Minnesota United went back to work on Wednesday for next week's first-round playoff game at Portland, but without three starters gone overseas for international duty.
Finland's Robin Lod, Madagascar's Romain Metanire and New Zealand's Michael Boxall — as well as reserve defender Jukka Raitala — all will join their national teams for FIFA World Cup qualifiers or a friendly.
Play starts Thursday with Madagascar's qualifier at Benin in West Africa and ends Tuesday with Finland's game against France in Helsinki and New Zealand's friendly against Gambia in the Middle East.
Loons coach Adrian Heath said he expects all four players back next Wednesday and hopes they're all healthy, in time for a recovery day on Thursday before the team leaves for Portland. The fifth-seeded Loons play the fourth-seeded Timbers three days later in a first-round MLS Cup playoff game on Sunday, Nov. 21.
"It is what it is and it isn't ideal," Heath said. "In terms of fitness, I don't think things will change an awful lot. It's just the travel that's the problem. Romain will be in three different countries, three different airports, waiting four hours for a connection. It doesn't help anybody."
The Loons qualified for the playoffs for the third consecutive season by playing the LA Galaxy to a tense 3-3 draw on Sunday in Los Angeles that knocked the Galaxy out of the playoffs.
The four players all left after Sunday's game. FIFA rules require players to return to their national teams if requested. Heath said he doesn't have a voice in how much players his players play — or don't play — while they're gone.
"And I don't expect to," he said. "It's a World Cup qualifier. If I was Finland's manager, I'd say, 'You just come from Portland, we have (qualifier opponents) Bosnia and Herzegovina and France to consider.' I get that."
Boxall has been called to play a friendly against Gambia. He missed last summer's Tokyo Olympics because of an injury.
"He is what we shall say is an integral part of their program and he's a very proud New Zealander," Heath said. "He wants to play. He was devastated he couldn't play in the Olympics. So I get it, because I think I'd be the same in his position. Does it help us? No, but there's not a lot we can say or do."
New MLS partner and longtime Loons partner Sun Country Airlines sold $49 one-way seats starting after Sunday's game for a same-day charter flight Nov. 21 to and from Portland.
"It's always great when you have traveling support with the size and importance of the game," Heath said. "It'll be nice to have some people in the stadium to be heard for us. Let's hope we can give them a performance and something to cheer on the day."