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Hertha Berlin edges Minnesota United FC 1-0 as Loons audition youngsters

May 22, 2019 — Hertha Berlin defender Karim Rekik and Minnesota United FC forward Abu Danladi fight for possession during an international friendly held at Allianz Field in St. Paul, Minn. (Photo courtesy of Minnesota United FC)

ST. PAUL, Minn. — A midweek international friendly provided a pair of footnotes for the histories of Hertha, Berliner Sport-Club e.V. and Minnesota United FC. For Hertha, it was the 126-year-old club’s first-ever game played on United States soil. The Berliners were making their initial stop on an end-of-season promotional tour that will also visit Madison, Wisc., and end at Santa Monica Beach in California May 29.

For MNUFC, an announced crowd of 18,703 marked the first non-sellout since Allianz Field opened April 13. But for die-hard Loons fans, the evening offered an extended look at a number of players, young and old, aiming to impress head coach Adrian Heath and work their way into regular MLS minutes.

“I thought there were some excellent performances,” said Heath. “Hassani [Dotson] at right back, . . . I thought Wyatt Omsberg was very good. And Lawrence Olum, considering he hasn’t had 90 minutes for a very long time, was outstanding. So there was a lot of good stuff this evening.”

In addition to the trio Heath initially mentioned, 22-year-old goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair made a couple truly impressive saves, stopping six Hertha shots in total and flashing the athleticism and reflexes that helped convince MNUFC to select the Canadian seventh overall in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft. When the final whistle sounded, St. Clair left the field with only a single blemish on what was otherwise a sterling Allianz Field debut.

In the 43rd minute, Hertha’s Ondrej Duda — a teammate of Ján Greguš’ on the Slovakia national team — tested St. Clair with a shot from distance. The young keeper parried the low driven effort, but not wide enough to send it clear of danger. Pouncing on the rebound and skipping a low shot past St. Clair,  fullback Peter Pekarík — another Slovak international — gave Hertha a 1-0 lead and ultimately a win on the evening.

“It had a little bit of movement, obviously I wanted to push it a little bit wider than it happened,” St. Clair said. “It kind of caught me a little bit underneath. You’ve got to catch it or push it wide.”

The error wasn’t of major concern to Heath, who was bullish on St. Clair’s future.

“I thought he could push the ball maybe farther out for the goal, but [he] made big saves, looked competent, made good decisions,” Heath said. “Little mistake for a kid who’s in the infancy of his career. I thought he showed a lot of promise. He’s got maybe another 18, 20 years ahead of him as a goalkeeper.”

Among the three Slovakians, the goal was cause for some gentle ribbing.

“It was nice to joke around a little bit,” Greguš said. “Pekarík, he doesn’t score that much. So I said to him that we gave him confidence.”

May 22, 2019 — Minnesota United FC’s Ján Greguš and Hertha Berlin’s Peter Pekarík exchange jerseys outside their respective locker rooms following Hertha’s 1-0 victory at Allianz Field . (Photo courtesy of Gabriela Lozada / Minnesota United FC)

As St. Clair impressed at the back, so too did forward Mason Toye up top. It was an evening of nearlys for the former Indiana Hoosier. Toye showed off gains made in the weightroom last winter. Facing Hertha’s big and athletic centerbacks, the 20-year-old more than held his own, fighting his way through contact and nearly getting on the end of a trio of through balls, any one of which were feet-to-inches from leveling the contest.

Playing with visible passion in what was also his Allianz Field debut, Toye battled in search of a goal that never came.

“I really wanted it bad, but it didn’t fall for me,” Toye said. “Games like these are opportunities for us to show Adrian we deserve to play and that we can help the team. I thought I worked hard, so that’s what matters.”

The evening also provided a reunion of sorts for 34-year-old veteran Lawrence Olum. The Kenyan returned to play in front of fans in Minnesota for the first time in a decade, having previously suited up for the Minnesota Thunder during the summer of 2009. After the game, Olum hopped the ad boards behind the south goal to pose for pictures with supporters in Allianz Field’s Wonderwall.

“It brings back some old memories, so it was really good to do,” Olum said. Speaking of Allianz Field in an understated manner, he added, “This is something that Minnesota needed, and they got it. It’s up there with everybody else and it’s pretty good.”

The only truly sour note on the night came in the 41st minute when Loons attacking midfielder Kevin Molino left the field under his own power. Heath said postgame that Molino felt some tightness in one of his hamstrings, and as the match was just a friendly, didn’t want to risk playing through it.

“Kevin’s the only worry. You know, we’re hoping it’s not too bad for Kevin,” Heath said. “But if Kevin comes through unscathed tomorrow, it’s been a really good evening.”

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