International competition returns to the soccer world this week, with friendlies worldwide, the first round of CONMEBOL World Cup qualification kicking off in South America and the UEFA Nations League and U21 European Championships both getting underway as well.
Luckily for Minnesota United, only one of their three potential losses for the window ended up leaving the team.
Unfortunately, it’s still a crucial piece to lose at a less-than-convenient time.
Finland granted Robin Lod the option to stay in the U.S., and Kevin Molino‘s international team, Trinidad and Tobago, won’t be competing in any international matches for the foreseeable future. But Jan Gregus will leave the squad to compete for Slovakia in the Nations League. According to MNUFC Head Coach Adrian Heath, neither he nor Gregus seemed to have much say in the matter.
“We had hoped to keep Jan around,” said Heath. “But [the Slovakia national team] have exercised their clause to bring him back which is disappointing, but I understand it.”
So what does this mean for Heath and the Loons? An inability to properly rotate during a time when they desperately need to do so.
Slovakia’s October Nations League schedule wraps up Oct. 14, and Gregus will have to undergo a mandatory 10-day quarantine upon his return to the U.S. With an unlikely chance of being available for Minnesota’s Oct. 24 match vs. FC Cincinnati, the defensive midfielder will likely make his Loons return Oct. 28 at home vs. Colorado Rapids.
That’s five total games without Gregus, including Tuesday’s 0-0 draw with Nashville.
“When you can miss up to six games in a season like this, this is not right,” said Heath. “I’m sure there [are] a lot of clubs that [will be] in the same boat.”
Fortunately, this comes at a time when fellow defensive mid Ozzie Alonso may return from injury this Sunday at FC Dallas. But after this five-game stretch, the Loons will have played a total of 11 consecutive matches without a full-strength defensive midfield pairing. With that portion of the pitch playing such a vital role, Heath and Co. face a continued uphill battle to plug in the right backup options.
“We’d like to get Ozzie fit, if we can, for next weekend,” said Heath. “We’ll have to make one or two changes because we can’t expect the same group to go every three or four days.”
Furthermore, if Alonso cannot play, that leaves Hassani Dotson to fill that hole. Because he’s also the team’s top right back option off the bench, Dotson’s perpetual preoccupation in the midfield has left, and will continue to leave, the right side of the Loons’ backline extremely thin and the defensive unit as a whole overused and under-rested.
Getting rookie defender Noah Billingsley back from Las Vegas will be much-needed, but it’s only a proverbial band-aid on a much greater issue. Minnesota United needs to rotate, but injuries, yellow card accumulation and now international duty aren’t allowing them to do so effectively.