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The United Beat

Jerry Zgoda writes about Major League Soccer and Minnesota United.

Green card for Loons' Boxall, national team debut likely for Gasper

Some news while United begins training in Florida the next two weeks:

Veteran defender Michael Boxall has received his U.S. green card and starting left back Chase Gasper is headed toward his U.S. men's national team debut on Saturday.

Boxall, 31, will no longer occupy an international spot on the team's roster, the team said Monday.

That leaves United with four of eight allowed international spots filled while it works to sign Argentinian attacking midfielder Emanuel Reynoso and another center back, likely from Europe. The four spots are filled by Jan Gregus, Romain Metanire, Robin Lod and Thomas Chacon. The team also has all but announced the acquisition of Paraguayan midfielder Luis Amarilla.

United technical director Mark Watson remains in Argentina on Monday after arriving last week seeking to land Reynoso before he returns home.

Curiously, Reynoso was designated a sub but did not play for his Boca Juniors team Sunday night.

Meanwhile, Gasper, back from an injury that sidelined him for about 10 days in a January camp, is expected to make his national team debut Saturday against Costa Rica in Carson, Calif.

National team coach Gregg Berhalter said Monday that Gasper is being integrated back into training during a camp that now has moved from Florida to Southern California for Saturday’s game.

“He should regain his full fitness in order to play a part in the game against Costa Rica,” Berhalter said in a conference call with reporters Monday morning. “We’re still waiting on the final determination, but the signs are looking good.”

Gasper, 24, was called to the USMNT’s pre-camp in November, but didn’t make the final roster for the Concacaf Nationals League Group. He was invited back for the January camp, which was moved on short notice from Qatar to Florida because of developments in the Middle East.

He made the final 22-man travel roster for the trip from training in Bradenton, Fla., to Los Angeles.

Chosen 15th overall out of NCAA champion Maryland in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft, Gasper established himself last season as United’s starting left back and put himself on the national team’s radar.

“Chase is a guy who delivers a very good ball,” Berhalter said. “I like him in the attack, I like him getting forward, using space on the wing to serve the ball and attack the space. I really like what we’re seeing so far. For him, it’s just continue getting used to this level, getting used to this speed. But overall, he’s done a good job in camp.”

Gasper is expected to join United for preseason training in Florida after Saturday’s game, which kicks at 2:55 p.m. Central time and will be on ESPNews. United trained in Blaine for five days last week before leaving Sunday for two weeks of training and games against college and lower-division teams.

Former Bloomington Jefferson High School star Jackson Yueill -- now at age 22 a midfielder with the San Jose Earthquakes who has made six national-team appearances – is part of the January camp’s 22-man travel roster as well.

Heath calls Rodriguez contract buyout a decision that's `never easy'

Minnesota United coach Adrian Heath called the buyout of veteran striker Angelo Rodriguez’s guaranteed contract “one of them things we felt we needed to do.”

Rodriguez joined United as its second designated player in July 2018, but injury nagged him early last season and young striker Mason Toye’s development sidelined him often late in the season. His contract buyout was finalized Friday.

“The one thing about Angelo is he has been a really good locker-room guy and sometimes it has not been easy for him,” Heath said. “He saw the emergence of Mason come on. That’s never easy. I’ve been there. When somebody brings somebody in younger than you to replace you and they start scoring goals, it’s never easy.

“But he never really let his disappointment show within the locker room and with his teammates and I think that speaks volumes for him. We wish him nothing but the best.”

The buyout takes him off United’s salary cap for 2020 and leaves Rodriguez free to join club Deportivo Cali back home in Colombia rather than be loaned or transferred for the coming season.

Rodriguez was acquired on a contract that paid him $667,000 last season for his strength, physical hold-up play with the ball and scoring knack.

He started two games near the season’s end -- a 1-0 loss at Seattle in the regular-season finale and a 2-1 loss to the L.A. Galaxy in a first-round home playoff game. He didn’t score a goal in the last 11 games he played as starter or substitute.

Heath spoke Friday morning after United's training and a scrimmage left him pleased as can be. The work was United's last indoors in Blaine before the team leaves Sunday for two weeks training on grass in Florida.

"It was a really good game, a bit too competitive to my liking for the first week," Heath said. "It has been a great first week. I'm so pleased with the players' attitude, everything they’ve done. The quality has been excellent, but more the demeanor of the group and the energy they’ve brought has been terrific."

Toye scored two goals in the scrimmage while two players acquired midway through last seaosn -- midfielders Thomas Chacon and Robin Lod -- scored once each.

Heath praised Toye's runs off the ball and complimented second-year midfielder Hassani Dotson and newly acquired Marlon Hairston and Jacori Hayes, among others.

"One thing shown is we've gotten a lot deeper than we ever thought," Heath said. "I know it's only early days, but the people we've brought in have come in and really elevated everybody in the group."

Heath said he still intends the team will make at least three more moves:

1. Heath called himself "still optimistic" about United's pursuit of attacking midfielder Emanuel Reynoso. Team technical director Mark Watson remains in Argentina trying to push through a deal with Reynoso's Boca Juniors team in Buenos Aires.

"They've got a few injuries at the moment," Heath said. "We might have to wait and be a little patient."

2. He said only "the last bit of paperwork" remains before United signs Paraguayan striker Luis Amarilla. Heath said he is hopeful the 24-year-old will join the team sometime during its training in Florida.

3. Heath confirmed the team still is looking to add a center back for depth behind -- or with -- starters Ike Opara and Michael Boxall.

Opara trained Friday for the second consecutive day after being excused earlier this week to attend to a family matter.

"I feel pretty good," said Opara, the 2019 MLS Defender of the Year. "I'm in a really good place. I usually come back pretty fit."

He also sounded impressed with what he has seen these last two days.

"I'll tell you what, there’s a new energy," he said. "There always is one every year, but with the guys that were brought in -- very honest, hard-working guys who seem to have bought in already to putting the work in -- you can just see the spirit. It's very positive for moving forward."

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