Star player Emanuel Reynoso defects — again — on Minnesota United

The next chapter of the Emanuel Reynoso saga has blown open this week, and while the latest defection is serious, it’s not being treated like last season’s cliffhanger.

Reynoso, Minnesota United’s best player, traveled to Argentina the week of March 18 as MNUFC had set aside time during the international break for the attacking midfielder to leave the team and go through the process of obtaining his U.S. green card in his native country.

Reynoso, a two-time MLS All-Star, progressed in that immigration process, the Pioneer Press understands, but the 28-year-old then deviated from the set plan the following week.

“Emanuel Reynoso did not attend his recent green card appointment, and he remains in Argentina,” MNUFC Chief Soccer Officer Khaled El-Ahmad said in a statement Tuesday. “We do not have an updated timeline for his return and have no additional comment at this time. Our entire focus is on the players and staff who are here.”

The club wanted Reynoso to receive his green card because it would take him off one of the coveted eight international roster spots — along with providing Reynoso a chance for his family to settle in America.

If Reynoso would have attended his scheduled meeting, he would have been able to return to the U.S. before the Loons’ match against the Philadelphia Union on March 30. Reynoso has played only 31 minutes in one of the Loons’ six games this season, coming off the bench in the 2-0 victory over Los Angeles FC on March 16. A left knee injury kept him from playing in the opening three games.

This isn’t the first time Reynoso has gone absent without leave.

He didn’t report to training camp to start the 2023 season and didn’t arrive in Minnesota until May. MNUFC had initially sought for Reynoso to obtain his U.S. green card in January 2023, but his defection at the start of that preseason camp hijacked that plan.

Reynoso was suspended by MLS without pay last season; he is one of the club’s three Designated Players, earning $2.1 million in 2023, according to the MLS Players Association. Another suspension without pay by the league could be in the works this time around.

He missed the opening 40 percent of the 2023 season, but returned in June and finished with 10 goal contributions (six goals and four assists).

Then this January, Reynoso failed to report for the first week of preseason camp in Blaine. He traveled to Minnesota the following week and first joined the team for its training spell in Arizona.

Reynoso said both times that family issues were the reasons for his absences. In February, Reynoso shared the reason why he was tardy in January.

“I had asked permission from the club and I talked to them because I’m expecting a child with my girlfriend,” Reynoso said via a translation from club employee Marliene Calderon. “She’s pregnant and I found out shortly before I needed to report. So I asked the club for one more week to be able to arrange medical plans for her and make sure she was taken care of during her pregnancy because I was going to be here and she would be by herself for a while.”

MNUFC did not share an on-the-record reason why Reynoso is absent this time.

When Reynoso went MIA last season, multiple team leaders said Reynoso would have to earn back their trust. He appeared to do so after a meeting with teammates and then soon returned to the field for matches.

The Pioneer Press has learned this time around that Loons players are not treating Reynoso’s absence as the distraction it became a year ago. One player, who was granted anonymity to speak freely, said Reynoso’s absence is not an “energy vulture” the way it was in 2023. He used the metaphor of a train having left the station, and while they would welcome him back at a future stop along the tracks, they are not looking for him to be the conductor.

New Chief Soccer Officer Khaled El-Ahmad has established four tenets for how he wants individuals within the club to conduct themselves: be a good person, be professional, be transparent and be positive.

After he took over in January, El-Ahmad met with each player before the season, including Reynoso, and each person within the soccer side of the club was granted a clean slate by the new sporting director.

But some of Reynoso’s actions have not lived up to elements within El-Ahmad’s standard.

El-Ahmad and head coach Eric Ramsay have commented about how talented Reynoso is, but those two leaders also have talked about how the needs of the team come first. MNUFC has started strong with 11 points through six matches to sit in fourth place in MLS’s Western Conference.

When Reynoso returned last season, he was soon welcomed back into the first team. It’s unclear — if and when he comes back to Minnesota — how quickly he would be reintroduced to the MLS side. Star treatment does not appear to be an El-Ahmad practice, and Reynoso will likely have to do more to get back in a good standing.

Then there’s the possibility that Reynoso, who is under contract through the end of the 2025 season, has played his last game in a Loons shirt. El-Ahmad could look to transfer Reynoso to another MLS club or somewhere else around the world. It does not appear a contract buyout or termination would be an initial avenue the Loons will pursue.

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