The Major League Soccer season enters its fifth weekend Saturday with Minnesota United missing seven first-team players gone for international duty and star midfielder Emanuel Reynoso still suspended and absent.
Without Reynoso, the Loons have started 2-0-1 by winning at FC Dallas in their season opener and at Colorado last week. In between, they played New York Red Bulls to a 1-1 draw in their home opener at Allianz Field.
After Tuesday's training, Loons coach Adrian Heath was asked if there's a point of no return in the club's locker room with teammates who have been training together since January's first week without their star.
"I don't know if we're at that stage yet, but obviously we want him back," Heath said. "As I said after the game on Saturday, there's not a team in this league that wouldn't benefit and be better with a fit and healthy Emanuel Reynoso, and we're hoping that's what he'll be for us in the near future."
Countryman Franco Fragapane is one player who has stepped forth in Reynoso's absence. He has been the designated corner-kick and set-piece taker, which has been Reynoso's role. He also has sparked the Loons' offense from his left-side attacker's position and helped them to a 4-2 goal differential.
Asked if he has kept in contact with Reynoso back home in Argentina, Fragapane said in Spanish through a team interpreter, "No, we haven't been in contact. It's the job of the club to communicate. We'll continue waiting, but we need a response."
On Saturday against Vancouver, the Loons will play on without starters Dayne St. Clair, Robin Lod, Michael Boxall, Kervin Arriaga, Bongokuhle Hlongwane, Kemar Lawrence and sub Joseph Rosales. And with Reynoso back home for what Minnesota United management has termed as personal reasons.
Heath called such a large number — eight players, if you count second-teamer Molik Jesse Khan — gone to play for their national teams "not ideal."
Heath said it's a matter MLS might soon have to address. He said in Europe games can be rescheduled if as few as three players are called away.
"As the league grows and the quality of player we're bringing in gets better, with the money we're spending now, then maybe we have to look at what everybody else in the world does," Heath said. "Maybe cancel fixtures and put them in midweek throughout the rest of the year."
Ready to return
On the road back from a hamstring injury, veteran center back Brent Kallman is expected to fill Boxall's spot on the right side come Saturday.
"He probably could have ideally done with another week's training under his belt," Heath said. "But needs are a must and he has to step up. … We'll see how he is. We'd like to give him a bit more time, but we're pleased he's available, obviously."
Kallman will play next to newcomer Micky Tapias on the backline because veteran Doneil Henry isn't expected back healthy quite yet. He trained and participated in a scrimmage Tuesday, but Heath said he doesn't expect Henry to be available Saturday.
A proper welcome
Newly signed forward Jeong Sang-bin was on the training field Tuesday but didn't train with his teammates while his immigration paperwork gets processed.
The Loons will introduce the 20-year-old Under-22 initiative signing at a Wednesday news conference.
"He's a powerful kid," Heath said. "He has huge legs. Very athletic. Very quick. There are things we know about him. A typical Korean player, you know he's fit, he looks after himself and the kid always has a smile on his face, even in this weather."
Heath on the seven first-teamers gone: "There's no excuse whatsoever. I will not make an excuse that we've got seven, eight away. You have a squad of 28 players and that's why you have a squad of 28 because at some stage you're going to be called upon. When one door closes, it opens for other people. As Dayne (St. Clair) proved last year, opportunities can come along and if you take them, they can be career-changing decisions."