Just when it was on the mend, Minnesota United is losing starting central midfielder Jan Gregus to the Slovakia national team perhaps for the rest of October, and yellow card-suspended defender Chase Gasper for Tuesday’s game at expansion Nashville as well.
Veteran midfielder Kevin Molino returned from a hamstring injury Saturday as a second-half sub and needed just eight minutes to score the final goal in a 2-0 victory over FC Cincinnati that ended a four-game winless streak. Ethan Finlay could return from a knee injury Tuesday, and defensive midfielder Ozzie Alonso is targeting a Sunday return at FC Dallas.
League officials negotiated with FIFA and national team managers in an attempt to keep Loons Gregus, Molino and Robin Lod with their MLS team. Lod talked the matter out with his Finland national team but still could be recalled for games in November. FIFA suspended Molino’s Trinidad and Tobago team because of a dispute with its federation with Gold Cup and World Cup qualifying ahead.
Loons coach Adrian Heath said the club “tried really hard” to keep all its players in Minnesota during this odd, COVID-19-condensed season, but Gregus left Monday for Thursday’s UEFA Euro qualifier against Ireland and two Nations League games, the last Oct. 14 against Israel.
Gregus could miss five or six Minnesota United games through month’s end, depending on how long a quarantine period he must enter upon his return. A period shorter than 14 or 10 days will get Gregus back with only four games missed.
“We were very, very hopeful and Jan was very hopeful he’d be allowed to stay,” Heath said Monday in a video call with reporters. “I fully understand the international coaches, but I’m sure they’d be the first to understand this situation is ridiculous. When you miss up to six games in a season like this, this is not right. I’m sure there are a lot of clubs in the same boat, but it could have been a lot worse for us at this moment.”
Lod won’t play three games with Finland this month, starting Wednesday. Heath said his team “might be in a bit of trouble” because of the three November games the Finland national team will play. He said he knows it’ll lose Lod next summer during the European championship for which Finland has qualified for the first time.
“I think a little bit of common sense has prevailed,” Heath said. “I’m not having a go at the national team managers because they are purely looking after their own interest, and I fully understand that. But when you get to the stage where you’re missing five, six games, that’s too much, I think.”
Tuesday’s match comes just three days after the Loons’ last game. Heath said he’d like to get Lod some rest. Finlay’s return will help if he does. So, too, will Molino if he can start and play into the second half. Marlon Hairston could be called to play more. Jacori Hayes probably will take Gregus’ place on Tuesday while Heath considers changing his formation to a three-man back line or a “real rigid” 4-4-2 with two strikers up top.
“It’s going to be really challenging,” Hayes said. “We’ve got a lot of games coming up, multiple games in a week. We’re going to have to count on everyone.”
The Loons remain without two-time MLS Defender of the Year Ike Opara, striker Luis Amarilla and starting goalkeeper Tyler Miller and await rookie defender Noah Billingsley’s return from loan to Las Vegas while Gregus has gone.
Amarilla will get another opinion this week on his injured ankle to decide whether he needs an operation, Heath said.
“We could do with Ozzie being fit,” Heath said. “You feel you’re getting a few bodies around and then you look and you’ve still got five or six players missing. So it’s never ideal, but we’ll keep our fingers crossed for later in the year. We’re going to need them.”