Minnesota United coach Adrian Heath started nine of his first-choice 11 players during a tune-up scrimmage against the Chicago Fire on Wednesday, July 8, in Orlando, Fla. The two absences could be an issue for the Loons when the MLS is Back Tournament starts for them on Sunday.
The missing Loons were center back Ike Opara, who did not travel with the club because of a preexisting condition, and defensive midfielder Ozzie Alonso, out with a minor hamstring injury.
Without Opara and Alonso — two stalwarts who helped the Loons make the 2019 MLS Cup playoffs — the Fire led 2-0 at the half. The scrimmage was then called off due to thunderstorms at the ESPN’s Wide World Of Sports complex.
“They scored an incredible goal after maybe 30 seconds, and then I thought we dominated a lot of the possession,” Heath said. “Some of our aspects were very good and some not so good. Then they got another (goal) midway through the half.”
New acquisition Jose Aja was plugged in for Opara, while Hassani Dotson, who finished third for MLS rookie of the year honors last year, came in for Alonso. Heath said Alonso could have played if it were a tournament game.
Heath expressed confidence in Aja, a 6-foot-4, 27-year-old Uruguayan who played three seasons in MLS before spending last year with Union Espanola in Chile’s top division.
“He’s on a very good salary for us,” Heath said. “He’s a great kid. He’s played in the league before. He knows what the league is. I think that is important. We made a conscious effort bringing in people we thought could complement the squad.”
The Loons’ starters in a 4-2-3-1 formation were: striker Luis Amarilla; attacking midfielders Robin Lod, Kevin Molino and Ethan Finlay; central midfielder Jan Gregus, defensive midfielder Dotson; defenders Chase Gasper, Aja, Michael Boxall, Romain Metanire; with goalkeeper Tyler Miller.
Minnesota was planning to scrimmage the Columbus Crew last Sunday but that was canceled after one Crew player tested positive for COVID-19. Chicago was set to open the MLS is Back Tournament on Wednesday, but that match was postponed after Nashville SC had five players test positive.
The Loons’ debut game in the tournament is set for 7 p.m. CT Sunday against Sporting Kansas City. It’s the first of three games for Minnesota in Group D.
Minnesota’s defense is expected to be tested by new Kansas City striker Alan Pulido, the leading scorer in Mexico’s Liga MX last season. He had 12 goals in 18 games for Chivas de Guadalajara.
For Sporting, Pulido had two goals and an assist in two games in March before the season was shut down. MLSsoccer.com on Wednesday picked Pulido to be the leading scorer in this tournament.
Heath said he chatted Wednesday with a few coaches, including K.C.’s Peter Vermes, and the main theme was how coaches don’t know what their teams will look like after nearly four months without games. United was 2-0 in two away games when the season was postponed.
“Everybody is undecided of where they are as a team,” Heath said. “None of us have ever been through this. … Until you actually play the cut and thrust of a game, I don’t anybody will know.”