What will Loons do with talented but flighty star player Emanuel Reynoso?

Emanuel Reynoso was at the heights of his playmaking powers during the 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs.

In his first year with Minnesota United, the Argentine attacking midfielder had six primary assists and a wonderful free-kick goal in the Loons’ three-match postseason run to the Western Conference final.

Reynoso continued to dazzle across the following three MLS seasons, including two MLS All-Star invitations and status as one of six players league-wide to have double-digit goals and total assists in 2022.

But Reynoso’s cornerstone position within MNUFC has cracked over the past two years. Three unexcused absences where he has remained in Argentine have damaged his standing within the Loons organization and across the team’s fan base.

It’s a shame. If the 28-year-old would remain committed to the Loons, he could be solidifying his status as a club legend and one of the best players in MLS.

Reynoso’s third defection from MNUFC in two years came to light this week when new Chief Soccer Officer Khaled El-Ahmad shared Reynoso did not attend a U.S. green card meeting on March 25 and has remained in Argentina. The club directed Reynoso to seek permanent resident status in the U.S. in order to vacate one of its eight international roster spots, so the club, in turn, can be more active internationally in the summer transfer window.

First-year head coach Eric Ramsay has been adjusting midseason to his new team within a foreign league, and the Welshman has to manage a squad around the glaring absence of its best player.

“The strength of this group is the group and the team, and the maturity that a big chunk of the group have, so I don’t really want to get too drawn into the intricacies of the administrative side of it or how it’s perceived elsewhere,” said Ramsay, who is preparing for Saturday night’s match against Houston Dynamo at Allianz Field. “I want to focus on this group and these players and the staff that are here, as the club has also said.”

MNUFC has been in direct communications with Reynoso, and it’s possible he returns to Minnesota soon. But if and when he does arrive, Reynoso could be subjected to a longer route to return to MLS action. That path might include a training stint with MNUFC2, the club’s developmental team.

This time away from the MLS team would potentially go beyond the necessary build up he would need to get fit after missing three weeks of training. The last line of El-Ahmad’s statement might be the most revealing window into his thinking and lack of star-player treatment: “Our entire focus is on the players and staff who are here.”

When Reynoso didn’t report to Minnesota until May last season, and he missed the opening 40 percent of games, MLS suspended him without pay. His salary was $2.1 million in 2023, according to MLS Players Association. Withholding paychecks is a lever at the league’s disposal this time around as well and might have already been pulled.

When Reynoso returned to the Loons last season, he was sidelined only long enough to get fit, and he was cheered when he stepped onto the grass at Allianz Field in June. He said family issues kept him in Argentina; no reason for his absence has been shared so far this time.

Fans, however, don’t appear to be as forgiving now. With news of his latest absence dropping Tuesday, some supporters on social media called for his contract to be bought out.

There is no advantage for MNUFC to ditch him like that. He is signed through the end of the 2025 season, and he is too talented and still too valuable for the franchise to be that rash.

The Loons paid Argentina club Boca Juniors a $5 million transfer fee for Reynoso in 2020, and this latest drama will likely depress his price on the open market and drive potential suitors to seek a discount.

But selling him for, let’s say, a quarter instead of a dollar obviously would be better than just letting him walk away for nothing.

If this is the beginning of the end of Reynoso’s tenure in Minnesota, the club might consider a trade within MLS, but that would most likely come in exchange of General Allocation Money (GAM), a pool of funds of which MNUFC is believed to have an abundance.

Plus, an intra-league trade, especially to a Western Conference competitor, would result in the need to play against Reynoso and be subject to his playmaking prowess at the Loons’ own expense in the standings.

A transfer outside of MLS — possibly to Mexico’s Liga MX? — would come with a fee of actual dollars and no need to play against the dangerous central attacking midfielder on a regular basis.

But would the Loons be swayed to sell Reynoso to a club in Mexico for, say, $1 million, or be more inclined to trade him within MLS for a hypothetical figure of $1.5 million in GAM?

The MLS primary transfer window is open until April 23, but nothing is expected to happen that quickly. The summer transfer window, however, opens July 18 and closes Aug. 14; that would be the first feasible option for the Loons to move Reynoso. Or they could wait and send him elsewhere after the season.

There remains a need within Minnesota United for player of Reynoso’s exceeding on-ball skills. Take the 1-1 draw with Real Salt Lake last weekend: the Loons clearly missed Reynoso’s ability to create scoring chances, and they don’t have a player who can regularly rise to that pulling-strings level.

The club saw Reynoso’s buy-in to the team and the new leadership pair of El-Ahmad and Ramsay to start this season and don’t see him as some sort of diva when he is Minnesota. But when he goes to his hometown of Cordoba, Argentina, he appears to allows himself to get sucked in.

The best course of action for MNUFC appears to be a combination of patience for Reynoso to return to Minnesota and work his way back into the MLS team, and meanwhile, the club can take time to explore a wider range of options for a possible divorce with the most-talented player in club history.

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