When Michael Boxall walked off the field in Houston after a 90-minute shift last Saturday, the Loons center back had no idea he just made Minnesota United history with his 85th MLS appearance for the club.
The news was delivered via Twitter notifications in the dressing room at BBVA Compass Stadium, and this week the New Zealand native downplayed the achievement.
Given how United is only in its fourth MLS season, Boxall’s mark is far from astronomical. It reached 86 in Wednesday’s 2-1 loss to Columbus and should hit 87 versus Real Salt Lake at Allianz Field on Sunday.
But for manager Adrian Heath, teammates and the kit man, it’s fitting Boxall is the player to sit on this perch.
“For any coach, he’s a dream,” Heath said. “He’s low maintenance, very rarely injured. When he is injured, he makes nothing of it, Trains every day, great teammate. All of the things that you need to be a top-class professional, that is what Michael Boxall is.”
With reigning MLS defender of the year Ike Opara out for 14 straight games, the Loons have relied on Boxall to hold down the backline; he has yet to come off the field this season, playing all 1,440 minutes — including the MLS is Back Tournament’s three knockout rounds.
Boxall, the second-longest tenured United player behind Kevin Molino, passed Miguel Ibarra’s appearance mark of 84, set from 2017-19 before Miggy left for Seattle in the offseason. He has played through some lean years in Minnesota. In 2017, the club set a then-MLS record for most goals allowed in a season at 70, and again in 2018 when they gave up 71.
With Boxall as a carryover into 2019, the Loons made their first appearance in MLS Cup playoffs and he signed a guaranteed contract through the 2021 season. This year, the Loons are in the thick of a condensed race for a playoff spot in the Western Conference, and with veteran Ozzie Alonso also injured, Boxall has again worn the captain’s armband.
“You come in and you want when you leave the club in a better place than where it was when you first arrived,” Boxall said.
That’s how Boxall wants to be remembered, and Minnesota is special for the Kiwi. It’s where he proposed to and married his wife Libby, and after daughter Maxwell was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, their son Beau, was born in Minneapolis earlier this month.
“No matter what happens or where I go in the next five, 10, 30 years, it’s always going to be a place of great memories and some pretty special things happened in my life,” he said.
Here are five examples of how Boxall has made Minnesota United better:
Boxall started the first seven games of the 2019 season but lost his spot to Woodbury native Brent Kallman in late April. After never missing more than two consecutive games since his arrival, Boxall was left out for four straight matches.
“I didn’t see anything different,” said elder teammate Ethan Finlay, who arrived in Minnesota weeks after Boxall. “I saw him come in at the same time. I saw him put in the same amount of effort, same amount of work. He didn’t change. I respect when a player doesn’t change his attitude or change his route because the situation might not be going his way. He would be right there cheering the guys on, and he’s always been that way.”
Since then, Boxall has started 38 of 39 matches.
Boxall was the subject of a conversation this week between young teammate Chase Gasper and Mason Toye.
“We talked about how cool and great a teammate Boxy is, how much we appreciate everything he does for the team on and off the field,” Gasper recalled.
When Gasper was a rookie fullback playing next to Boxall last season, the veteran would approach during training sessions with tips related to things that didn’t go well in games.
“It’s always positive, productive and motivational,” Gasper said. “Where with a lot of guys, it’s easy to kind of misperceive the message as an attack, where Boxy is such a cool, down-to-earth guy you always know he’s looking out for you.”
Boxall also is known within the club for his fashion sense and extensive shoe collection.
Teammates will then “gas him up” with compliments such as, “Boxy! You looking fresh today,” Gasper said. “And he’s like, ‘Oh, no. I just threw some stuff on.’ ”
After a road loss in 2018, Boxall had showered and was sitting in his stall looking at his phone when he saw equipment managers Ryan Natusch and Sean Bigness cleaning up water bottles, athletic tape and other trash off the floor.
Instead of going to the bus to relax and wait for the team to head back to the hotel, Boxall helped them. Once he started doing it, rookies felt the need to follow the lead. And that wasn’t a once-off.
“You don’t expect that,” Natusch said. “He’s super important to our club. He’s part of the culture. He’s created the culture.”
Before Tyler Miller arrived in Minnesota in January, he knew about the Boxall family after playing with his younger brother, Nikko, at Northwestern.