The view from Blaine: U.S. men’s soccer closing gap with rest of world

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Representatives from Mexican clubs have been to Blaine to see how Minnesota United operates. If those executives didn’t know already, Loons coach Adrian Heath said the U.S. men’s national team’s dramatic, late 3-2 victory over Mexico on Sunday in Concacaf Nation’s League final is a reminder where American soccer is headed.

“It’s a fair reflection where we are now,” Heath said. “I know from going down to Mexico to watch games, and speaking to a lot of agents, they know the gap is closing by the day virtually. It didn’t surprise me.”

Young American star Christian Pulisic’s successful penalty kick, awarded by video review in the second part of extra time, was the go-ahead goal. Injury replacement goalie Ethan Horvath’s diving save, on a Mexico penalty kick also awarded by video review, made it stand as the winner.

The U.S. victory in Denver came with a team that includes players now employed by some of England’s and Europe’s best clubs, with more on the way.

“I’ve got a great respect for the Mexican player,” Heath said. “They’re tactically as savvy as anybody. But look at the group (the U.S.) put out there: Barcelona players, Juventus players, Chelsea players, Borussia Dortmund players. The gap is closing and I can only see it getting tighter and tighter. If we continue to develop the caliber of players we are at this time, it will only get better, if not overtake them, eventually.”

Improving

Loons midfielders Emanuel Reynoso and Ozzie Alonso trained alongside each other but not with team on Tuesday in Blaine. Heath said both players are building up their training this week in preparation for the season’s resumption June 19 at FC Dallas.

Midfielder Ethan Finlay worked outside rehabilitating on his own and Wil Trapp had his leg worked on during part of Tuesday’s training.

“Hopefully by the time we get to Dallas, we’ll have a clean bill of health,” Heath said.

Waiting

Heath is waiting to hear this week whether goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair will return from the Canadian national team or remain for next month’s Concacaf Gold Cup. He played for his country’s senior team for the first time Sunday in a 7-0 World Cup qualifier victory over Aruba.

Heath also left open the possibility the U.S. national team could call Loons players Hassani Dotson or Chase Gasper depending on what it does with its Gold Cup roster.

On sale

The Loons’ ticket sales for their next seven home games start Wednesday and are expected to fill Allianz Field to near full capacity.

Presales for Itasca Society members start at 10 a.m. followed by season-ticket members at noon Central time. Presales for Preserve members and newsletter subscribers follow on Thursday. General public sales start Friday at 2 p.m.

The seven home games start June 24 against Austin FC and conclude Aug. 21 against Sporting Kansas City.

Etc.

• A few recent college players trained with the team Tuesday, including defender Jonathan Jimenez, who played last season with USL Championship’s Rio Grande Valley.

• Loaned keeper Adrian Zendajas returns to training Wednesday after he recorded three consecutive clean sheets with the USL Championship’s El Paso Locomotive FC.

• Somebody apparently ordered weather these last two weeks for that upcoming game at Dallas. Temperatures in the mid-90s in Blaine were 10 to 20 degrees cooler than highs in Dallas. “I lived in Texas for 3½ years,” Heath said. “You never get really prepared for 105 (degrees) or whatever it’ll be at kickoff.”

• The Loons’ Aug. 28 game at Houston now will be played at 8 p.m. Central time, not 7:30 p.m.

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