Sunday's 1-0 victory against Seattle was a much-needed win for Minnesota United. The club's previous two matches were a draw with San Jose and a loss at Colorado that ended a seven-game unbeaten streak.
In the Colorado loss, the Loons played without three of their four starting defenders. Against Seattle, they had Bakaye Dibassy back from injury but still missed Romain Metanire and Michael Boxall. That could change Saturday against Portland.
After missing three matches, Metanire finally returned to the States on Monday and was back at training the next day. The former MLS All-Star was in France awaiting his U.S. green card and had to find some way to stay in shape. He was in his birthplace of Metz, a city more than 4,000 miles away from and seven hours ahead of his MLS club's home.
Minnesota United trainers sent Metanire training instructions during his time abroad. He went through workouts with a coach in Metz and sent videos back to the staff to show his progress.
In early July, Boxall suffered an injury against San Jose and missed the next two matches. His substitute, Brent Kallman, scored United's first goal in the draw with the Earthquakes. Loons coach Adrian Heath said Tuesday he was hopeful Boxall would be "fit and ready for the weekend." A healthy Boxall would mean the team could have its full complement of defenders available for Saturday's match with Portland.
That left Chase Gasper as the only defender consistently available for the past six games. Filling the other three spots in those matches were some combination of Kallman, Dibassy, Boxall, Jukka Raitala and DJ Taylor.
Despite frequent personnel adjustments, Gasper said he feels the "mentality" of the defense and its rotational players was consistent. Gasper was particularly impressed by first-year player Taylor, who filled in as starting right back in the past two matches.
"No one on our team is surprised at how he's played," Gasper said of Taylor. "We all knew that he was capable of this. We're just happy that he got to show that to everybody."
Raitala, who missed all of Minnesota's June matches while playing for his native Finland in the European Championship, returned to the team before the July 3 match against San Jose. He said the adjustment from country to club wasn't easy after Belgium eliminated Finland in the group stage of the Euros.
"We waited for Euros for a long time, and a lot of emotions were involved," Raitala said. "But now I feel very good and back to myself. Euros are past, and now my focus is fully here."
Gasper said getting international players like Raitala and Metanire back is a boost for the team, especially young players like Taylor.
"To bring that experience, that maturity and that wisdom with them, they're great leaders," Gasper said. "We're just fortunate to have them as teammates."
Metanire's last start for the Loons was against Portland on June 26. MNUFC won that match 1-0 after Adrien Hunou scored the quickest goal in club history in the second minute. It was one of five clean-sheet victories for the Loons this season.
"No matter who's going to step in there," Gasper said, "they're going to get the job done and help out the team."