“I enjoy playing with him. He’s a really good player. I feel like we think about the game really similarly,” Lod said. “It’s really easy to play with him, and I’m really looking forward to (it). I can play (any day) with him and not every once in a while with the national team.”
That wasn’t possible at all in the 2023 MLS season. Lod’s season ended in May with a torn meniscus in his right knee; Pukki arrived in July after a free transfer from Norwich City in England’s second division, The Championship.
What similarities do the two Finns share?
“We look at the spaces,” Lod explained. “I know he likes to run in behind the lines. He knows where to run when I get the ball. I feel like I can get most of his strengths out of him.”
Lod, however, didn’t risk being overzealous. Last year’s injury was the first major setback of his 12-year career and he’s still waiting to see how the joint reacts as preseason ramps up.
“It’s early days so we will see how, when we load up, it will react,” the 30-year-old said Friday. “But so far it’s been good.”
Being sidelined last year gives him “hunger to perform,” he said.
Where on the field that might be this season is yet to be seen. Lod has become a “Finnish Army Knife” for United, moving around the field where needed, from his regular spot at right wing to central and defensive midfield and even a false-nine striker.
But a return to right wing looks possible, with an experiment of Bongi Hlongwane going from right wing to left being explored this preseason.
“As long as I’m not goalkeeper, I can affect the game, so it doesn’t matter,” Lod said of his positioning.
Lod currently sits as the Loons’ MLS-era leader in regular-season goals, with 22 in 93 total games since 2019; Pukki reached 10 goals in 14 matches last season.
Pukki, meanwhile, has taken paternity leave. After participating in Thursday’s training session, he traveled to Finland to be with his wife as the couple is expecting their third child. He might be able to rejoin the team next week.
New ETA for KEA
New Chief Soccer Officer Khaled El-Ahmad has a meeting scheduled Monday in Sweden to finish up his work visa process, with a flight booked to arrive in Minnesota on Wednesday.
If that arrival date holds up, it will be 77 days since his hiring was announced on Nov. 8. When hired, he was under contract with Barnsley in England and needed to tie things up with that club first and receive his immigration paperwork before coming to the U.S.
Lod wants to hear what El-Ahmad has planned for the Loons.
“I just want to see how he works,” Lod said. “How he is going to see where the team is going forward from here. And just listen to his ideas.”
A pressing style of play is one expected facet of El-Ahmad’s vision for MNUFC.
MNUFC supporters have wished for years for preseason games to be streamed, and that appears likely to happen with a few friendlies later on this preseason.
First, the Loons will travel Sunday to Tucson, Ariz., for more than 10 days of preseason preparations. The team originally was scheduled to go to Mexico, but had to switch plans. MNUFC will now play Sporting Arizona, a “professional development club,” on Wednesday and CF Montreal at 7 p.m. Jan. 27, with an intrasquad scrimmage Jan. 31.
United will then play three exhibitions in the Coachella Valley Invitational at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, Calif., against Phoenix Rising (Feb. 10), Chicago Fire (Feb. 14) and Charlotte FC (Feb. 17). Two of those friendlies are expected to be available online.
MLS All-Star midfielder Emanuel Reynoso missed the entire first week of preseason work in Blaine. The club has shared very little about him missing the start of preseason for a second straight year. “Hopefully he will be coming back soon,” Lod said. For one thing, patience appears to be thinner with their talisman this second time around. … Striker Tani Oluwaseyi returned to training Friday after missing time to work on his U.S. green card. He excelled in USL Championship last season and should get a longer look over the next month. … One timeline shared with the Pioneer Press is for winger Franco Fragapane to join the team in Arizona next week. He has been working in his own U.S. green card in Argentina. … Central midfielder Hassani Dotson spent the offseason in Minnesota and appears more svelte as preseason began. … MNUFC has added Moses Nyeman, a former midfielder with Real Salt Lake, D.C. United and SK Beveren (Belgium). Nyeman, 20, might play more for MNUFC2 than the first team. The U.S. youth national team alum was Real Monarch’s MVP in MLS Next Pro in 2023. … Alejandro Bran, a new Costa Rican addition, can play in central midfield and winger. He is expected to have a motor to press. … MNUFC is “interested” in Carlos Harvey, a central midfielder from Panama, a source told the Pioneer Press on Thursday. Harvey, 23, was with USL Championship club Phoenix Rising last season after spending time with L.A. Galaxy/Galaxy II. … MNUFC2 announced Friday the team is retaining two goalkeepers, Alec Smir and Fred Emmings, a St. Paul native, for the 2024 season. … A handful of MNUFC2 players will join the first team in Arizona, including promising academy player Kage Romanshyn of Apple Valley.