Thu. Sep 21st, 2023

Image: Minnesota United

In the world of Major League Soccer, there’s no story more relevant to talk about right now than the upcoming play of a legendary and revered Argentine playmaker, whose play is likely to change the fate of his team and unlock the players around him to a greater degree than anyone else has yet been able to.

Yes, that’s right, it’s time to talk about Emanuel Reynoso’s return to the field of play for Minnesota United. Reynoso made his season debut last weekend, playing the final 25 minutes (plus stoppage) of Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Toronto FC. Within that time, he had a decent scoring chance from the top of the box, took several dangerous corner kicks, and generally looked like himself.

Not to mention, Rey started the sequence that led to Kervin Arriaga’s late equalizer with a dangerous ball to the back post.

If you’re new to the team or just need a quick refresher, this is Reynoso’s fourth season playing for Minnesota. He entered the scene with a tremendous bang in 2020, scoring one goal and providing seven assists across 13 regular season games, but then dropping another goal and seven more assists in the Loons’ three playoff games.

He did not quite reach those lofty heights in either 2021 or 2022, but was still clearly Minnesota’s best player and one of the better attacking players in the league. Reynoso finished 2022 with 10 goals and 11 assists, one of just six players in the league to hit double digits in both categories. He was top ten in the league last season in attacking assists with 68.

Even more than that, in some ways he defined how Minnesota’s team functioned. In dribbles attempted, Reynoso not only led the entire league, but he blew the rest of the competition out of the water, his 134 dwarfing Carles Gil’s 87. The same was true of duels, where Reynoso is in a completely different stratosphere to anyone else in MLS. His 2022 total was 558; the next closest competitors were just above 400. He also led MLS in both these categories in 2021, but increased both of his counts in 2022.

Reynoso thrives with the ball at his feet, and when he doesn’t have it, he will go get it.

The pressing play that the Loons have demonstrated from time to time in 2023 is exactly where Reynoso can shine, and his ability to control the ball through tight defensive spaces is at a different level to anyone else on the team, which was already on full display in his Saturday cameo. He is an impact player both in attack and without the ball, and he fits a gap in Minnesota’s lineup that has existed for the entirety of this season.

Adrian Heath has tried many players in the “number 10” role, and has tried different formations than his preferred 4-2-3-1 to compensate for Reynoso’s absence, a fact that has been well documented in these pages. His return simplifies most of the decisions around him. Reynoso will play the 10, likely with Franco Fragapane on his left and Bongokuhle Hlongwane to his right, and Mender Garcia will likely play as the striker ahead of him. Sang Bin Jeong (who started at striker on Saturday) and Joseph Rosales (who started on the left) will also be in the picture.

Reynoso also gives the Loons their preferred free kick and corner kick taker back, which stands a chance to unlock a stagnant set piece game for Minnesota. The Loons haven’t scored from a corner kick since Micky Tapias’ flicked finish all the way back on March 18 against Colorado.

After months of writing about Reynoso off the pitch, it is comforting to once again write about the Loons’ undoubted MVP on the pitch. He will surely continue to be the preeminent Argentine #10 in MLS for the months to come, right?

What’s that? Who’s Lionel Messi? Never heard of him.

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