Minnesota United attacker Robin Lod chalked up his game-winning goal against FC Dallas on May 15 to just being in the right place at the right time.
Teammate Wil Trapp said their 94th-minute corner kick called for Lod to be at near post to create “a little bit of doubt” for Dallas’ zonal player also in that area. When Brent Kallman’s header was saved off the line, Lod poked in the rebound to give the Loons their second straight 1-0 victory and help reverse the downward trend of four consecutive losses to start the season.
Through six games, Lod has been involved in four of the Loons’ five total goals (scoring and assisting on two apiece). His 80% contribution rate on a team’s goals is second in MLS behind only Columbus midfielder Lucas Zelarayan, who has been involved in all three Crew goals this year.
When Lod arrived in Minnesota from Spanish club Sporting Gijon a lot was made about his positioning on the pitch. He played on the left side of a midfield three, but was better on the right, where he could cut in to have the ball on his preferred left foot.
Then late last season and early this year, Lod has been playing as a “false nine” at the top of the Loons’ attack. Wherever he is in manager Adrian Heath’s team for Saturday’s game at Real Salt Lake, he will take on a more important role with central attacking midfielder Emanuel Reynoso out with a knee injury.
Heath said in preseason that Lod was Reynoso’s primary backup at the No. 10 spot, but new addition Franco Fragapane could also make his Loons debut in that spot against RSL. Heath could also go with a change in formation from his 4-2-3-1 to a 4-3-3 he often does on the road.
Either way, Lod’s productivity and promise makes him integral. He’s fourth in MLS with 4.58 expected goals and assists, behind only New England’s Carles Gil, Seattle’s Raul Ruidiaz, New York City’s Valentin Castellanos. Reynoso is currently 17th at 3.69, according to wyscout.
Last year, Lod scored 10 total goals, seven in the regular season, two in the MLS is Back knockout rounds and one in the MLS Cup Playoffs. It was a big improvement from the one goal he scored in all competitions in 2019.
“People gave me a bit of stink when he got here for not scoring enough goals,” Heath said Tuesday. “I said when he gets fit. He got double figures last year. I expect him to get the same again this season. Now for a wide guy, that’s a really good return. He’s got quality in everything he does. He’s quicker than people think, stronger than people think and has a really good understanding of the game.”
Lod said there were many facets that contributed to his difficult transition to Minnesota in July 2019.
“It’s not easy to just move so far away and try to find a house because I came in the middle of the season, training is going, games are going and … my daughter was born at the same time,” Lod said in an interview with the Pioneer Press. “That was a lot going on and I think I barely remember everything for the first three months.”
Then there was adapting to the MLS style of play, his new teammates and trying to get up to speed when the rest of the players were in midseason form. He didn’t score in 583 MLS minutes, with his only goal coming in the U.S. Open Cup final in August.
“I don’t think I played super bad in 2019,” Lod said. “I think I was just missing the last pieces in the scoring goals and making assists. That is what everybody kind of remembers. It was good to have a good preseason … in 2020.”
The wild ride of 2020 included the European Championships being delayed until June 2021. Lod and Jukka Raitiala will join Finland’s national team, while Jan Gregus is expected to go meet Slovakia after the Loons’ game on Saturday.
When Finland qualified for its first Euros, Lod and Jukka beamed in describing how much it meant to their country. Finns celebrated in the streets, from the capital of Helsinki to smaller villages.
“It was amazing,” said Raitala, who has been with the national team since 2009. “I’ve been there in the bad times when we don’t win games and finally everything starts to work out and we start to get results and confidence. … It’s like cream on top of the cake. There are generations of people … feeling like, finally we reached Euros. It’s a very big thing for the whole country.”
“I think it was a good night for the local bars,” Lod added about the night they qualified. “It was fun and it was great to see how much it affected Finnish people, how many people were happy for it.”
The yearlong delay shelved some of that hype, Lod said, but he said it will start to come back soon after they cross the Atlantic on Sunday.
In Group B, Finland will face Denmark in Copenhagen on June 12, then play Russia in St. Petersburg on June 16 and finish with Belgium in St. Petersburg on June 21.
“For other countries, they think it’s a highlight to win the tournament,” Lod said. “For us, as a small soccer country, it’s a big highlight (to qualify). We go and are happy to compete in the Euros, and (we’ll) see how it goes.”
The Loons will take a break before returning with MLS games June 19, 23 and 26. The club and its supporters will be cheering for Lod and the rest of its Euro contingent as the restart without them. With Lod, they hope he stays hot for when he rejoins the club.