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New Loons fullback Alan Benitez rewarded for patience

After signing a 2½-year contract with MNUFC through the 2024 season, with a club option for 2025, the 28-year-old Paraguayan has played in three games — an international friendly versus Everton, plus coming off the bench in two MLS games, wins over Houston and Portland.

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New Minnesota United player Alan Benitez dribbles the ball in an international friendly against Everton at Allianz Field on July 20, 2022.
Courtesy of Minnesota United via St. Paul Pioneer Press
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ST. PAUL -- Alan Benitez has a lot of tattoos, but one with the word “patience” in a vertical calligraphy on the left side of his neck is apropos. The Loons’ new fullback has needed perseverance.

Benitez played only eight of Cerro Porteno’s 26 regular-season games in Paraguay’s Primera Division in 2022, while he suited up for the club in South America’s Copa Libertadores matches and for Paraguay’s national team in World Cup qualifiers against heavyweights Brazil and Uruguay last winter.

So playing in very big games, but not every game, could have been a recipe for frustration.

“Honestly yes, because in soccer, you don’t always get to play every game like you’d like,” Benitez said Tuesday through Minnesota United translator Gabriela Lozada. “So you have to have a lot of patience through that.”

Benitez is in a better spot now. After signing a 2½-year contract with MNUFC through the 2024 season, with a club option for 2025, the 28-year-old Paraguayan has played in three games — an international friendly versus Everton, plus coming off the bench in two MLS games, wins over Houston and Portland.

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That role could be increasing with manager Adrian Heath irked with the play of the back line in the 4-4 draw with Portland Timbers on Saturday. The Loons face Colorado Rapids at 8 p.m. Sunday.

“He’s highly experienced,” Heath said. “… It’s not like he’s coming in here and we have to teach him — try to implement him in a system that he’s not been used to. He’s been used to playing in a (back) four.”

Benitez has made a quality first impression on Loons stalwart center back Michael Boxall after their short snippets on the field together.

“He’s got a good read of the game,” Boxall said Saturday. “He knows what pace to play at: when to keep it, when to go forward. Some of the balls he whipped in the Everton game were pretty tasty. … Portland has some tough wingers and I think he handled them well (Saturday). He likes the ball at his feet, he likes to assist the ball and get involved going forward. I’m excited to see more of him.”

Benitez spoke with fellow Paraguayan and Loons striker Luis Amarilla “a lot” before making the move to Minnesota in mid-July. “(Amarilla) told me a lot about the team, the fanbase it had,” Benitez said. “That helped me make the correct decision.”

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Without him, the Loons are clinging to one of the final playoff spots with two games remaining.

Benitez wanted what was best for his family — his wife and daughter.

“It was a good opportunity for me, for my family,” Benitez said.

There is a sterling, outsized example of a former Cerro Porteno player thriving in MLS. Miguel Almiron went from Cerro Porteno to Lanus in Argentina to Atlanta United. The attacking midfielder was sold to Newcastle in the English Premier League for an MLS-record $26 million after the 2018 season.

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Benitez will need to usurp current Loons starting right back D.J. Taylor for playing time. They both are relishing the competition.

“It’s a very healthy competition here,” Benitez said. “Whoever the coach sees is playing better will play. D.J. is a very good player. I watched a lot of video on him before arriving here, and he is a good teammate and athlete.”

Briefly

With the MLS summer transfer window closing Thursday, Heath said it’s 50-50 that the Loons make a move. “There are a couple of things on the boiler at the minute. We will have to weigh out and see where we are.” … Incoming MNUFC attacker Mender Garcia had his immigration appointment on Monday and “we have not given up hope of having him here for the weekend,” Heath said. … With Emanuel Reynoso, Robin Lod and Boxall out for Saturday’s game vs. Colorado due to yellow-card accumulation, center back Brent Kallman is expected to step in for Boxall and midfielder Joseph Rosales for Lod. It’s to-be-determined what MNUFC does for the third absence in the team’s spine. Perhaps it’s another central attacking midfielder or a change in formation. … MNUFC has been linked to Colombian Juan Camilo Mosquera, but Heath said the 20-year-old left-sided player has yet to sign with the club. If he does, Mosquera would go to the MNUFC2 reserve squad. … Lod was absent from practice due to a calf injury, but it’s not considered serious. … Romain Metanire has ramped up his recovery from nagging hamstring injuries and MNUFC might have the Frenchman go to Clairefontaine, the home of the French Football Federation, for further opinions.

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