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Robin Lod’s strong play, returning players create a midfield crunch for Loons

In that seven-match stretch, Lod has averaged four interceptions and posted passing accuracy levels of at least 86 percent.

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Minnesota United players, from left, Robin Lod, Luis Amarilla, Franco Fragapane and Emanuel Reynoso pose for a photo as they celebrate Amarilla’s goal against Real Salt Lake in the second half at Allianz Field in St. Paul on Sunday, July 3, 2022. MNUFC hung on to beat Real Salt Lake, 3-2.
John Autey / St. Paul Pioneer Press
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What does Minnesota United do with Robin Lod?

As an attacking midfielder/moonlighting striker, Lod set the club’s all-time MLS scoring record earlier this season with his 22nd goal. Then due to a rash of injuries into early July, he has been asked to move into a lower-lying holding midfield role, and the Loons have not lost in those seven games.

Lod has taken on that central midfield role with the Finland national team, and that history aided manager Adrian Heath’s decision to call on Lod to do a version of that at the club level, too. In that seven-match stretch, Lod has averaged four interceptions and posted passing accuracy levels of at least 86 percent.

Lod has also been an eraser. In the second half of Sunday’s 2-1 victory at Nashville, Randall Leal won the ball at midfield and tried to jumpstart a counter attack by feeding MLS All-Star attacker Hany Mukhtar. But Lod’s perfectly timed intervention kept Nashville from springing a two-on-one on center back Bakaye Dibassy.

“When it turns over, there were a couple (of situations) the other night where we would have been in trouble if he hadn’t have read the situation,” Heath recalled Tuesday.

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MNUFC went into Saturday’s match in California with an opportunity to clinch a playoff spot with a win and some help. That assistance came with Real Salt Lake’s draw with L.A. Galaxy late Saturday night, but Minnesota didn’t do its part of the equation.

Loons vice captain Michael Boxall echoed that. “(Lod’s) always in the right spot,” the center back said. “Even though you wouldn’t think he’s known for his defensive work, his positioning is great. There are times when we get caught in games, where it turns into a track meet, and I think he has that calming presence to look after the ball for us and really kind of dictate play when we have been under pressure for extended periods.”

The causation that led Lod to midfield has dissipated. Kervin Arriaga is back from an ankle injury; captain Wil Trapp has recovered from a hamstring injury one month ago and is ready to return; Jonathan Gonzalez, on loan from Monterrey, debuted off the bench Sunday; and Joseph Rosales has been a reliable backup and assisted on the game-winning goal in Tennessee.

Meanwhile, the Loons attack has been firing on all cylinders. Bongi Hlongwane, who has assumed Lod’s primary right wing spot, had a pair of goals in games at the end of July and Heath has called him man-of-the-match material in August. Striker Luis Amarilla has been scoring, combining and getting into dangerous spots. Left winger Franco Fragapane is the hottest of them all with five goals in the past nine games. Emanuel Reynoso’s name is written in pen in the starting XI.

“I would be loath to leave any of the front four out at the minute,” Heath said Tuesday. “I would probably leave (Lod) where he is at this moment in time.”

But Heath knows that the roster’s traffic jams at certain positions will induce players coming to knock on his office door to ask about playing time. “That then becomes a headache for me in terms of everybody coming back fit (and) to put everybody back in the team,” he said.

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Minnesota United player, Robin Lod.
Carlos Gonzalez / Star Tribune/ TNS

Lod’s passing ability has aided Reynoso. “(Lod’s) game sense is top notch,” Boxall said. “He’s always in the right position, always looking to play forward, which when Rey gets the ball earlier in our buildup, it helps massively.”

When Lod was moved to striker, as Amarilla had a slow start this season, Lod demurred on his best position.

“It’s his professionalism,” Boxall said. “No matter what is asked of him, he’s going to do the work and do it at such a high level no matter what position he’s thrown in. I’m sure he’s got a preferred position, and not sure holding midfielder is that. But he’s gone on with the job so well, he’s putting himself at risk of starting the rest of the season there.”

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GARCIA ARRIVES

New Colombia attacker Mender Garcia has arrived in Minnesota roughly 10 days after his restricted Designated Player deal was announced on Aug. 5.

Garcia needed to go through final medical exams Tuesday afternoon but was scheduled to train Wednesday and will be available to play against Austin FC at Allianz Field on Saturday night, according to Heath.

BRIEFLY

Lod, Reynoso and Kemar Lawrence weren’t involved in Tuesday’s lighter training session. There are no serious issues jeopardizing their status for Saturday’s game, Heath said. Reynoso’s ankle has been bothering him since the Everton friendly on July 20… MNUFC2 produced a dramatic comeback win, 2-1, over MLS NEXT Pro Western Conference leader Tacoma Defiance on Monday. Loons got emphatic goals from Aziel Jackson (an equalizer) and Sagir Arce (a very late winner). Minnesota’s second team is on a three-game unbeaten streak (2-0-1) and is making a late push for the playoffs. … Arce, a 20-year-old on loan from Mazatlan in Liga MX for the 2022 season, trained with the first team Tuesday. … Lakeville striker Loic Mesanvi was signed from Minneapolis City to MNUFC’s academy and then loaned to MNUFC2 in order to maintain his amateur status, a source said.

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