Out of necessity to start 2019, Adrian Heath introduced a strange wrinkle to Minnesota United’s attack: the centrally inverting left wing played by Rasmus Schuller. In that role, the Finnish midfielder would ostensibly occupy the opposition’s right full back, but would also sit behind the point of play to provide an outlet if pressure centrally failed to materialize, as well as to gird against counterattacks. From a defensive perspective, it helped somewhat – the chances Minnesota gave up against Vancouver and San Jose were speculative or from set plays – but it didn’t spark much by way of offense, with Schuller only providing two key passes and three shots in the three games he played at left wing.
The Loons’ new signing might be able to solve that problem, and he’ll definitely be a familiar sight to Schuller.
Minnesota United announced the signing of Robin Lod, using TAM to bring him in from Sporting Gijon of Spain’s La Liga2. The 26-year old has been a regular for Finland’s national setup over the last four years, playing across their midfield as a deep-lying winger/midfielder while going 87 or more minutes in each of the team’s last ten competitive matches since September 2018–and getting five assists in the process. Prior to his spell in Spain, Lod was a standout with Greek Super League power Panathinaikos, helping them to a pair of top three finishes from 2015-2017, after breaking through as Schuller’s teammate at Finnish side HJK.
While Lod is expected to slot in as a left wing, he provides versatility around the midfield. With Finland, he’s typically been deployed as an in-cutting right winger or as the central attacking spear of a 5-2-1-2, garnering assists in each of his last three games in Euro Qualifying. With Gijon and Panathinaikos, he trended more toward his natural left foot, playing as both more withdrawn left midfielder and a left-drifting central and attacking midfielder. Whichever position he ends up in, he gets most of his success hanging a bit behind the attack and providing a second option, as seen in his first goal of two against Zaragoza late last year in La Liga2.
He’s also adept at linking up play on give-and-go passes. Check the move he (#8) makes at 1:55 in this one with Norwich City striker Teemu Pukki (#10), the second goal in Finland’s recent 2-0 victory over Bosnia:
That sort of eye for a pass through center backs will definitely help Minnesota’s cause as a counterattacking team. When I see Pukki use a burst of pace to create separation from his marking defender, I think of Mason Toye’s moves off of passes from Kevin Molino against Montreal; the key is the pass to get through the line. Moreover, think of the depth upfield that Minnesota has attacked with over recent weeks, with Jan Gregus and Romain Metanire each in the league’s top three in key passes per 96 minutes at their deep-lying positions in midfield and on the right flank. With Lod able to lie back and slot passes through lines, he should fit the team’s move to funnel attacks from the outside-in as he drifts centrally.
He also can mark a few golazos to his name, like this 81st minute back heel against Gimnastic last August:
Or some choice cuts in this supercut of his Panathinaikos goals – bonus for the epic music:
A versatile player that can spell as a winger on both sides and as a hybrid between an attacking #8 and a deeper lying #10 sounds great, and it helps to solidify the depth chart in a number of positions. As with any hyped new signing, it’s fair to expect Lod to break into the side quickly; in his case, I see him directly challenging—if not immediately supplanting—Miguel Ibarra on the left flank, likely giving the Loons a technically gifted option to recycle play with sharp passes. He also likely becomes the more attacking option if Adrian Heath opts for a midfield three, working in tandem with Jan Gregus in front of Ozzie Alonso.
But that also comes with some opportunity cost. Lod’s offensive mind keeps him looking for ways to start counters, which means it’s common to see him in the area but switched off defensively when the opposition is in their attacking third. It’d also be hard to classify him as being necessarily dynamic on or off the ball, as he generally lurks around or behind play without breakneck pace. With a team that’s sacrificed possession in lieu of quick goals, he’ll either need to play creator for those line-breaking runs or find himself out of position to make something happen.
There’s also the recent resurgence of Kevin Molino to consider. It’s taken the Trinidad international a bit to reset from his 2018 ACL tear, but since coming in late at home against Philadelphia June 2nd he’s scored three goals and two assists in just 147 minutes. Molino could stand to lose minutes in all of Lod’s most natural positions, an issue already worsened by sharing spots with Darwin Quintero. While Molino’s been hot off the bench, rendering one of your team’s top earners a bench player is never a good look when he’s on top form.
Finally, Lod also failed to catch on at an arguably lower level of competition in La Liga2. He was a healthy scratch and bench option through most of March and April—with some international commitments along the way—playing just 11 minutes as Gijon went on a nine match unbeaten run to push closer to the promotion spots. The word out of Spain is that Lod’s failure to meet high expectations as the team’s attacking focal point might have made Sporting Gijon feel more at ease to move him along, with the Finn never really settling in Spain. Having his compatriot in Schuller could help matters…
Regardless, Lod would come into a situation in Minnesota where he’d need to be a piece of the team’s attack rather than to necessarily be the attack. The depth that Minnesota has in his spots should give him ample time to settle into playing shape, and by being a cog in an attack that already is looking for deeper-lying players, he should find opportunities to catch MLS defenses off guard while keeping himself in contention for his country.