Oh, the bittersweet music of the international call-up.
Just a week after the Loons looked to be finding their feet against Colorado with a tweaked lineup, they’ll have to go without Rasmus Schuller, Kevin Molino, Johan Venegas and Francisco Calvo as the team heads to New England to face the Revolution (Saturday, March 25 at 1:00 p.m. on My29 and MNUFC Radio on 1500 ESPN).
This is because those four players have been called for international duty with their national teams — Schuller with Finland, Molino with Trinidad & Tobago and both Venegas and Calvo for Costa Rica. They’ll all be playing in FIFA World Cup qualifying matches for their home countries this week, and while being shorthanded is going to be a challenge, it’s also an opportunity.
For one thing — and as the match against Colorado this past weekend showed — the abilities of all the players on the roster haven’t been fully plumbed yet and furthermore, because soccer leans so heavily on the interaction of players, all the complex chemistries between different player combinations have yet to be explored. As much as these things can be sussed out in practice, it often takes the pressure of an actual match to reveal them. As head coach Adrian Heath continually emphasizes, this is a work in progress, with much left to be done.
“It gives the guys who've been out of the team an opportunity to show you in an MLS game what they can do,” said Heath. “There's three or four of them who've been really disappointed that they were left out at the weekend. And quite rightly so: I don't expect anything else. This is another opportunity for them. One door shuts, another door opens for people, and all I know is every time that you play, you have an opportunity to impress. As we're still getting to know everybody within this group, it's just another opportunity.”
Secondly, national team experience can be tremendously valuable for players, both in terms of personal development and in terms of exposure to a wider audience. Venegas hasn’t scored in MLS play yet, but he’s been a strong presence for the Costa Rican team, netting eight goals in 32 appearances so far. Maybe a jolt of international success will get him going when he comes back to Minnesota.
And how many fans of Minnesota United might be tempted to go check out the Costa Rican or Finnish national team? While you’re there, you might learn a thing or two about another Costa Rican player or even one of the players they play against. There’s no better way to get into the game than watching new teams and players, plus it might even get people to follow the Loons a little more closely.
“I've never stopped a player going,” said Heath, “because I know how much it meant for me when I played for my country. It's a great representation of our club that we've got four players playing in World Cup qualifiers over the next few days so hopefully in a few years there's going to be more of them. They go with our blessing. We hope they do well and we hope they come back fit and healthy for the next game.”
One of soccer’s best qualities as a sport to follow is the game’s global reach. Players come from all over to MLS, and when they go back, we get a chance to learn more about the game on an international stage. Just think: when the World Cup comes around in 2018, you could have deep and informed opinions about Costa Rica’s team. And all thanks to Calvo and Venegas.