This first national team game window has a history of messing up Minnesota United. Yeah, it's only a one-year history, but still. In the fourth game of the 2017 season, the Loons ended up losing an embarrassing 5-2 match at the New England Revolution right after earning their first-ever point.
Then, United was without 10 players because of national team duty, injury and suspension and was a man short of a full bench. But even with those depletions, the back line still retained two of four starters.
The same cannot be said when United travels to the New York Red Bulls for a match at 6 p.m. Saturday.
With starting center backs Michael Boxall and Francisco Calvo on national team duty and outside backs Tyrone Mears and Jerome Thiesson questionable with injuries, a new formation could debut. Only center back Brent Kallman and left back Marc Burch have even officially played this season, coming on as late substitutes last Saturday in the home opener.
"I mean, I got to win a header. That's nice. That's always good," Kallman said. "It's always kind of difficult when you come on as a defender, so it was really important. That's exactly what you want when you come on. You want to win your first header to get yourself in the game. But by the time the ball landed from my header, the game was over."
The starting back four worked together all preseason and seemed to have built a strong chemistry that helped the Loons to a 2-1-0 start with four goals allowed, far from last season's 0-2-1 record with 13 goals conceded.
The secondary back line also spent a lot of time together in preseason games and training. Rookie Carter Manley at right back, Kallman and rookie Wyatt Omsberg at center back and Burch at left back could make their first starts of the season Saturday, with center back Bertrand Owundi Eko'o, who just arrived from Cameroon a week ago, as another possibility.
"To be honest, not a lot has changed. We're working on the same things that we've been working on all of preseason and through the beginning of the season so far," Omsberg said of this week's training. "Especially as a defender, you never know how many chances you're going to get with professional minutes. So just try and take it, go with it as far as I can."
Coach Adrian Heath said New York is one of the best teams in the league at putting opponents under pressure and forcing turnovers, so that will test this backup back line. But with playing time at a premium, the players are looking to spin this into starting positions.
"It's huge," said Kallman, who was a starter last year before Boxall came arrived. "It's a really good opportunity for guys to take their chances. It's a tough game. It's probably one of the harder games in the league.
''So it's even more of an opportunity, in that sense, to show yourself and show well and to try to make a point that you want a starting spot, that you want to be on that field, because I know I do. And that's what I'm working for."
Notes: After a significant holdup with his international paperwork since his arrival in preseason, midfielder Frantz Pangop had his visa and international transfer certificate cleared. Heath said Pangop will travel to the Red Bulls game and be available to play. … Forward Abu Danladi, who left 30 minutes into the season opener with a left hamstring injury, is recovered and will be on the bench Saturday. … Midfielder Luiz Fernando will be referred to as Maximiano, his father's last name. It's common in Brazil to go by one name. Maximiano will not be a part of the gameday squad Saturday, though. He is not quite match fit yet, according to Heath. … The club placed midfielder Kevin Molino on the season-ending injury list after his ACL tear, which frees up a senior roster spot. … Heath had no update on midfielder Sam Cronin, who has been out since preseason with concussion issues. … Midfielder Rasmus Schuller played all 90 minutes of Finland's 0-0 draw with Macedonia on Friday, while defender Calvo played the last 13 minutes of Costa Rica's 1-0 victory against Scotland.