Moments before kickoff two Sundays ago in Los Angeles, Minnesota United coach Adrian Heath reminded Emanuel Reynoso and Franco Fragapane that big games are made for big players.
Just in case the two players forged in the cauldron that is South American soccer needed reminding.
"He told us, he always talks to us," Reynoso said. "We like to take that responsibility the team needs. Franco and I, we like it."
It's an approach Reynoso calls "calm, but with seriousness."
This time last season, Reynoso made the playoffs his own rookie coming-out party with record-breaking performances that lifted his Loons within minutes of the MLS Cup final.
He also made playoff history with consecutive three-assist games and played a part in all eight goals — one goal, seven assists — the Loons scored in beating Colorado and Sporting Kansas City before they lost late at Seattle in the Western Conference final.
After an 0-4 start this year, the Loons defied probability's laws in their Decision Day finale by reaching the playoffs for a third consecutive season.
They arrive at Sunday afternoon's first-round game at Portland with Heath predicting — like last season, when Reynoso teamed with Kevin Molino as a dangerous duo — his team will go only as far as its best players take them.
This time around, that's playmaking Reynoso and Fragapane leading an attacking front four that also includes striker Adrien Hunou and right-side attacker Robin Lod.
Reynoso has yet to find the kind of chemistry with those three that he discovered last season with Molino, who signed last winter with defending MLS champ Columbus Crew.
"Honestly, if we connect well up top, we can do great things," Reynoso said. "The more we play, the better we will feel. We will try to do what we did last year. But we know it escaped us because of details. So now we correct that and be attentive in every way."
Time to shine
The Timbers can say the same about only going so far as their best players — including Sebastian Blanco, Dairon Asprilla and Felipe Mora — take them.
"The big players on both teams, the ones who have the better day, probably will be the deciding factor," Heath said.
It's why New England won the Supporters' Shield for best record and set a regular-season record for points (73) — because its three "designated" players have played their best.
It's why the Loons went on last season's playoff run — because Reynoso combined with Molino to play like the MLS star he has become.
Reynoso shone on the playoffs' big stage a season ago, and Heath said he doesn't worry about any stage — or any moment — being too big for his two Argentine players. Both Reynoso and Fragapane have played in Buenos Aires for Boca Juniors in "La Bombonera."
It's an iconic, 80-year-old stadium oddly shaped like a chocolate box — hence its translated name — with its fenced field and 54,000 capacity that bulges to its limits.
Some say it doesn't shake as much as its heart beats during games.
"The one thing about the Argentinian players, when you bring them in you know the pressure is never going to get to them," Heath said. "They probably play in the most intense football environment — or at least one of them — there is."
No stranger to pressure
Reynoso wore for Boca Juniors the same playmaker's No. 10 jersey the legendary Maradona once wore.
"He's the No. 10 for Boca Juniors," Heath said. "That comes with a certain responsibility and pressure."
But it's a kind of responsibility and pressure that Reynoso called good in Spanish during an interview translated by a team employee.
"It's nice taking that pressure, that responsibility," said Reynoso, who turned 26 on Tuesday. "We take it with a lot of calm. … I'm calm because my teammates give me that confidence and the coach, too, so you can enter with a lot of force when it's time to play."
It will be time to play Sunday afternoon, at a Providence Park where the Loons have not lost since April of their second MLS season in 2018. They are 4-0-1 their past five games in all competitions against Portland.
But Sunday's game is no MLS regular-season or U.S. Open Cup game. It's that time of year opposing defenses will pay him, if possible, more attention.
It's that time of year when big players make big plays.
"It's the details now," Reynoso said. "It's where you can make one or two mistakes and you can lose the match. We have to be concentrated and attentive. We have a great rival coming up that is playing at home with their people. But they know, too, we will also come with big ambition, with the desire to keep advancing."