Minnesota United captain Michael Boxall had a busy Wednesday. He and wife Libby welcomed the birth of their second child, a boy named Beau Beckham Boxall, in the morning. That evening, Boxall put in another 90-minute shift as the Loons’ top center back in a 3-2 victory over FC Dallas at Allianz Field.
Despite altered sleep over the past few nights with the infant and their 3-year-old daughter Maxwell, Boxall punched the clock again for 90 minutes in Minnesota’s 1-0 loss to Sporting Kansas City on Sunday.
Boxall is the only Loon to play all 1,260 minutes the team’s 14 games this season, including 270 minutes in the MLS is Back Tournament knockout rounds. Not far behind in playing time are midfielder Jan Gregus (1,241 minutes) and fullback Chase Gasper (1,215).
After that, United FC has a drop off that grows steep, and it will only get marginally better with a standard — but recently rare — week to recover before Saturday’s game at Houston. The Loons have seven players, five starters, on the injury list with only one, backup forward Aaron Schoenfeld (lower left leg), who could come off it soon.
“You look at our injury list and see kind of what’s happened. Not only to our team, but quite a few teams around the league. The games and the travel is taking its toll,” Boxall said Sunday. “Personally, I’m tired but battling through. Obviously with Beau coming Wednesday morning and that game, it’s been not the best sleep I’ve ever had. It doesn’t help at all, but it’s one of the things that you have to get on with. I’m looking forward to getting home and these next few days and having a full week to prepare for the next few games coming up. I think us and a lot of teams need the rest to get some legs back.”
The biggest boost to the roster is coming next to Boxall. New defender Bakaye Dibassy made his first start Sunday and showed the athleticism, positioning and poise that caused Minnesota to spent Targeted Allocation Money to bring him in from France. He had four recoveries, five interceptions and one vital kick save off the goal-line in the 65th minute.
“Once he finds his legs, he will be a very important player for us,” Boxall said.
The Loons also will get Romain Metanire back after the 2019 MLS all-star right back served a one-game red-card suspension Sunday.
Other than that, the Loons will keep playing without Tyler Miller (hips), Ike Opara (undisclosed injury), Luis Amarilla (ankle), Ozzie Alonso (hamstring), Ethan Finlay (knee) and Greg Ranjitsingh (knee). Plus, star midfielder Emanuel Reynoso had a sore groin and came off the bench because of it on Sunday.
All told, Minnesota players have lost 39 potential starts due to injury this season.
Given five games in 16 days and the extensive injury list, Heath made four changes on top of Metanire’s suspension for Sunday’s game. There could be more rotation within the next stretch of three matches in nine days come Saturday.
But United is not the only club rotating its squad by force and will. Sporting K.C., which reported Saturday a player was out with a positive COVID-19 test, had at least six players out for various reasons, including top striker Alan Pulido. Real Salt Lake made upwards of 10 changes before playing the Loons on Sept. 6.
“We can’t just keep playing the same group every four days until the end of the season; it’s impossible,” coach Adrian Heath said. “… This week will be good. Hopefully we will get a little bit of recuperation in the guys and get them a little bit healthier.”
When asked Sunday which players could come off the injured list, Heath rubbed his face before answering.
“Maybe the only one would be Aaron at this moment in time,” Heath said. “It would probably be too early for Ozzie, I would think. Obviously, Romain’s suspension will be up. Luis probably not. Hopefully we can get Aaron Schoenfeld back and that will give us another option up front.”
The club is still mum on the status of MLS defender of the year Ike Opara, who missed his 12th consecutive game Sunday.
“No. Not at this moment,” Heath said about an update on Opara. “It’s pretty much as we were. Obviously, it’s a little bit frustrating, but at the end of the day, we have to let time take its course.”
Comfortable playing only one goalkeeper and one natural striker, Minnesota is exploring options to add players at both those positions.
Allianz Field helping election
United FC has received approval for Allianz Field to be a ballot drop-off location for the upcoming general election, a club spokesman said Monday.
In the past few weeks, Loons officials have met with Ramsey County leaders to try to become a polling place on Nov. 3. This was part of the club’s multi-pronged efforts to improve social justice in the Twin Cities in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis in May.
Other pro sports teams, particularly across the NBA, have sought to host voters in their larger arenas, which better accommodate for social distancing during the pandemic.