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“It’s a competition for everybody in the squad. Always is. Every time you play, you’ve got an opportunity to hopefully nail down that position.”
Those were the words of Minnesota United head coach Adrian Heath last week, after I asked if he would consider it a competition between DP strikers Mender Garcia and Luis Amarilla for the Loons’ starting No. 9 slot, following Garcia’s game-winning-goal-scoring performance in Dallas.
Many, including myself, believed Amarilla would come into 2023 starting Matchday One up top for MNUFC. The Paraguayan had arguably the best two-month span of his career last season, scoring five goals and adding four assists in a nine-match stretch in July and August.
Meanwhile, Garcia wasn’t fully able to acclimate to his new surroundings after joining the team in the summer window, spending most of his time filling injury gaps at right wing instead of playing at his much-preferred striker spot.
Now? Things are a lot less cut-and-dry.
Amarilla wasn’t able to return to the squad from an appointment in his home country to receive his green card ahead of the season-opener in Dallas, which meant it was Garcia who received the starting nod and the opportunity to earn his spot.
It’s an opportunity the Colombian took and ran with. A 48th minute goal helped Minnesota to a gargantuan three points on the road to begin their campaign.
“I know that, having been a forward myself, there’s nothing like scoring a goal to give you confidence to hopefully get you to the next level,” said Heath. “Mender’s put himself in a really good spot.”
Per Jacob Schneider, Amarilla was back training with the squad Tuesday in preparations for Saturday’s home-opener. But will the starting striker spot be there waiting for him?
Just last year, Tyler Miller started the season in goal for the Loons, but illness kept him out of an early season matchup against (serendipitously enough) the New York Red Bulls. Dayne St. Clair started that night, made a billion saves, and never relinquished the spot.
Does Garcia find himself in the same position St. Clair did almost exactly one year ago? If history and Heath’s own words are any indication, the “hot hand” (or foot, in this case) will be given the opportunity to stay hot.