ST. PAUL, Minn. — Winless in eight and riding a five-game losing streak, the Vancouver Whitecaps saw out a scoreless draw Saturday against a Minnesota United side that had taken 16 of 18 points from its last six matches. Normally thunderous Allianz Field was struck silent by the final whistle.
Thirty-seven crosses sent by the hosts into the Caps’ low-block defense represented the bulk of a Loons’ attack that produced just a single shot on target. It marked Vancouver’s first clean sheet since a 1-0 home win over the Portland Timbers May 10, and came on the heels of the Caps being outscored 17-2 over their previous five contests.
Despite the result, MNUFC coach Adrian Heath remained positive.
“Really pleased with it — the effort, desire, energy,” Heath said. “You know, we spoke about it and the way this was going to be one of them games, and I was worried about it. But the things that I was worried about sort of didn’t come to fruition this evening. The energy from the players was terrific. The only thing lacking was our ball in the final third. We had  crosses. I can’t remember the last time I was involved in a team that got 37 crosses off and probably didn’t get on the end of more than two or three.”
Heath said he expected Vancouver (4-11-9, 21 points) to defend deep, protect the middle and concede space on the wings, which the Caps did.
“We never really had the great killer ball in,” said Heath. “Darwin [Quintero] put a great ball that bounced through the six-yard box first half, and I expect somebody to be on the end of that, or somebody should expect to be on the end of it. But that wasn’t meant to be.”
That first half produced eight shots with none on target for Minnesota. The second produced eight more with Quintero forcing an easy save from Caps ‘keeper Maxime Crépeau in the final moments of the game for Minnesota’s lone effort on target. There was, to the Loons’ credit, a shot off the crossbar and a shot off the post. But none found their way into the goal.
In the 80th minute, a flick from Quintero gave second-half substitute Mason Toye an open shot on goal from inside Vancouver’s penalty area. The ball required a volley with the outside of Toye’s foot. It wasn’t the simplest of chances, but flashing the ball just over the crossbar, it was surely one Toye would like back.
Jul 27, 2019; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Minnesota United forward Ethan Finley (13) falls over Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Ali Adnan (53) in the first half at Allianz Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
In its preceding home game, Minnesota (10-7-5, 35 points) trailed FC Dallas late. In that game’s final moments, led by the Wonderwall, Allianz Field threw itself behind the Loons’ search for a goal in full voice. Tonight, a choppy game with 27 fouls and multiple injury stoppages wore away a bit of that passion. And where late heroics were the story July 13, this evening proved anticlimactic.
There were some shouts for an 82nd-minute handball by Russell Teibert, who had a shot from Quintero strike his forearm inside the Caps’ penalty area, but referee Armando Villarreal and his crew took little interest in Minnesotan protestations.
Heath took issue with a different aspect of the night’s officiating.
“I actually think Armando is one of the best referees. I don’t think he’s had his greatest day, today,” Heath offered. “I’m more disappointed with the time [at the end] of both halves. Two minutes with someone down for more than two minutes — we timed it. Getting all the other time wasted… So five minutes [of combined added time] for the game we’ve had today? Not quite sure about that.”
Heath praised rookie left back Chase Gasper as his man of the match, turning in another stout defensive performance against a creative and pacy winger — this time Yordy Rena.
Gasper offered his own thoughts on the draw after the game.
“In soccer it’s that final pass, the bounce, the header. We put so many shots that just went over. We hit the crossbar. We had a few bad bounces,” he said. “So, I mean, that just happens some nights and unfortunately that was the case tonight.
“I thought defensively the whole team did well. I thought we locked down again, and that’s really what we’ve been focusing on the past few weeks — is not conceding goals… We’ve got to just take the positives out of the game and I thought that was the biggest positive.”
Behind Gasper, Vito Mannone made five saves, but was truly challenged only once and did not see much of the ball otherwise. Spending much of the game watching his teammates swing crosses in on the opposite end of the pitch, Mannone offered his perspective on a game he described as feeling like “two points lost”.
“Let’s say [Vancouver] came here with five losses, as you say. You could see that from minute one,” Mannone said. “They drop into the box with everyone, having every man behind the ball. And they said, ‘Okay, we’re going to defend the crosses.’ They let us go on the wings with Romain [Métanire] and Chase on the other side, and expected to clear every cross. Sometimes you get lucky, as well, with a bounce or two. Sometimes you don’t. It was nearly going in for them, and it was nearly going in for us on a strange occasion. Sometimes these games are all about the first goal, and unfortunately we didn’t a goal.”
Heath, Gasper and Mannone all spoke about the importance of keeping momentum going heading into a pair of games with the Portland Timbers. The latter, scheduled for August 7 in St. Paul, being a U.S. Open Cup semifinal.
The first is an August 4 league game in Portland, made all the trickier by a 67th-minute booking that will see Quintero miss that game due to yellow card accumulation.
“He’s a big player, but as I’ve said before, this team is made of 26, 27 players,” Mannone said. “Everybody needs to be ready to jump on board and be ready to be 100 percent. We’re going to miss his quality. We’re going to miss his creativity. But we’ve got players who can help us. That’s what a team is all about. I think everybody needs to be ready to push on to make the objective which is the playoffs.”