Back in January, Minnesota United technical director Mark Watson boarded a plane headed for Buenos Aires. Remember when such a thing was commonplace? It seems a lifetime ago, a time before the COVID-19 pandemic strangled the globe.
Watson's hope was to finalize a deal for Boca Juniors attacking midfielder Emanuel Reynoso, a player who had been on Minnesota United's radar for some time. They were convinced he could be a star for their team and in MLS. He was within their budget, too. They never wavered in that conviction, but the process of working through a deal for Reynoso was far from straightforward.
That helpful first trip to Argentina saw the Loons near a deal for the 24-year-old, but they stayed "near" a deal for the better part of eight months.
“It was pretty clear early on this wasn’t going to be a quick 48-hour (trip), grab the player and hop back on the plane," Watson told reporters on a virtual press conference Tuesday of that first journey to Argentina.
It wasn't easy, but the eight-month saga of trying to bring Reynoso to Minnesota is finally complete. He sat on a virtual press conference, accomplished and excited with Reynoso draped in Loons' gear in another panel on the screen, fielding questions about just how Minnesota finally got their man on a club-record transfer.
The first obstacle was simply that Boca weren't going to let a valuable player go easily. He was a regular in the team, one they were reluctant to lose, particularly as their domestic season was ending this winter as they chased a league title. Reynoso made 66 appearances with the storied Argentine club over two-and-a-half years, scoring five goals and contributing eight assists.
The two clubs had just about reached a deal in February, with reports suggesting it was "95% done," but never got over the line. Boca and Reynoso did end up winning the league title.
Then the pandemic happened and talks cooled for months.
"There were so many things that went on," Watson said of the long saga.
Throughout the months, Minnesota considered pursuing other targets. Their ever-evolving shortlists presented a number of options at No. 10, as well as in multiple other positions. But they just kept coming back to Reynoso.
“We never wavered in this process," head coach Adrian Heath said. "At times, it looked like we weren’t going to make it, but throughout the process, the player made it clear he wanted to come. We looked elsewhere but kept coming back to him.”
Talks were eventually resurrected this summer, though still had hurdles to get over. A number of Boca's targets to replace Reynoso fell through thus the club remained reluctant to lose him. Yet the player pushed for a move to Minnesota, helping nudge the deal to the final stages again before one last hurdle arose. An unnamed Brazilian club came in with a proposal that would have sent a more lavish transfer fee to Boca and handed a more opulent contract to Reynoso. But the player was adamant on coming to Minnesota.
"It’s a testament to the player to persevere and not want to do other things," Watson said. "Once he made his commitment to come to Minnesota, he stuck with it. He made personal sacrifices and significant financial sacrifices. We’re so happy it’s over the line.”
"Once I saw the great interest the club had in me, I looked into the club itself, "Reynoso added through a translator. "The facilities, the city — I was sold. I was interested right away. I had a conversation with the folks at Boca that this was something I wanted to do. I’m so grateful for Mark and everyone at Minnesota to help make this happen.”
Now, the focus happily shifts to what Reynoso can do on the field rather than the club being asked incessantly if there was an update in their months-long pursuit of the player. Simply put, Heath and the Loons have huge expectations for what he can contribute.
“I’m sure over the next few years he’ll become one of the best players in MLS," Heath said. "We’re delighted to have him.”
Reynoso has been in the United States and his mandatory quarantine ends on Monday night. He is already eligible to debut on Wednesday against the Houston Dynamo after receiving his International Transfer Certificate Monday, creating an interesting subplot considering former Loons attacking DP Darwin Quintero currently lines up for the Dynamo.
The Argentine is best deployed as a No. 10 and that's where Heath sees he'll get the majority of his minutes, but Heath also hailed Reynoso for his versatility. The left-footed attacker is comfortable playing on either wing and has even clocked minutes as a No. 8 in a 4-3-3, another system the Loons turn to at times from their preferred 4-2-3-1.
"The fact that he's got that much versatility, and the fact that when you speak to the boy he tells you 'I'll play wherever you want me to play,' that's a big bonus. But he's a No. 10, I see him playing in and around the striker. I want to get him closer to the penalty area, I think there's a lot more goals in him. We know there's assists in him, he's got great vision and great awareness. The closer we can get him to the penalty area to make the most of that, the better it'll be for everyone."
Reynoso is the crown jewel of an already productive attack, led by the likes of Luis Amarilla, Kevin Molino, Robin Lod and Ethan Finlay. They have Mason Toye and DP Thomas Chacon as more options in attacking positions. Heath has options for 2020 and beyond.
Watson and the front office have options, too. While Reynoso currently occupies the Loons' final DP slot, Watson suggests they can easily shift Chacon and Jan Gregus to non-DP roster designations to open the possibility of more DP signings next year.
“We’ll have a lot of flexibility," Watson said. "You add youth player slots for next year and Jan can be brought down. We’re going through the mid-season evaluations and what next year can look like. Those discussions are ongoing.”