New Minnesota United striker Ramon Abila collected two MLS firsts — a goal and a yellow card — all in the same sequence Wednesday at Allianz Field. The goal gave the Loons a 1-0 victory over Vancouver, their first after an 0-4 start.
Abila's flicked-on header — from six yards out, just inside the far post — off Robin Lod's precise crossing pass allowed the Loons to, in Abila's translated words, "get back to the ritual that we need to be on."
He celebrated the goal, scored in the 72nd minute, by leaping and punching his fist in the air before he huddled with his happy teammates.
Then he pulled his No. 9 jersey over his head to reveal a T-shirt with a photo of his younger brother Gaston and the words "Gaston te amamos / Nunca te olvidaremos."
"Gaston, we love you. We will never forget you."
Abila's brother battled depression and died by suicide a year ago Tuesday.
"Obviously, the dedication will always be made for him," said Abila, who also made the sign of the cross with his right hand and looked skyward. "We miss him. He is someone we love a lot, and my family still has that internal pain of seeing someone lost. He was so young and such a drastic decision. But, hey, we have to move on."
The referee pulled a yellow card for his celebration.
"The truth is, I still don't understand the rules thoroughly, from what's allowed or not," said Abila, a second-half substitute in the 65th minute of the game. "But the yellow card didn't interest me. I didn't give the ref much attention because this is someone that I love so much and miss so much. Truth is, he's someone who gives me strength to continue day in and day out."
Abila's goal came in his fourth game with the Loons after they obtained him in early April from the same Boca Juniors team in Argentina that brought Emanuel Reynoso to Minnesota in 2020. The Loons had been outscored 10-3 in their first four games.
"I'm really happy, happy to be able to convert and for the team to win, which is the important thing," Abila said. "We needed it so badly."
Loons coach Adrian Heath called Abila's 25-plus minutes the first time he looked pain-free after undergoing surgery in Argentina before he arrived in Minnesota.
"But I think he'd be the first to say he's still some weeks away from being really fit and sharp as he would like," Heath said.
Abila made his MLS debut on artificial turf in the season opener at Seattle but missed the next week.
"Obviously, I wasn't used to playing [on] synthetic, but I am recovered," he said. "I am fine, training 100 percent. And the truth is, I am giving everything. It is a difficult transition because the main thing is the language, the communication. It is complicated."
He calls a new country, new league and new style of play "getting into a soccer that I don't know."
"I'm totally not used to it," Abila said. "But the truth is I am very happy. The group makes me feel very important. They help me a lot."
The 31-year-old said he came to Minnesota to score goals and win games alongside Reynoso, his former Boca Juniors teammate. Reynoso played 86 minutes on Wednesday.
"I feel he's coming back to the Reynoso of last year," Heath said. "At times, he gave us a spark tonight and I think he'll be pleased that his mate from down in Boca has got on the field and scored a goal."
Pleased, too, was Abila.
"Life goes on," he said. "We have to live our life and get up, try to be better and ensure that we all feel a little better. If this goal and the victory helps people to be happy today, a little calmer, it's welcome."