For the second time in its MLS tenure, Minnesota United will likely need to employ an emergency backup goalkeeper.
Starter Bobby Shuttleworth has missed the past two games with a back injury, and backup Matt Lampson has started in his place. Third-choice keeper Alex Kapp had been backing up Lampson, but he left this past Sunday's game in warmups with a hamstring injury, so United had to add an extra defender in Marc Burch to the bench in his stead.
But with one game left in the season this Sunday afternoon at the Columbus Crew, the Loons wil likely employ Chris Konopka as Lampson's backup, per a league "extreme hardship" rule where teams can add players to the roster if there are fewer than two available goalkeepers.
United did this once before in early 2017, adding Billy Heavner from the league's emergency pool. But this time, the Loons can tap Konopka, who has been training with the team for several months already. Konopka, 33, most recently played for Cardiff City in 2017-18. He has played for several MLS teams in his career, playing the most games at 21 for Toronto FC in 2015.
This past Friday, United saw the ramifications of a fight with the Colorado Rapids. The club, coach Adrian Heath and several players had to pay fines for various infractions. Three were suspended, including midfielder Harrison Heath for two games, winger Alexi Gomez for three games and goalkeeping coach John Pascarella for four. The latter two will have to carry over into next season.
"I don't know if fair is the word," Adrian Heath said Tuesday at the National Sports Center. "Obviously, the situation we could have well done without. I thought that we got a little bit harshly penalized, I felt. But hey, at the end of the day, we know the rules. Mass confrontation or putting your hand on people's faces results in suspensions and fines."
The coach said it was hard for his team to control its emotions at the time, as a Colorado player celebrated a goal late in the game right in front of United's bench, and the incident escalated when more players stepped in to stand up for their teammates. But the Loons will learn their lesson from it, Heath assured.
Heath also said the suspensions this late in the season won't have an impact on Gomez, whose loan is up at the end of this year, and the club has to decide whether to purchase the player's contract fully or not for next year.
"They've been with us long enough. One game at the end of there is not going to make a difference in our decision-making," Heath said.
The Loons have had a few trialists in toward the end of this season, mostly from the United Soccer League. The club declined to give out names.
"We've had one or two people that have come in and trained with us," Heath said. "We've got another trialist at the moment come in, but he's just training with us for a week from Germany. So this is always a good time because certain people are out of contract or the season's over, and it's a good opportunity to have a look at them in your own environment."
Atlanta United, the Loons' fellow expansion team in 2017, announced Tuesday coach Gerardo "Tata" Martino would not return to the club next season, reportedly to take the head coaching job with the Mexican national team. He led Atlanta to the playoffs in both its first two seasons.
"He's had a great two years. They've been a great inclusion into the league, spent a lot of money, but they bought really good players," Heath said. "It's going to be big shoes to fill. But they have enough financial backing to probably do it."
Want to be in the @StarTribune? Tweet or DM me your assessment of this #MNUFC season. Could be a favorite memory, a disappointing moment, a hope for the future, etc. You might appear in my season-wrap package this weekend!— Megan Ryan (@theothermegryan) October 23, 2018