Quarantined five weeks now in Orlando and counting, Minnesota United players apparently will do anything to pass the time between training sessions and MLS is Back tournament games.
Even grow a cheesy mustache.
Striker Aaron Schoenfeld was the first to try, starting with the team’s second game in Group D play from which it advanced to beat Columbus on penalty kicks in Tuesday’s knockout round.
He was followed not long thereafter by starting goalkeeper Tyler Miller.
“It honestly just came about because of boredom,” Miller said in a video conference call on Thursday. “Aaron Schoenfeld has inspired me. He had it for a few days and he was begging me each game to join him. I told him for the last game I’d do it.”
Schoenfeld is living with his teammates on their own floor of a Disney resort hotel near the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex. They beat San Jose 4-1 Saturday night in a tournament quarterfinal game and will play Orlando City in Thursday’s semifinal.
“I figured where else in my life am I going to have 30-plus days to be around guys and not give a [pause] what I look like?” Schoenfeld asked in an post-training interview with a club employee provided to media Friday. “Who cares? It looks like trash, but I’m rolling with it right now.”
Don’t color Schoenfeld’s coach impressed.
“I think I’m best staying out of this one,” coach Adrian Heath said in a video call. “Obviously, the players have been having plenty of fun about it. I think he’ll grow it as long as we’re in the tournament, so we’ll see what it’s like in the end.”
Miller credited his new look partly for the penalty kick he saved Tuesday that helped beat Columbus in a shootout.
“I was having fun, I was enjoying playing,” Miller said. “I was able to make a save and I wanted to keep the mood light and that’s really what this is all about. … Just really throw it back to the days where you’re playing club soccer and there’s no crowd noise and you’re just playing for the love of the game.”
Loons All-Star right back Romain Metanire was designated neither starter nor substitute Saturday night. He injured his hamstring in Tuesday’s second half and was replaced for the rest of the game by midfielder Marlon Hairston.
Sidelined by his own hamstring injury since group play’s second game, Kevin Molino didn’t start Saturday but was available as a sub. Versatile Hassani Dotson started in Metanire’s spot, and Jacori Hayes started in a midfield position for Molino.
Flexing their depth
The Loons remade their roster over the winter by adding young, athletic players experienced in MLS play and still just approaching their prime.
In Orlando’s summer heat and humidity, relative newcomers Hayes, Hairston and Raheem Edwards all have played parts in their team remaining unbeaten all season. Schoenfeld has done so, too, as both starter and substitute.
“We didn’t miss a beat when they came on,” Heath said. “The only issue I have is wondering who to put in when we have these moments.”
Eligible to play Saturday as a substitute, Loons veteran defender Brent Kallman wore an “End Racism” T-shirt on the sidelines while teammates and coaches wore “Black Lives Matter” shirts that they’ve worn as warmups throughout the tournament.