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Loons captain Michael Boxall will stick with club this month, won’t join New Zealand team

Minnesota United’s roster was ravaged by international call-ups for the 1-1 draw with FC Dallas on Saturday, but the Loons will avoid losing their ironman this month.

MNUFC captain Michael Boxall — who has played all 1,440 minutes across 16 games this season — will not be joining New Zealand for the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) Nations Cup next week, he told the Pioneer Press on Saturday.

“Had a few conversations — happy to stick around,” Boxall said inside the Loons dressing room post-match.

The Kiwis are scheduled to play group-stage matches June 18 and June 21. If they advanced all the way to the final and Boxall was with them, he could have missed approximately four MLS matches while playing for his country through June 30.

“It will give some younger players from New Zealand the opportunity to get some minutes and some experience,” Boxall, 35, said. “I’ll be around. And my wife (Libby) will be happy I’m not gone for three weeks.”

On top of his day job, Boxall will remain on daddy duty for his two young children.

The Loons will get back the majority of their internationals before Saturday’s game at the Seattle Sounders. Goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair (Canada) and midfielder Alejandro Bran (Costa Rica) are expected to remain with their national teams for Copa America. It’s uncertain if striker Tani Oluwaseyi will remain with Canada for that regional tournament; he was a late call-up to Canada’s two friendlies this week.

Not kept in a Kage

Loons academy prospect and current MNUFC2 player Kage Romanshyn has been training regularly with the first team since preseason started in January. So, the 18-year-old Apple Valley native’s MLS debut Saturday wasn’t exactly a push into the deep end of the pool.

“Training with these guys every day, it makes me so much better, working on my game against them,” Romanshyn said of work done during the week in Blaine. “I just feel like I’m getting better every day.”

Romanshyn said there were “a little bit” of nerves before subbing into the match for a 12-minute shift in the second half. “But kind of when I just stepped on the pitch, I just kind of felt at home,” Romanshyn said. “I felt ready. It was good.

“Honestly, it was a surreal experience,” Romanshyn continued. “I had so much fun. It kind of felt like a bit of hard work paid off, which was really fun. (I’m) just thankful for the coaches for believing in me.”

Romanshyn is subjected to some friendly ribbing from veterans on the team. Six-year midfielder Hassani Dotson says he tries to strike a balance with newcomers.

“I like to joke around with guys,” Dotson said. “Nothing too heavy, but talk to them a lot and make sure they know they can come to me with anything. I welcome the competition. I want him to be loud and aggressive, and let him know it’s his career too. He doesn’t have to take a back seat because he’s with older guys. That is one thing I really like about him is that he’s got that fire. He’ll let you know if you mess up. That’s what I want.”

Jokes include referring to Romanshyn by his actual first name, Keith. “Yeah, I don’t know if that is his legal name, but that came up,” Dotson said. “So we play around with little Keith.”

MLS debutants wear a small patch commemorating their achievement on the chest of their jerseys this season. “Probably frame it,” Romanshyn said, still wearing the black shirt in front of his locker. “Put it up in my house.”

Irwin keeps Loons level

With St. Clair expected to be away for weeks, the Loons need backup goalkeeper Clint Irwin to step up. He did so Saturday with three big saves in the second half in St. Paul.

“Exactly what we needed from him,” head coach Eric Ramsay said. “He has been a really big part of what we are doing. He is very good behind the scenes, perfect character for that No. 2 goalkeeper, really good influence in the dressing room, really steady guy, very positive, and we needed him to perform.

“I’m really glad that he has done so because it sets off really well this period that he is going to be standing in for Dayne,” Ramsay continued. “I did not have any doubts about him, I don’t think any of the staff had any doubts about him, and he has proved that.”

The Loons don’t have a third goalkeeper on their MLS roster. They have called up MNUFC2’s Alec Smir three times on short-term loans, including Saturday’s game, and since he hasn’t played, he has only one more loan available this season. That means the club might sign Smir to an MLS contract for the rest of the season to provide cover at the position.

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