Born and raised in Finland, Minnesota United midfielder Rasmus Schuller knows cold, but he’s as appreciative as any teammate that they’re training in Arizona sunshine this week while temperatures could hit minus-33 back in his seasonal home.
“It’s very, very cold in Finland, too,” he said, “but that’s extreme even for me.”
Schuller and his remade Loons team opened preseason play with Tuesday’s 9-2 friendly victory over first-year USL League One team FC Tucson.
Schuller scored twice as did Romario Ibarra and young forward Mason Toye — tryout player Jiro scored three times — on a day coach Adrian Heath evaluated Schuller alongside newcomers Ozzie Alonso and Jan Gergus in the midfield.
Schuller played the left side in the rout with his two new teammates in what Heath called “nearly” a 4-3-3 formation that allowed them to overload the middle of the field. Heath praised their play and said he’s “very, very” encouraged they’ll unify his team’s back line with its scorers and get the ball quickly and in advanced position to star forward Darwin Quintero.
“One good thing with Ozzie and Jan, they have a really good appreciation of the game,” Heath said. “They know when to play short, when to play forward and when to play through the line. That was very apparent today. We’ve still got a long way to go in preseason, but today was very encouraging with the performance of some of the guys.”
Meanwhile, Heath waits for newly acquired defender Ike Opara to get on the field after United acquired the 2017 MLS Defender of the Year on Monday night from Sporting Kansas City. He is the fourth notable acquisition since last season’s end, along with Gregus, Alonso and right back Romain Metanire from France’s top league. The team continues to seek a starting goalkeeper and one other impact player.
“The team is shapely up nicely,” Schuller said. “We’ve got some very quality names coming in to the team, and the club isn’t finished yet.”
Schuller knows Alonso and Opara from playing against them, and Gregus and Metanire by their reputations in Europe.
“They’re very quality players,” Schuller said, referring to Alonso and Gregus. “They’re good guys to have on the team. Ozzie, of course, knows this league really well and has been very successful. Jan has come into the group very quickly and seems like a very good add to the squad. It’s very positive.”
Schuller scored his two goals Tuesday each on a left-footed finish, the first on a crossing pass from defender and 2018 SuperDraft pick Carter Manley. The second came from defender Chase Gasper, whom United acquired by buying the 2019 SuperDraft’s 15th overall pick from Chicago.
“He looks good,” Schuller said about Gasper. “He’s coming into the squad. He’s not coming in saying sorry to anyone. He’s come in trying to take his spot. I like that for a young guy. He was good today, and he’ll just continue to improve. He’ll be a good guy for us, an asset for the team.”
Entering his third season with United, Schuller himself, will have to find his role in the midfield with Alonso and Gregus now arrived.
“I haven’t discussed it with the coach yet, but I think it’s always good for a team to have alternatives,” Schuller said. “I’m ready to play wherever he puts me, so that’s my mentality.”
United has addressed last season’s defensive woes — 71 goals given up — by adding both to the midfield and back line. Heath also wants his team to play with an improved defensive shape, mentality and he wants it to defend from its front line as well.
“That’s one of the goals, concede less goals to get better results,” Schuller said.
“… It looks good, but it’s still early on. We have to get the chemistry right and we have to get all the new players in. But we’re certainly on the right track.”