Minnesota United attacker Robin Lod's four goals in his past six games — and all the many scoring chances he didn't convert — indicate he is approaching full fitness after an offseason unlike any other.
He spent nearly 10 winter weeks in army barracks and Finnish forests fulfilling military training mandated by his country since he turned 18.
Now 29, married and a father of a young daughter, Lod toted a rifle for the first time and lugged 110 pounds on his back in exercises and drills that took him and soldiers years younger into the woods. Once they did so for five days in 10-below temperatures.
Lod called it a kind of fit different than 90 minutes running across the pitch.
"It's not fun to carry 50 kilos on your back, live in a tent this high and walk in the snow in the forest many kilometers," Lod said, raising his hand shoulder high. "It was so cold. It wasn't that fun. That was tough. There were some things really tough. I feel like it was tougher mentally than physically, at least for myself it was."
He delayed his service for a decade because his professional soccer career started with a Helsinki team when he graduated high school at age 18. Lod played three games that first season, 109 games the next five still at home in Finland before he played in Greece and Spain's second division.
The Loons signed him midway through the 2019 season. He decided last winter it was time for puolustusvoimat, Finland's mandatory military training required of every Finnish man aged 18 to 60.
He has a photograph of himself wearing his gear, holding his gun in the woods.
Unlike his goal celebrations where he mimics drawing back an arrow he shoots like a modern Robin Hood, he shot a real gun.
"I saw him in full military regalia with his backpack and his rifle and everything," Loons coach Adrian Heath said. "It's not something we've all been through, but I'm sure if the Russians come calling, Robin will be ready."
Serving before the invasion
Lod admits he shouldn't have delayed his duty for so long.
"I was getting my first games for my first team in Helsinki then and I wanted to give it a fair try, so I just postponed it," Lod said. "I was definitely the oldest one there now. I should have done it when I was 18 or 19. It wasn't the best decision."
By the time he reported for duty, Lod was a grown man among teenagers who just graduated high school headed to university with a stop in between: military training in a country that shares an 800-mile border with Russia to its east.
He finished his obligation in January just weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine, which is 700 miles south of Finland.
His country's mandatory training has kept it militarily independent and internationally neutral. But both Finland and Sweden applied Wednesday to join NATO. Lod declined to discuss the invasion and the threat posed to Eastern European countries as well as northern Finland.
He likens his military service to his sporting training because of the teamwork and discipline each requires. He made it clear Heath has nothing on his army drill sergeants when it comes to barking instructions.
"From listening to Robin, I'm sure his guy down in Finland is louder, especially with what's going on at the border there now for sure," Heath said.
Lod missed the Loons' opening weeks of preseason training so he could complete his training and then spend some time with his family in Florida before he reported to the club in mid-February.
He scored the Loons' only goal in their Feb. 26 season-opening 1-1 draw at Philadelphia, but didn't score in five games after that.
"I don't think people realize for two months he was in a forest somewhere in Finland," Heath said then. "It has not been an ideal rest and recovering for him."
That five-game stretch was interrupted by two games overseas played with his Finland national team. When he returned, Lod didn't score in his next two games, but now has scored four goals in the past six games entering Sunday's game at FC Dallas.
Included was Wednesday's sliding shot in the 87th minute, just four minutes after LA Galaxy scored first. Lod's fifth goal this season earned a 1-1 draw.
That goal also tied the club record for most career goals as a Loon, with 21. He'll surpass Kevin Molino, Darwin Quintero and Christian Ramirez next time he scores.
Lod has started the past two games — and three of the past five — up top as a striker after he began the season on the right side.
"It doesn't matter where we play him," Heath said Friday. "Whether it be wide left, wide right, No. 10 [position] and then the other night he was like a double pivot in midfield and he comes up with a goal. It doesn't surprise me because he's a quality footballer."
Lod worked out in a gym during his military training but couldn't follow his normal training program. He has approached full fitness a third into the MLS season now that he put down his rifle, picked up his cleats and is rediscovering his scoring touch.
"I think I'm slowly getting there," Lod said. "… At the moment, I feel I'm in a pretty good place."