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Loons forward Luis Amarilla continues to grind for goals

On loan to MNUFC in 2020, the Paraguayan striker grabbed attention MLS-wide by boldly aiming to score a whopping 25 goals that season

MLS: SC Paderborn 07 at Minnesota United
Minnesota United forward Luis Amarilla (9) points to the crowd after scoring against SC Paderborn on June 11 at Allianz Field in St. Paul.
Matt Blewett/USA Today Sports
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Luis Amarilla shared trepidation and confidence after scoring the winning goal in Minnesota United’s 1-0 victory over San Jose on March 19. What brought out those wide-ranging feelings was a number nearly as tied to Amarilla as his No. 9 jersey.

On loan to MNUFC in 2020, the Paraguayan striker grabbed attention MLS-wide by boldly aiming to score a whopping 25 goals that season. Only a few have ever reached that rarified air.

While he fell well short — three goals in 10 total games during a pandemic- and injury-interrupted season — he willingly brought up his boldness again in February upon his return to Minnesota on a permanent transfer from Velez Sarsfield in Argentina.

Amarilla scored twice in the opening four games and was prompted after his goal against San Jose to reflect again on the big two-five.

“It was a little scary, but you face it,” Amarilla said inside Allianz Field’s press conference room. “You have to take the responsibility. I came to score goals. The quantity will keep going up, so that’s good. It’s a good sign.”

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But the goals stopped.

Though Amarilla scored in an international friendly against German club Paderborn last weekend, he is mired in a 435-minute scoring drought across nine MLS games going into Loons’ 4 p.m. Sunday game versus New England Revolution (5-5-5) at Gillette Stadium.

“Hopefully he will settle down and the goal will do him good,” manager Adrian Heath said Tuesday of Amarilla’s exhibition tally. “There is nothing like scoring goals to give players a little bit more confidence. Hopefully this will be the turning point for him.”

The Loons (5-6-3) need a pivot, too. MNUFC is tied for third-fewest goals scored (15) in MLS so far this season — and it’s the primary reason they are outside the Western Conference’s seven-team MLS Cup Playoff field through 14 games.

Since his last MLS goal, Amarilla and newly wed wife, Silvi, welcomed their first child, son Luka, in May. It came at the same time Amarilla contracted COVID-19. He had a cough and headaches over five days, which cost him two games, including a U.S. Open Cup match, and a week’s worth of training. He has also dealt with soreness in his foot, which had corrective surgery during his first stint in Minnesota two years ago.

“He has had an awful lot go on in his life in the last couple of months, with COVID, having the baby, moving to America with his wife,” Heath said.

After Amarilla took a calm first touch with his left foot to evade Paderborn’s goalkeeper and then swiftly score with his right foot, he fist-pumped, blew a kiss and pointed to his loved ones in the Loons’ family section at Allianz Field.

“It’s important for a player that family be around,” Amarilla said in Spanish in an interview last week translated by Gabriela Lozada. “Their support is what you have every day, through the good and the bad, they’ll always be there. A (goal) will always be dedicated to them.”

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His son — named after Real Madrid and Croatian midfielder Luka Modric, one of Luis’s favorite players — has not been sleeping through the night, which means Luis often has had interrupted sleep, too.

“I was always as available as I could be to help, and that’s what was important,” Amarilla said. “The baby is healthy (and happy); that’s important. Now, (it’s) much more comfortable. Calm for both myself and (my wife).”

Amarilla is close with Latino teammates Emanuel Reynoso, Franco Fragapane, Joseph Rosales and Kervin Arriaga, but said he relies on himself to get out of slumps.

“One decides for themselves to move forward,” Amarilla said. “Today, honestly, I feel very good in health, and that’s what makes me happy.”

Amarilla signed a two-year contract in February which made him one of three Designated Players on the Loons’ roster. The high-priced contract, and a transfer fee of around $1.5 million, was earned based on what he did for two different clubs in Ecuador’s top flight.

Amarilla is stuck on two goals right now, so reaching even 10 this season would be a big achievement with 20 games remaining, but he still isn’t shying away from the 25.

“I want to do it,” he said Wednesday. “I think it’s better to go higher than low because it’s more important to progress forward. I know I’m behind, but I’m in the mentality to continue to do things well.”

Amarilla produced some quality finishes at the end of Wednesday’s training session, and Heath came over afterward to give him a high five and slap him on the back.

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AMARILLA’S SCORING RATE

(Goals per 90 minutes, via fbref.com)

2019 — 0.79 at Universidad Católica, Ecuador
2020 — 0.43 for Loons
2021 — 0.68 at Liga de Quito, Ecuador
2022 — 0.23 for Loons

MLS: SC Paderborn 07 at Minnesota United
Minnesota United forward Luis Amarilla (9) scores against SC Paderborn goalkeeper Leopold Zingerle (17) in the second half on June 11 at Allianz Field in St. Paul.
Matt Blewett/USA Today Sports

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