Minnesota United rising: Reynoso production, Pukki signing inspire hope


Minnesota United FC, after registering their highest goal output of the 2023 season Saturday in a 4-1 home win over the Portland Timbers, have several big reasons to believe their fortunes may turn the corner.

First, there's Emanuel Reynoso nearing peak form since returning to the lineup in early June. On Saturday against Portland, the Argentine DP bagged a brace to give himself three goals in two matches.

On top of that, there are reinforcements headed the Loons' way in the form of a DP striker: on Tuesday, former Norwich City star Teemu Pukki officially signed with Minnesota via a free transfer, soon bringing Finland's all-time leading scorer to Allianz Field.

While Adrian Heath's team currently sits in 11th place in the Western Conference, they have games in hand and are just a point out of an Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs spot. An in-form Reynoso and Pukki's expected contributions could help the Loons make a serious push up the table.

"With the support of our fans, and with our team, we were able to move the game in a positive direction," Reynoso said through a translator postgame. "I'm also happy because we won at home, which we haven't done in a long time. So we have to continue on this path, which is hard, but we know that we have to go down this path to reach our objective of making the playoffs.”

Reynoso rising

The 2023 preseason began with a cloud over the Loons since Reynoso was suspended by the league without pay for failing to report to training camp. While Minnesota went unbeaten in their first five matches (3W-0L-2D) without their No. 10, they subsequently managed just one of a possible 18 points in their next six.

Reynoso eventually returned stateside and found his way back into the lineup, playing 25 minutes in a 1-1 draw against Toronto FC on June 3. After getting off the mark on June 24 against Real Salt Lake, he scored twice against Portland on Saturday, including an Olimpico in first-half stoppage time.

"He’s capable of that, and we’ve seen it in training where he looks like he’s going to cross it and he actually whips it in the near post," Heath said, while noting the work and level of training Reynoso has exhibited following his return.

"If we can keep him engaged the way that he is at this moment in time, training 100 percent every session, then he will be a big plus for us,” Heath said.

Reynoso, a 2022 MLS All-Star, is among the premier playmakers in the league. His impact permeates across the group.

“I feel like he is back," forward Bongokuhle Hlongwane said. "He doesn’t need much. He knows football, that thing is in him. He is talented and doesn’t need the work to be involved in the game. He’s a natural.”

Pukki's debut TBA

Minnesota remain at home next Saturday as they face Austin FC (8:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass) – without Heath in the technical area due to yellow-card accumulation. With Pukki working to receive his visa, it's not known when he'll make his debut; Heath said the club was "trying" to get the process expedited to have their new signing in place by the next match.

But with 88 goals in 210 appearances across all competitions with Norwich, the Finnish 33-year-old has made his quality evident.

"He is a good striker and he is going to help us with his experience from Europe. He’s got everything. The only thing we need to do is pass him the ball and be patient with him," Hlongwane said. "There is excitement. I can’t wait for him to join us."