ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota United FC began its game against the Houston Dynamo on its collective back foot. Taking the evening’s only goal from a moment of good fortune, the Loons then battled for 70 minutes to see out a 1-0 victory which keeps them undefeated at Allianz Field and established a new high watermark for the club of five clean sheets in an MLS season just 13 games into its 2019 campaign.
“We don’t take anything from this game last year,” said MNUFC coach Adrian Heath. “The collective mentality to defend the goal — do what’s asked of them; people doing what the coaching staff want them to do; defending properly; putting the group before individuals — I thought it was outstanding at times.
“We’ve certainly, as a group, worked really, really hard to deny a really good attacking team many efforts.”
To Heath’s assessment, Houston (7-3-2, 23 points) completed 433 of 515 passes and held nearly 60-percent possession, but put just three shots on target to Minnesota’s four. It was a night in which the Dynamo led Minnesota (6-4-3, 21 points) in nearly every statistical category except shots on target, goals and clearances (24-12 in MNUFC’s favor).
That the Loons took three points off the sweat of their brows, and Boniek Garcia’s shin, makes the effort that much grittier.
Fed by Ján Greguš in the 20th minute, MNUFC right back Romain Métanire attempted to cross the ball from wide, but his effort was clipped by Garcia’s outstretched leg. The touch caused the ball to loop up and over Dynamo keeper Joe Willis, hitting the far post before deflecting into the goal.
The public address announcer at Allianz Field credited Métanire with the tally, as did the official scorer.
“Well, [Métanire] said he meant it — the deflection,” Heath teased. “No, obviously he’s pleased.”
The scorer’s decision was perhaps karmic justice after teammate Ángelo Rodríguez was credited with the game-winning goal in Minnesota’s 1-0 win over D.C. United on April 28 after claiming to have gotten a touch on a cross from Métanire that may have gone in on its own. The end result of the two plays was the Malagsy international’s first official goal in MLS.
Per Vito Mannone, it also helped the goalkeeper take money off of Greguš.
“We hand kind of a bet that if [Métanire] scored, Jan would pay me,” Mannone said. “I’m guessing Jan needs to pay now.”
The evening wasn’t a complete success for Métanire, however. In the 90th minute he was shown yellow for unsporting behavior, which will cause Métanire — arguably MNUFC’s best player so far this season — to miss Wednesday’s game at Atlanta on yellow card accumulation. This comes after Minnesota traded Francisco Calvo to Chicago and with fullbacks Eric Miller and Chase Gasper unavailable for selection against Houston due to injury.
Heath said between the latter pair, there was a chance Gasper could be available midweek, but he wouldn’t know until closer to Wednesday. In any event, Health will have to continue to mix and match at the back as his charges weather the tweaks and strains of a congested schedule with Minnesota set to play their fourth game in 15 days against Atlanta.
Deputized to play left back Saturday was rookie Hassani Dotson. The second-round 2019 MLS SuperDraft pick took the field for his first MLS start with Miguel Ibarra’s arm draped around his shoulder. Per Dotson, Ibarra referenced the 2000 film “Remember the Titans,” quoting Ryan Hurst’s Gerry Bertier and Wood Harris’ Julius Campbell, telling Dotson, “Left side, strong side!”
Dotson cited a number of teammates — Osvaldo Alonso, Rasmus Schüller, Drawin Quintero and Ethan Finlay — as calming influences.
“Talking to my other friends, you don’t see this in every locker room,” Dotson said. “Big thanks to my teammates and the coaching staff — everyone in Minnesota —for bringing together such a good group of guys.”
“I thought he was outstanding,” Heath said of Dotson. “The kid did everything we asked of him. If he, God willing, stays injury free and listens and learns — which we don’t think he won’t — he has a great opportunity. The kid’s just got a feel for the game. No matter where you play him, he gets a feel for the game. And you can’t give that to people — they’ve either got it or they haven’t.”
After Saturday’s performance, it’s expected that opportunity will include a place in the Loons’ starting XI against the defending MLS Cup champions in four days’ time.
Minnesota enters that game with a fair amount of confidence, and spirits in the locker room following the win were high. That confidence has been built on the collective effort of a team successfully defending their own half, often with 10 men behind the ball, that has picked up 11 points in its last seven games while only scoring four goals.
Per Heath, that slight scoring drought is due to lack of effective possession in the attacking third.
May 25, 2019; Saint Paul, MN, Saint Paul, MN, USA; Minnesota United midfielder Darwin Quintero (25) plays the ball as Houston Dynamos midfielder Matias Vera (22) defends during the first half of a match at Allianz Field. Mandatory Credit: Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports
“I don’t think we had enough controlled possession to create chances,” Heath said. “It was isolated breakaways and then it was back to the [defensive] block again.”
For Finlay, it was a failure to take the chances he and his teammates created.
“I would said we probably squandered chances to make it two-, three- or four-nothing,” he said. “I think we got players good enough. I think Darwin, you can see him run by two or three guys… Angelo can hold off two or three… I think we can still use those moments in transition.”
In a reversal of form from recent seasons, MNUFC is posing a challenge to opposing attacks. In equally unfamiliar territory, it now finds itself in search of goals.