Fourteen months ago, Minnesota United signed Uruguayan teenager Thomas Chacon as one of their three allowed designated players — a cost-efficient “young” one at that — in a move all about the future.
Loons coach Adrian Heath says he still believes in that future even though Chacon has played in only four regular-season games (starting once) while the Loons discussed loaning him to a club in Spain or South America so he can play games.
A year ago, Heath preached patience, reminding reporters Chacon was “signed for five years, not five months” after the club paid his Danubio team a then Loons-record transfer fee and Chacon a $337,000 salary. On Friday, Heath said he still sees the player Chacon can become.
“We hope so,” Heath said. “We paid a lot of money for him. He’s still only 20. You forget that sometimes. But it has been difficult for him. We’re not shying away from that.”
Chacon was not in the game-day 18 for Tuesday’s scoreless tie at Nashville. Major League Soccer postponed a game scheduled Sunday at FC Dallas after two Loons first-team players tested confirmed positive for coronavirus. Training was suspended Saturday and all players and team staff went into quarantine while more testing and extensive contact tracing takes place, the team said in a statement.
Chacon left his family, friends and his Danubio team in Uruguay for a new country, a new league, a new language and a team that has older, stronger, more experienced Emanuel Reynoso, Kevin Molino, Robin Lod and Ethan Finlay playing ahead of him.
“Those are all top players,” Heath said.
So, too, are bigger, stronger, older opponents that Chacon — listed at 5-5 — faces in MLS play, at least in those fleeting moments he has played while Heath is managing his roster to win games and reach the playoffs for a second consecutive season.
“The physicality of the game, we feel as though Thomas is getting a little more capable of playing in the game,” Heath said. “But ultimately week in and week out, we have to try to win the game.
“It’s difficult to have people playing in the team and learn and work their way into the job, if you like. Every game is important this time of year.”
That’s why the Loons and Chacon discussed a loan these past several weeks that hasn’t yet come to be and probably won’t.
“Time’s running out,” Heath said. “There were only a couple places where that could happen and the longer it goes, the more we’re thinking he’ll end up staying with us at least until the end of the year.”
For now, Chacon will stay put — in another hemisphere 6,000 miles away from home, in the midst of a pandemic.
“Don’t forget, most of us have family and friends around us,” Heath said. “It’s not as easy for them guys. It has been tough. At the end of the season maybe people will have a longer discussion about it, but I honestly don’t think for one minute people have any idea how difficult this year has been for everybody.”
Seven years older than Chacon, fellow Uruguayan Jose Aja joined the team in February about the same time Paraguayan striker Luis Amarilla, 25, did. Reynoso, 25, arrived in September, joining a team where Ozzie Alonso is captain.
“The fact we’ve got some Spanish speakers helps,” Heath said. “He’s a really popular kid with the rest of his teammates.
“ I think he settled in really well, but I don’t think we should ever underestimate what it’s like for a young kid at 19 years of age to leave his family and friends at home. It’s never easy.”