ST. PAUL -- Chase Gasper’s socked feet were squishy and sopping wet as he stood at the podium inside Allianz Field on Saturday night. The Minnesota United left back had just exited the cold tub to do a postgame interview after the Loons’ 2-1 victory over the Portland Timbers.
Despite being chilled, Gasper’s teeth didn’t chatter; he repeatedly smiled after heading home the tying goal that started the Loons’ first comeback victory of the season.
It was a much different scene than the one Gasper endured from the same dais on July 3. He had performed well in the 2-2 draw with San Jose that afternoon but had to listen to a reporter share a minute-long perspective on how he felt the defender’s play has slipped since his rookie year in 2019. It. Was. Awkward.
“Everyone is entitled to their opinion,” Gasper responded with a straight face. “Just work hard and do my best.”
While that wasn’t a minority viewpoint, it was shared in a surprisingly blunt way and without much of a question at the end. Either way, that period is behind the third-year fullback.
“I think he had a difficult start to the season, but I think he’s back to his best,” manager Adrian Heath said Saturday. “The one thing about the kid, you can never fault him for his determination, his efforts and his enthusiasm, what he brings every day to this football club. You build football clubs around people like Chase Gasper.”
After that rough start during which Gasper was directly responsible for goals conceded during the Loons’ 0-4 start, Heath has stuck with Gasper through every game.
Gasper is now the only Loons player to play every minute this season, 1,260 total over 14 games. He is expected to remain a mainstay when Minnesota (6-5-3) faces LAFC (6-5-4) at Banc of California Stadium at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday.
In years past, the Loons have been thin at fullback, but this year there have been options, primarily Jukka Raitala, so Heath sticking with Gasper has meant more.
“That means the world,” Gasper said Tuesday. “When it comes to the team, he’s the boss, the most important guy, so when he shows he has that faith and trust in you, that gives you confidence. That is what this game is about: it’s confidence. Every player at this level is a good player, it’s just those little things that separate you. To see your boss puts that faith in you, is always picking you up and believing in you.”
Heath said it was accompanied with separate talks with Gasper. “As a defender and you make them mistakes, and they end up in the back of the net, it gets magnified even more, especially with the start that we had,” Heath said. “Had we won a couple of them games, maybe there wouldn’t have been as much made of it. …
“At no stage did I contemplate leaving him out,” Heath continued. “A couple of times you worry, how is his confidence going to be? But he came through it and he’s gotten his rewards at the weekend.”
Hassani Dotson, who came in with Gasper in the 2019 draft class, said Gasper’s maturity after playing college soccer at UCLA and Maryland helped prepare him for the pro game. “Then you are a little bit more mature coming into the league,” Dotson said. “He has great mental strength, so I knew it was only a matter of time before he broke through.”
Gasper, who reached the U.S. men’s national team in February 2020, posted photos of his goal on Instagram. It came with #DogFood, an inside joke between teammates based on the song by rapper 42 Dugg.
“We have a good time in the locker room,” Gasper said about Saturday’s postgame scene. “But we knew we had this game on Wednesday, so it was kind of short-lived. We danced, (listened to ‘Dog Food’,) celebrated in the locker room, took it all in, went home, got a nice meal, just got rest.”
That sounds like a pro’s pro remaining even-keeled.