Emanuel Reynoso’s recollection of the day he suffered a gunshot wound to his left leg starts far away from the trauma.
“It was a Sunday,” he said this week. “We were having a family get-together at my house. We were eating an Argentine roast.”
Minnesota United’s new cornerstone midfielder set this stage for the day when his budding soccer career seemed impossible in Cordoba, Argentina, in March 2014. He was 18 years old.
Reynoso said he took his father’s motorcycle for a spin, along with some friends, to another friend’s home nearby. There, two motorcycles, with two riders apiece, sped past Reynoso before confronting him.
“They tried to rob me, and that’s when they shot me,” he said in Spanish during a 30-minute interview with the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “It hit my knee.”
Reynoso’s thoughts raced to the pain coming from the new bloody hole in his leg, agony over what his family might think of the incident — and whether he would ever play soccer again.
He had the bullet removed during one surgery, and in stroke of luck, no other reconstruction was necessary; in the end, he was away from the game he loved for only one month.
“Really grateful to God that it didn’t halt my career, that accident,” he said. “I remember the accident well.”
The Loons paid a club-record $5 million transfer fee to bring Reynoso, and his gifted left leg, to Minnesota from Buenos Aires super club Boca Juniors on Sept. 1. After United’s eight-month pursuit of him, and Reynoso, 24, not playing competitive games since March, he made his debut for United FC the next day and has contributed two assists in 187 minutes across four games this season.
“I’m sure over the next few years he’ll become one of the best players in MLS,” United manager Adrian Heath predicted at the news conference announcing his arrival.
Reynoso’s skill and poise on the ball were noticeable immediately in his 19-minute debut against Houston Dynamo in Texas on Sept. 2.
“You could tell instantly what he’s going to bring to the group,” said teammate Marlon Hairston, a seven-year MLS veteran. “(This) was our first time seeing him, being able to play with him, and he’s a different class. We need that.”
Reynoso comes from a humble upbringing on the outskirts of Cordoba, a provincial capital in the middle of the big South American country. His family was “changa,” Argentine slang for working odd jobs. His mother baked bread in a clay oven behind their home, and they sold it on the streets, so that Reynoso had the money for the two bus fares he needed to travel to training sessions.
“It’s a bit like the boxer, the hungry boxer, you have to fight for things to get ahead in life, and I think he carries that onto the field,” said Heath, who had an extensive playing career at the top level in England. “Most of the players I played with — this has always been a working-class sport. He’s certainly from that background. He’s had to fight for probably everything he’s ever had, and I think he carries that onto the field. It’s a huge part of his personality and something that will probably never change.”
Reynoso’s scar, visible when he had his physical exam with the Loons, isn’t the only gun-related incident that follows him to Minnesota.
In 2017, Reynoso, then 21, was “involved in a delicate and confusing judicial situation,” according to a translation from a report in Clarin, one of the largest news organizations in Argentina.
At the time, Reynoso had helped his club, Talleres de Cordoba, reach the top flight of Argentine soccer. He was living downtown but often returned to home in the city’s outskirts, which was more dangerous with armed conflicts.
The Clarin report said Reynoso was at a friend’s house, where he signed an autograph on a sketched cartoon of himself playing soccer. Reynoso and his friend left for a while, but when they came back, they were accused of being in a confrontation with another group, the newspaper said.
It wasn’t confirmed, Clarin said, whether Reynoso was driving a car that included people who then exited the vehicle and shot pistols. A prosecutor said at least 20 bullets were fired. No one was injured.
Reynoso and others denied involvement, and some legal proceedings have occurred, according to other fragmented media reports.
“I got together at the (street) corner with friends and shooting happened and I was there,” Reynoso explained through a club translator. “Obviously, I didn’t participate, but I was there with my friends. The shooting happened and my name came up because I was a public figure who played for Talleres, so I became involved. I know I wasn’t a part of that, but because these things do happen in my neighborhood, it wasn’t a surprise that it did.”
When Reynoso reached the famed Boca Juniors club in Buenos Aires, he came with a label as a “conflict player,” according to Francisco Aure, a motorsports reporter, Boca fan and member of the Boca in English podcast.
Distance was established between Reynoso and any other incident. “He was suspected. He was looked as a player that (had) problems with discipline, but he never had anything like that in Boca,” Aure said. “So that is already a part of the past. I don’t think Minnesota should worry about that anymore.”
As a child, Reynoso was really small, “petizo,” he said, or petite, so his older brother by two years, started calling him “bebe,” or baby. It evolved into “Bebelo,” a nickname that followed him throughout his time in Argentine football.
“It stuck. Afterwards, I wasn’t able to get rid of it,” said Reynoso, still not sizeble at 5-foot-7, 150 pounds. “That’s my nickname.”
Reynoso credits his family finding a way from humble roots to provide the opportunity for him to come to the U.S. and earn life-changing money. His salary figure is not yet known.
“In my neighborhood, there were a lot of kids who played soccer, and were good, but maybe they didn’t have the determination to keep going, to go train,” he said. “But I repeat myself, my family was so supportive, we all worked, so I could keep progressing, keep moving forward and so I could accomplish my dream of playing soccer.”
In his early days in Minnesota, the nickname “Rey” has been more readily used by people within the club, and the Loons hope he becomes a king. After playing deeper or wider with Boca Juniors, Minnesota has moved him to the center of the attack, with wingers flanking him on both sides and a striker ahead of him toward goal.
Reynoso is expected to be the maestro, the creative, central attacking midfielder, the No. 10. It’s a special number, one rich with tradition in his football-centric country.
Reynoso’s favorite player when he was young was Juan Roman Riquelme, who wore No. 10 like other Argentine greats Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi.
“As a kid, I would watch Boca, and (Riquelme) would play my position and I would try to imitate him, watch him,” Reynoso said. “As a kid, I’d watch him and I loved how he played, his style of play. He was my idol.”
When United technical director Mark Watson traveled to Buenos Aires to court Reynoso, part of his sales pitch was how no Minnesota player was wearing the No. 10 jersey at the time. Watson said it was an emotional moment for Reynoso.
“He asked me if I wanted to wear the number 10, and I didn’t doubt it for a second when he asked,” said Reynoso, who could not wear No. 10 at Boca because it belonged to another Argentine standout, Carlos Tevez. “Automatically I said yes, and I didn’t doubt it.”
As the negotiations dragged on between Boca and United, Watson met with Reynoso several times. “We had great times, great discussion — of soccer, life, everything,” Reynoso said. “Honestly, I’m very grateful for Mark.”
When the transfer hit snags, the Loons banked on Reynoso’s insistence that he wanted to be in Minnesota. This stayed true when an unnamed Brazilian club offered him and Boca more money than Minnesota put on the table this summer.
With his deal signed, Reynoso has moved into a house in Minnesota, a business manager is helping him get settled, and he says he feels comfortable and happy. Unmarried, he has a 2-year-old daughter, Sofia.
Reynoso’s contract with Minnesota can run through 2024, and he wants club supporters to know he’s here to work. That was evident when his high-pressing defense forced a turnover and led to a quick-strike goal in a 3-2 victory over Real Salt Lake at Allianz Field on Sept. 9.
“I came here to accomplish goals — team-wise and personally — and to give the best of me,” Reynoso said. “On the team side, hopefully to accomplish great things for this club because it has all the tools to do so. This is a good group, good people, and at training, I can tell they all work very hard. We have to keep going how we’re doing and accomplish the goals we have, which is to become champions and bring a lot of joy to our fans.”