The lopsided result involving an MLS side in its debut season brought back memories of the Loons’ 6-1 loss to Atlanta United on March 12, 2017 and was perhaps cathartic for Minnesota fans. The club’s third victory in as many competitive games now has the Loons riding high.
For MNUFC coach Adrian Heath, the memory of the five-goal loss produced of expressions of sympathy for Cincinnati coach Yoann Damet.
“I feel for them because I know what it’s like,” Heath said. “I think there’s this misconception that [for] expansion teams it’s very easy, because everybody compares everybody with Atlanta, who spent about $35 million to put some decent players on the pitch. For the people who haven’t got that, it can be a lonely place at times on the touchline when you’re getting goals put past you. We went through it. I know what it’s like for their coaching staff, and I feel for them.
“But I think this is a day about ourselves.”
Heath praised forward Mason Toye, who logged his first MLS goal; right back Hassani Dotson, who scored his second; leftback Chase Gasper, who made his first MLS start; and attacking midfielder Kevin Molino, who came off the bench to score a second goal in as many games for the Loons following a return from knee surgery.
Add to that a brace from center back Ike Opara, goals from Ethan Finlay and Angelo Rodriguez, a pair of assists from Darwin Quintero and a gentleman’s hatrick ― three assists — from Ján Greguš and it amounted to a seven-goal output. That total bested the six goals scored by MNUFC in a Nov. 2, 2013, in North American Soccer League game — a 6-4 win over the Tampa Bay Rowdies at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Saturday’s victory was an important one for the Loons (7-7-3, 24 points), snapping a three-game league losing streak. Fighting to hold onto a playoff position, anything short of a win at home against last-place FC Cincinnati (3-13-2, 11 points) would have been rightly considered a failure. In all competitions, it marked MNUFC’s third-straight win, coming on the back of a pair of U.S. Open Cup victories that have seen the team through to the quarterfinals.
With red-hot San Jose due in St. Paul on Wednesday, that improved run of form has bolstered belief among the Loons at an important time. Following a commanding win on the afternoon, moods were high in the home locker room.
In one corner, there was laughter about what part of his body Opara used to score his first goal.
“Honestly, I don’t know,” Opara said before motioning to his waistline. “It came in this region. Where it hit me I don’t know, honestly. I didn’t feel it — that’s a bad thing, I guess?”
To Opara’s left, Dotson reflected on growing more comfortable playing in front of 19,000-plus fans. Following his first league goal against Philadelphia on June 2, Dotson’s celebration was muted. After ripping a shot past FCC goalkeeper Spencer Richey from 25-yards out, the right back brought his hands together in the shape of a bird before sprinting to the corner flag to leap and pump his first in the direction of the home crowd.
“Yeah, definitely, definitely [more comfortable],” Dotson said. “The first goal, I didn’t know exactly — I didn’t have any plan for the celebration. This one, I did a little bird-type celebration for the Loons.”
Ask to compare his first two league goals, the rookie noted that his first — a half-volley — was the more difficult, but with his girlfriend in the stands today, his second was the more memorable.
HOW YOU GONNA DO 'EM LIKE THAT HASSANI??? pic.twitter.com/z6EGQsWa3D
— Minnesota United FC (@MNUFC) June 29, 2019
Loons sporting director Manny Lagos has had his share of misses in the player acquisition department, but grabbing Dotson in the second round of this year’s SuperDraft has proven an inspired choice, with the former Oregon State standout winning the respect of fans and teammates alike.
“I said earlier, he’s in range when he enters the building,” said Opara. “I’ve never seen him do it in training, but this guy’s pumping ’em in games, so keep shooting, my man.”
For Toye, however, the sight of Dotson bombarding the net with missiles was a familiar sight.
“I can actually tell you all, when we were training inside at the [National Sports Center], I was doing my extra stuff at one end of the field, and he was on the other side with a bag of balls, just striking the ball. He’s struck some balls in training really, really well. So, I knew he could hit a shot like that, and I think he was just waiting to get an opportunity to shoot from range.
“I wasn’t surprised, I was more overjoyed that one of my teammates and one of the young guys scored a goal like that.”
On scoring his first league goal on the heels of an 89th-minute game winner at Houston in USOC play, Toye credited working on the mental part of his game as the cause of his recent success.
“I’m just being a little bit smarter,” Toye noted. “My mind is starting to calm down a little bit, so stuff is starting to slow down for me. So, you know, maybe last year, I’d try to take that guy on when I really didn’t need to. He just keeps backing up and giving me space so I just keep taking it and pulled the trigger.”
With the 2019 season playoffs-or-bust and front office jobs on the line, Minnesota looks to have rebounded from a mid-season swoon. A return to form by the likes of Quintero and Molino, coupled with the growth of youngsters like Dotson, Toye and Gasper has given Loons fans cause for optimism heading into a July with six competitive matches and an international friendly against the Premier League’s Aston Villa on the schedule.