ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota United came into Saturday’s league match with FC Dallas having won six straight games in all competitions while scoring 26 goals over that run. The hosts were kept scoreless through 90 minutes and limited to just two shots on target ahead of second-half extra time. But in the 91st minute, Mason Toye smacked the rebound from a Ján Greguš shot past Dallas goalkeeper Jesse González for the game’s first goal.
Minnesota’s goal was the first Dallas had allowed in 228 minutes, dating back to Brian Fernández 42nd minute goal in a July 4 game at Portland.
As late as Toye’s game winner came, it almost wasn’t the night’s only score. Moments after play restarted, goalkeeper Vito Mannone made contact with second-half substitute Bryan Reynolds just inside the 18-yard-box as the two raced to reach a rolling ball. Initially, no foul was called, but referee Baldomero Toledo eventually signaled for a penalty kick following Video Review.
Dallas captain Reto Ziegler stepped up to the penalty spot. It was a scenario for which Mannone had prepared.
“I studied him a long time — for two days,” Mannone said of Ziegler. “His run-up was telling me something different from what I saw in the video. And I waited, waited, waited until the end, because sometimes they still go across me into the other corner. But his run-up… it was quite long and on an angle. When he approaches the ball, I thought he couldn’t put it [to my left] anymore, and I thought, ‘Let me try and guess [to my right].’ I needed to make a reaction save and thankfully it went well — because I never thought it was a penalty in the first place.”
Mannone added he had since viewed the replay and felt he did his best to hold his ground and avoid running into Reynolds.
In the scramble that followed Mannone’s save, FC Dallas were flagged for offside. But the announced standing-room crowd of 19,906 was so loud Loons winger Miguel Ibarra never heard the whistle, launching a counter attack that received González’s full attention while most of the players on the other end of the field watched and waited for the ball to come back.
That sellout crowd had been kept relatively quiet for most of the evening. Playing its seventh game in 22 days, MNUFC moved on tired legs. A relatively dull performance against an FC Dallas side that were every bit the Loons’ equals had given fans in Minnesota little for which to cheer. But as the end drew near, the Wonderwall sought to will its team to victory.
Jul 13, 2019; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Minnesota United midfielder Chase Gasper (77) heads the ball in the first half against FC Dallas at Allianz Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
It started when Allianz Field rose to its feet in the 86th minute for a Minnesota corner. The crowd continued to roar into added time. Then came Toye’s goal, then followed Mannone’s save, then the final whistle, with each event ratcheting up the decibels even higher.
“I want to mention the crowd because I think they got us over the line,” said MNUFC coach Adrian Heath. “I’ve never heard the stadium as loud as this — ever. The last five minutes, and then when Vito makes the save — incredible.
“So proud of the players. They were running on empty today. I spoke to my staff yesterday after training. I was really worried about the game because the group was really flat and we’ve tried everything to get them going. It was a difficult [evening] for us. You could tell [Dallas] have had a week off. They’ve come out and were nice and lively and sharp, as we expected. But I thought our resolve and determination not to lose the game was immense.”
Where the crowd helped carry tired Loons through the game’s final minutes, the night’s two heroes — Toye and Mannone — were buoyed by a shared belief in one another.
In his second year as a professional, Toye has finally founding his scoring boots. The 20-year-old has scored four goals in his last 148 league minutes, and in all competitions has five goals in his last six games.
“[Mannone]’s the guy who got me going,” Toye said. “When I scored my first [goal this season], I came on, I think it was a water break in Houston. I think he told me, ‘Hey, go get one. I believe in you.’ Ever since then I’ve been on a roll. So I just believe in him, too. I was super happy he got the [penalty] save [tonight].
“For some reason, I knew he was going to save it. I don’t know why, I just believe in that dude.”
One place belief is lacking, per Heath, is among MLSsoccer.com’s writing staff. Heath had clearly taken notice of the July 9 Power Rankings which rated his Loons the 10th-best team in the league, four spots below a San Jose side his charges had beaten 3-1 just six days prior.
After seven-straight wins between league and U.S. Open Cup play, Heath was asked if he had a general message for MLS.
“Well, MLS might mention us now and again,” Heath answered, wryly. “Obviously, keep looking at the rankings and there’s teams below us in the league with less wins, less… I don’t know. Maybe we send them a ticket to show them where we are. Be nice, I think. Although, there is three experts at [MLSsoccer.com] last time I looked.”
Turning his attention to the week ahead, Heath offered that Wednesday’s friendly against Premier League side Aston Villa would be contested by players in needed of minutes. Heath also offered an update on midfielder Osvaldo Alonso, who was forced from the game due to shoulder discomfort. While Alonso will have a precautionary MRI in the coming days, Heath believes his captain isn’t likely to miss a significant amount of time. Additionally, Ike Opara was revealed to have been a game-time decision with the center back dealing with a stomach bug.
The Loons’ recent performance during a heavily congested schedule that has seen them through to the semifinals of the Open Cup and up to third place in the Western Conference at time of publishing has been amazing. By Heath’s own admission, it’s also been made possible by the addition of veterans like Alonso and Opara. With 14 league games and at least one more cup tie, how well one of the oldest rosters in the league holds up during the dog days of summer will play a large part in shaping the ultimate success of Minnesota’s 2019 campaign.