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Loons' Finns have a strong connection on and off the field

A friend and teammate for a decade, Minnesota United's Robin Lod has become something else in his first full MLS season playing with fellow countryman Teemu Pukki.

Lod's a chef, too.

The two Finnish national team players are neighbors in Minnesota, and Lod and his family often played host when Pukki's wife and three children were back home after the birth of their first son in February.

"I cook for him some days," Lod said. "We'll get home and we'll have time together off the field, which is nice, too."

What does he cook, blood-dumpling soup and sautéed reindeer?

"I cook everything," Lod said. "Finnish food, that's not the best."

Pukki missed part of preseason workouts to be home with his wife, and was back in Finland for international duty last week before bringing his family with him for a visit to Minnesota.

"There are more important things than football," Pukki said. "The house is full of kids now. It's nice to have them over."

The Loons will be without injured defender Micky Tapias (hamstring) and star Emanuel Reynoso (visa) for Saturday's home game against Real Salt Lake, so they'll be leaning on Pukki and Lod.

Pukki arrived in Minnesota as the team's highest-paid player midway through last season. He came straight from offseason holiday after five seasons in England's Premier and Championship leagues with Norwich City.

"It's not easy and it was not perfect," Pukki said of the transition. "It took some time."

He went eight games without scoring a goal shortly after arriving, then finished the regular season with nine goals scored in 11 games, including four in a home game against L.A. Galaxy.

While he adjusted to a new league and new land, he watched his friend Lod rehabilitate nearly all season from May knee surgery.

"It's a shame he was injured all last year," Pukki said. "We know each other for a long time. We spend a lot of time together. Our wives know each other and the kids as well. It's nice to have them near."

Finnish connection

Lod and Pukki started beside each other in Finland's 4-1 loss in the UEFA Euro qualifiers, in which Pukki scored his country's only goal, last week in Wales.

Pukki scored both his MLS goals this season in a victory at Orlando City in the season's third game. He and Lod have nearly connected on many other scoring chances.

"You can see there is a genuine connection there beyond the obvious," Loons head coach Eric Ramsay said. "They have a really nice link. It's not an unhealthy link in that they're always looking for one another.

"The way we set it up, they're close to one another. Even though we haven't had a lot of goals from it, we've certainly had a lot of chances, so it's an important one for us."

Pukki scored the first goal early in Orlando, pressing high up the field and forcing a crucial goalie turnover in the Loons' new preferred style of play. His second goal came on a one-touch, spinning shot from 18 yards away that Lod set up with a short pass.

"I like to play with him," Lod said. "Every time I get the ball, I kind of feel like where he is. I mean, the guy can score from just about anywhere."

Lod has scored twice himself this season, celebrating each rebound goal in the 6-yard box by slinging an imaginary arrow into the air. Pukki helped create Lod's season-opening goal at Austin.

Pukki turned 34 last week, older than Ramsay, his 32-year-old coach.

"Yeah, that's the first time for me," Pukki said. "I haven't seen any difference. He has worked in football for so long, and he has experience. In the end, it's just a number, age is."

Fitting the new system

Ramsay is confident Pukki can still press, even if he isn't 18 anymore.

"It's a misconception to think someone at this stage of his career can't play that way," Ramsay said. "There is going to be a natural physical ceiling for how long he can do that and in what situations he can press like that. He's at a different stage in his career, and we've got to appreciate that."

Pukki said his team has pressed "pretty well" in its first five games, himself included.

"Maybe I can't do it as long as I did," he said. "But I still have energy in me to press high. I do it as long as I can, and then we bring guys from the bench who can keep doing the same thing."

But he still can score, seemingly out of nowhere. Or come close to it.

"That's what he has built his career on," Ramsay said. "That's what I've seen him do in England. I'm sure he has been doing that since he was a kid. He's a born goal scorer, and he can make something out of nothing. Hopefully it will click and we'll get a consistent flurry of goals from him."