It takes plenty of nerve and skill to convert a Panenka penalty kick at any time. To do it with the score tied and your team’s season on the line requires something special.
And that’s how Minnesota United FC described their talisman, Emanuel Reynoso, after he chipped a 39th-minute penalty kick straight down the middle past Tim Melia as Sporting Kansas City's goalkeeper dove out the way. The goal proved the winner in Sunday’s crucial Western Conference clash at Allianz Field, putting Minnesota above the Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoff line and keeping their postseason fate in their own hands going into Decision Day in a week’s time.
"He has so much confidence in his own ability – you can see that in the way he plays," Minnesota head coach Adrian Heath said of Reynoso after the 2-1 win. "For me, he's maybe the most talented footballer in the league. He can do things that nobody else can do. You know, maybe one or two can score more goals, and that's something we've been on about, but he can actually do things on the field that nobody else in this league can do."
For Reynoso himself, he's been planning the Panenka for quite some time, with the Argentine stating that he's been working with teammate Adrian Zendejas on it, while also waiting patiently for his moment on the pitch to execute the cheeky attempt.
"Yeah, I practiced with the guys there in training," Reynoso said. "But because we never really got penalties, the goalkeepers, they don’t know us. I decided to take the kicks with confidence from the roster and the coaches. The goalkeepers don’t know how we kick so I was able to chip it.”
Left back Chase Gasper was bewildered by the audacity of his teammate in that moment, admitting that nobody knew the Panenka was coming.
"Pshhhht. I mean, we all how special of a player he is – and we are so lucky to have him on our team," Gasper said. "It takes special players to pull off tricks and shots like that. He's so fun to watch."
The 25-year-old defender added that this result against Sporting was "100 percent" their most important win this season, with the three points putting the Loons in pole position for a playoff spot. With just one match remaining on the regular-season schedule, the Loons will head to Los Angeles to face the Galaxy on Decision Day (6 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+), with their fate determined on November 7.
Sunday's win arrived on the heels of a 2-1 road loss against Vancouver Whitecaps FC and a 1-1 home draw against LAFC. Then against KC, they won't down 1-0 early through Khiry Shelton's goal. But they bounced back, defeating the Western Conference's No. 1 team.
"It's never easy when you go into a game, especially against a team that's in the playoffs, comfortable where they are playing, with a lot of confidence and you know ... you have to win really," Heath said. "So to go into the game, in that mentality that you have to win this game, that it speaks volumes for the players' attitude and determination to come back from the goal that we did."
Only five points separate fourth through ninth place in the Western Conference, with the Loons currently residing in fifth on 48 points. A Decision Day win would guarantee them a place in the playoffs regardless of other results, while a draw could leave their fate out of their hands.
"We've got a few results to watch over the next couple of days to give us a full idea of how important it is [their Decision Day match in LA]," Heath said. "We might have to go there and win, we might have to go there and only get a point. All of that affects the mindset of not only us, but the Galaxy as well, but it's certainly going to be a huge game."