New Minnesota United midfielder Emanuel Reynoso’s MLS career is three games gone, but already coach Adrian Heath is sold on the player and person his team acquired from Argentina’s famed Boca Juniors for a club-record transfer fee.
An attacking playmaker in the sport’s important “No. 10” position, Reynoso’s deft passing created his first two MLS assists in those first three games. But it was his hustle and defensive extra effort not always found in such a gifted offensive player that forced FC Dallas defender Ryan Hollingshead’s bad pass deep in his own territory and set up Mason Toye’s goal 11 minutes into Wednesday’s 3-2 home victory.
“We don’t carry any passengers,” Heath said.
In saying that, Heath noted a willingness to both attack and defend from a player whose compulsory team physical exam also revealed something about his youth in Cordoba, a city of 1.5 million in mountain foothills 435 miles northwest of Buenos Aires.
“He’s got a little hole in his leg and he speaks about being shot, that tells you the kind of background he comes from,” Heath said.
Armed thieves stole Reynoso’s motorbike and shot him in his left leg on his way to pick up a friend when he was 18. He recovered and made his pro debut seven months later for his hometown club, Talleres.
“It’s a bit like the boxer, the hungry boxer,” Heath said. “You know, you have to fight for the things to get ahead in life. This has always been a working-class sport, and he’s certainly from that background. He’s probably had to fight for everything he has ever had, and I think he carries that onto the field. It’s a part of his personality and something that probably will never change.”
Heath said he and Loons technical director Mark Watson spoke last winter about the type of player they sought when both were entrusted with building the club’s first team. They decided they’d build a team in which all 11 players both defend and attack, demands he called “nonnegotiable” for his team now.
“The way the game is played now, you can’t afford to carry people,” said Heath, noting the one exception might be the club that owns superstar Lionel Messi. “Rey is not just really good with the ball. He’s really good without the ball. … If you’re not prepared to play both sides of the ball, then you’re not going to play. That’s one of the things we saw in Rey when we watched him.
“We looked at the distance he covered during games. He’s very conscientious without the ball, which is huge for us. I know the two midfield players who play behind him will always be respectful of the amount of work he puts in.”
So, too, will a striker up front such as Toye, who saw Paraguayan striker Luis Amarilla arrive last winter willing to work defensively. Now sidelined by an ankle injury, Amarilla is expected to miss at least another two to three weeks.
“He comes in and he works his tail off from Day One and that’s all you can ask for in a big-money guy,” Toye said, referring to Reynoso. “You saw it from Luis and now you’re seeing it from him. We are bringing in guys that really want to work and want to run. That’s the identity of our team. We work for each other, we work hard and we want to run.
“It’s really awesome to see a guy like that — so talented — want to work hard on both ends.”