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Minnesota United tout Teemu Pukki as “biggest signing in club history” | MLSSoccer.com

Minnesota United tout Teemu Pukki as “biggest signing in club history” | MLSSoccer.com

The Loons have made their biggest splash yet in addressing the biggest position of need on their roster, officially introducing prolific Finnish forward Teemu Pukki at a Friday afternoon press conference. The 33-year-old Designated Player arrives in MLS with plenty of pedigree, most recently putting up gaudy numbers (88g/29a in 210 matches) during a five-season run with Norwich City in the English Championship and Premier League.

Asked if Pukki’s arrival marked the biggest signing the club has ever pulled off, Minnesota technical director Mark Watson didn’t dispute the premise.

“I think it is,” Watson said. “Obviously, financially Emanuel Reynoso was a big deal as well. But in terms of the stature of the player, the experience of the player, we think it is. We think we have a world-class, elite goal-scorer. So yeah, I would say it’s the biggest signing in club history.”

Pukki, Finland’s all-time leading scorer with 38 goals in 112 senior caps, said Minnesota attacker and international teammate Robin Lod was a key factor in his ultimate arrival. The two have played together extensively on the national team, with Pukki revealing that Lod – currently sidelined with a meniscus tear in his right knee – has been pitching Minnesota and MLS as a potential next stop in his career dating back several years.

“Huge, obviously,” Pukki said of Lod’s influence. “I’ve known him many years and I think he was the guy in the middle in the beginning before anything really happened. I spoke with him and he asked me if I could be interested in coming here. It was a big part of [it], the chance to play with him. Of course I’ve played with him in the national team, but the chance to play with him in a club, it was a big part of it.”

Premier goalscorer

For Minnesota, who have an MLS seventh-lowest 21 goals this season, the hope is Pukki represents the solution to an issue that has long plagued the Western Conference club: Namely, the absence of a pure No. 9 who can reliably finish chances in front of goal.

Head coach Adrian Heath said he feels confident Pukki can thrive in exactly that role in MLS, and turn the club’s quality attacking movements and chance generation into goals.

“I mentioned this a few weeks ago: Not since Christian Ramirez have we had a natural box player, I don’t think,” Heath said. “The rest have been a little bit different.

“It’s been pretty evident this year with the amount of opportunities that we’ve created that we’re lacking somebody who can take a high percentage of them opportunities that we’ve created,” added Heath. “A few games ago we had 58 efforts at goal in three games. Don’t want to put pressure on him, but I think [Pukki] would have scored a fair few of them opportunities. And that’s what we’ve been lacking.”

Pukki’s arrival also creates a tantalizing new duo with Minnesota No. 10 Reynoso, one of the league’s most dynamic facilitators. The Argentine has racked up 28 career MLS assists since his 2020 arrival from Boca Juniors, an attribute that would seem to mesh perfectly on paper with Pukki’s proven track record as a clinical finisher.

“Obviously I’ve heard lots of good about [Reynoso],” Pukki said. “Robin has been praising him a lot. I can speak some kind of Spanish, so I had a chat with him today and I’m really looking forward to playing with him. Hopefully he can create me many chances and I can score some goals.”

Update: Teemu Pukki has received his International Transfer Certificate (ITC), making the new #MNUFC Designated Player available to make his #MLS debut on Saturday vs. Austin FC. Pukki is dealing with jet lag and time off after Finland’s Euro qualifiers, but he wants to be play.

— Andy Greder (@andygreder) July 7, 2023

With their striker quest now complete, the Loons – who also signed veteran MLS winger Ismael Tajouri-Shradi this week – hope Pukki’s infusion can kickstart a run back into the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs mix. Minnesota are currently 11th in the Western Conference (6W-7L-6D, 24 points) heading into Saturday’s home matchup against Austin FC (8:30 pm | MLS Season Pass).

“I believe that if we can continue to create the opportunities that we’ve done this season, that we’ve got the man – you’ve just seen some of the video here at the highest level – who can put a few of them opportunities away,” Heath said.

“Oldest saying in football: goals change games. That’s why they go for the most money and get paid the most money. … It makes a big, big difference to the team.”

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