want to attack the space in behind; they're not players that are going to link up, hold up, allow you to move up the pitch a bit more slowly, a bit more together. I think both Jordan and Pat would fall into that bracket. They both have had good moments."

They aren't the only young players who have yet to break through, though. Center-back Victor Eriksson, signed from Sweden in the offseason to a multi-year contract, struggled so badly that he was one of the center-backs Minnesota sold. Midfielder Moses Nyeman has failed to impress in his appearances — and also got sent off and thus suspended, right when Minnesota needed him most.

You certainly couldn't say that the coaching staff has a bias against young players. Devin Padelford has made 13 starts this season after mostly playing with the second team for the past two years. Oluwaseyi, meanwhile, has been one of the breakout starts for the Loons, one year after going on loan to the USL Championship.

"There have been young players that have broken through this year in Devin and Tani, who would have been right toward the top of the second team group last year," Ramsay said. "I'm really happy with how the academy has been able to support the group, but I think it's unrealistic to say that now we're going to find another three starters that are going to go and do what Devin and Tani have done.

"That would be very tough for any club, I would say, let alone a club that is really trying to move its academy forward and is probably a couple of years behind where it where it would want to be."

In other words, building roster depth is a long-term process — but it's one that the Loons badly needed to accelerate. The Loons still have more than two weeks (and four games) to go until the league transfer window opens again, on July 18, so no reinforcements are imminent. For now, it's up to some young players to figure things out, and fast — or Minnesota's season will continue to spiral.