When Adrien Hunou scored the game-winner in Minnesota United’s 2-1 win over Houston on Aug. 28, one of the Dynamo’s television commentators couldn’t have been more off base in his assessment.
“He’s been good in these situations all year. You can pretty much bet the bank he’s going to finish that.”
What?!? Hunou, the Loons’ new high-priced Designated Player, was on a 642-minute scoring drought over nine-plus games until he notched both goals in the comeback road victory.
A scroll through Loons Twitter — named one of the top 20 pro sports teams in the U.S. and Canada with the “most negative sentiment online,” according to the Action Network — could have told you how pensive supporters were getting over Hunou’s drought.
“We try to put it to the back of the mind,” manager Adrian Heath said. “But when it goes from four (games) to five to six to seven, and with the social media being what it is these days, it’s there for everybody to see.”
Hunou sat down with the Pioneer Press last week to talk about his adjustment to a new club, league and country. The Frenchman did the interview in English, a language he has been working with a teacher to improve upon.
“When you score, it’s more easy for the confidence,” he said of his drought. “But football is like that. You have some part good, some part bad. I stay focused and I train every day and score in training because I know that will arise.”
Hunou said the Loons’ fellow French players — Romain Metanire and Bakaye Dibassy — have helped him adjust to a new home and new league.
“I can speak more with them, but the other players I speak with them (too). … It’s very important,” he said. “I have to speak better, I know. But it’s like training. Do it and I’ll be alright. It’s important for me to speak English and for my integration.”
Hunou’s adaptation started slower because he had played only 27 minutes over four games in a two-month span at Rennes in France from mid-February to mid-April. He had asked his boyhood club for a move and played less for them as a result.
“I start a new season … so I have to move (on),” Hunou said. “I don’t find any excuse. I’m very happy to be here and to help the team day after day. I see the season is not easy when you finish and you start again and you discover another world.”
Part of that new world comes without the benefit of preseason matches and playing a striker position that doesn’t come naturally.
“I start in my career as a midfielder and when (I played forward before) we had two strikers,” Hunou said. “I begin striker two, three years ago. For me, I learn striker and when I’m alone (at striker), it’s too far from the play, it’s difficult for me. But it’s a new experience for me. I prefer, yes, to create with someone who is close to me (such as Emanuel Reynoso). It’s important to be able to pass with all the players. Before if I play with two strikers. You can go, I can take the space, so here I play alone.”
Part of the Loons intent in the offseason was to pair Hunou with another striker. The club had progressed toward a deal with a European player, but it was scuttled late on. That’s when Minnesota turned to Argentine striker Ramon Abila, but he didn’t fit in Minnesota and the club moved on last month.
MLS Players’ Association had Abila’s guaranteed compensation at $1.1 million for 2021 season, but that figure did not reflect the actual lower sum on the Loons’ salary budget. In a deal with D.C. United, who picked up Abila, Minnesota recouped some of the cost for Abila and ended up paying approximately half of his wages for this season.
The Loons signed former Portland Timbers’ DP Fanendo Adi before the Houston match to a minimum contract for the rest of 2021 season, and the 31-year-old Nigerian striker contributed a backward flick to set up Hunou’s second goal in Houston.
“We have to look at all options,” Heath said of playing with two strikers. “Obviously, we watch the game in Houston and (Hunou) seemed to have more of an effect when he was deeper in the play and coming into the box later. Yeah, when we signed (Hunou), I think if you look back at the quotes, we thought he could have played any of the front four positions.”
What the Loons can do with Hunou is limited with fellow primary attackers Reynoso and Robin Lod ruled out with injuries for the game against the Seattle Sounders at 4 p.m. Saturday.
“We are still getting to know (Hunou) and the rest of the guys are still getting to know him,” Heath said. “But as I said to him, if he doesn’t get in the box and get in the right spots, he ain’t going to score goals. That was the pleasing thing for me” from the Houston game.