Minnesota United coach Adrian Heath acknowledged to reporters Thursday that recently signed midfielder Franco Fragapane is the Loons player who allegedly directed a racial slur at Timbers star Diego Chara in the game Saturday at Portland.
In answering a question about Major League Soccer’s ongoing investigation into the matter, Heath said his club was “carrying on as normal” while they await the league’s conclusions.
“I’ll repeat what I said: Fraga vehemently denies he did it and we believe him,” Heath said.
Fraga is a nickname for the left-side attacker who has scored twice in his first three games. He received consecutive MLS team of the week honors since he was acquired from Argentina’s Boca Juniors team.
Portland coach Giovanni Savarese, in an emotional postgame news conference Saturday, had accused a Minnesota United player of saying a “racial discriminatory word” to Chara in the second half at Providence Park. He also criticized the referee for not handling better an incident that drew no disciplinary action on the field.
Savarese did not name the Loons player or specify the word or phrase used. Minnesota United did not identify the player in a Sunday news release. Nor did Heath when he met with reporters after the team trained on Tuesday in Blaine, and the club supports the player involved while the league investigation continues.
In the play that is believed to have precipitated the incident, Chara kicked toward and collided with Fragapane from behind, knocking him down while Fragapane tried to control a bounding ball with his chest.
Shortly thereafter, the game was delayed by three minutes as referee Rosendo Mendoza huddled with players from both teams: Loons veteran Wil Trapp and captain Michael Boxall, and Portland’s Chara and captain Diego Valeri.
Looking for Lod’s return
Heath is hopeful midfielder Robin Lod will return from Europe in time to play Saturday at Allianz Field against San Jose now that his U.S. green card paperwork has cleared in Finland. It’s unlikely starting right back Romain Metanire – back in France on Thursday pursuing his own green card – will be available to play.
“We’re still hopeful if we get something today, then we might have a chance,” Heath said.
Heath’s options for starters at Metanire’s position are defenders D.J. Taylor and Jukka Raitala, who’s just back from playing right back for Finland in international play. Heath said he intends to keep Hassani Dotson at his starting central midfield spot.
Changing the starting lineup during an unbeaten streak — the Loons are 4-0-2 in their past six games — is never preferred. But they are playing the long game.
“The fact they will be green-card holders gives us a lot of flexibility in the next (transfer) window if we want to do something,” Heath said.
• Neither Dotson nor Loons starting left back Chase Gasper was on the U.S. men’s national team 23-man roster announced Thursday for this month’s CONCACAF Gold Cup. Both were on the preliminary 60-plus roster.
“I’m delighted,” said Heath, who has lost or will lose players to Olympic qualifying, European championships, World Cup qualifying or the Tokyo Olympics.
•Boxall was called to New Zealand national team Thursday for the Olympics and goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair was called to Canada’s for the Gold Cup this month.