While fellow countryman Emanuel Reynoso remains absent and home in Argentina, Minnesota United teammate Franco Fragapane plays on in his third MLS season.
He has remained at his left-wing attacking spot with Reynoso gone all season thus far, but he has filled Reynoso's role as a corner kick and other set piece taker without a hitch.
The Loons often have been at their most dangerous when Fragapane is on top of his game since he arrived in Minnesota and MLS in June 2021. He hasn't always been so because of injury and an adjustment period to a new league and new language for both him and his family.
But at those times when he has elevated his game, his team has elevated its own as well.
"If you can get people who can make a goal and score a goal, they become invaluable, especially when the games are tight," Loons coach Adrian Heath said. "That's when the special players come and bring their game. That's when they make the difference."
Fragapane has been a difference-maker, even in last weekend's game when Heath designated him a second-half sub so he'd be fresh for Saturday's home game against Vancouver. Eight regulars will be missing, seven of them gone to international duty, and Reynoso is still away because of what the team has only called personal matters.
This season, Fragapane has been the pulse for his team's offensive attack, answering questions for now whether his team can score and win without their two-time All Star and MVP candidate.
Fragapane has contributed to all but one of the Loons' goals during a 2-0-1 start in which they have a 4-2 goal differential. His sizzling left-footed volley created Mender Garcia's rebound goal in the 48th minute of a 1-0 season-opening victory at FC Dallas. He served up a set-piece kick converted by Bongokuhle Hlongwane in a home-opening 1-1 draw with New York Red Bulls.
In last Saturday's 2-1 comeback victory, newly acquired center back Miguel Tapias' flicked-on header off Fragapane's 25-yard free kick in the 82nd minute stood as the winner.
Fragapane said he has not felt any burden to do some — or a lot — of what Reynoso did for his team.
"Everyone has the responsibility," he said in Spanish through a team interpreter. "This is a group. I think the team will be good. … We're working hard. It's a good group, very united. We all have the urge. We all want to win and it's showing on the field."
Fragapane has previous experience with dead-ball kicks from his Talleres club in Argentina.
"I took the free kicks on the team I was with before," he said. "Now that Reynoso isn't here, I'm the one taking them."
Fragapane said he hasn't spoken with or messaged his fellow Argentine.
"No, we haven't been in contact," he said. "It's the job of the club to communicate. We'll continue waiting, but we need a response."
Until then, expect Fragapane to take those set-piece kicks. Midfielder Kervin Arriaga has also taken some of those kicks in Reynoso's absence, mostly direct free kicks in which he has the chance to score directly with his powerful leg.
"Fraga's got a good delivery, that's the most important thing: getting it in the right area at the right pace," Heath said. "Kervin can get it up and over the wall. He's got incredible range, 30 yards out is not a problem. So, hey, this is an opportunity. One good thing about Rey not being here, one or two more [players] have opportunities to show what they can do."
Fragapane has one point — his assist on Tapias' winning goal at Colorado — in the first three games. He scored seven goals in 30 games last season and five in 19 games after his 2021 arrival.
Fragapane has "made a goal," as Heath likes to say, three times even though only one assist ended up on the stat sheet. Fragapane last scored a goal in last season's Decision Day victory over Vancouver that put the Loons in the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season.
"I always want to score," Fragapane said. "I like scoring. I hope that this weekend it happens."