Mar 3, 2018; San Jose, CA, USA; San Jose Earthquakes celebrate after the score against the Minnesota United during the second half at Avaya Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports
Minnesota United opened its 2018 season the way it closed its 2017 campaign: with a 3-2 loss at San Jose. A pair of late goals from Kevin Molino made the dying moments of the game entertaining, but the efforts proved too little, too late for the Loons.
Taking a quick assessment of the night, three things that stood out follow.
Nagging injury removes Danladi from season opener
Abu Danladi started as Minnesota’s lone striker, but was subbed off in the 29th minute after a slight hamstring strain reduced his mobility. This led to a short moment of concern later in the first half when Danladi’s replacement, Christian Ramirez, turned his ankle. Third-choice forward Mason Toye was part of Minnesota’s 19-man travel roster, but the 19 year-old was left off the bench in favor of fellow rookie Carter Manley.
Danladi’s fitness concerns are familiar for MNUFC, as the Ghanaian’s hamstrings were a topic of discussion ahead of the 2017 SuperDraft.
In three seasons with UCLA, Danladi played in 42 of 61 games, missing significant time due to injury. Minnesota’s brass expressed hope the professional game’s longer preseason and greater time between matches would help keep Danladi healthy. The Loons’ training staff worked with Danladi on his core strength with the aim of reducing the load placed on his hamstrings, but back spasms sidelined the forward for a short while last season.
Danladi scored eight goals while playing 1,391 minutes in 2017, with more than half his appearances coming as a substitute. It now falls to newly-promoted head athletic trainer Stacey Hardin and staff to help keep the 22-year-old healthy and productive.
Mixed results for Molino in the middle
Kevin Molino’s late heroics brought the Loons back into the game for the final 10 minutes. In the 81st, the Trinidadian gathered Ramirez’s deft layoff, skipping the ball through the legs of San Jose midfielder Shea Salinas and inside the far post. Four minutes later, Rasmus Schüller found Molino in a pocket of space, allowing the latter to turn and curl a shot from outside the 18 between the post and Quakes keeper Andrew Tarbell’s outstretched hand.
The two efforts marked Molino’s 19th and 20th goals in the attacking midfielder’s last 60 league games, underscoring his ability to put the ball in the back of the net when arriving late and finding space between the opposing defensive ranks.
Taking nothing away from being Minnesota’s best player on the night, Molino did fail to complete a single pass inside San Jose’s penalty area. Additionally, Minnesota players struggled to combine with one another in the attacking third for much of the evening.
It looks as if the challenge of creating a cohesive attack from a rotating cast of attacking players is one that has followed coach Adrian Heath and company from preseason.
Loons seeking a No. 6
Heath opted to partner Ibson with Schüller at the base of a midfield triangle to start the game. With Sam Cronin still working his way back from a concussion sustained in 2017, and loanee Luiz Fernando having only recently joined MNUFC’s roster, Health’s selection made sense.
Both Schüller and Ibson made use of a good range of passing through the middle of the field. The pair combined to complete 132 of 155 passes on the evening.
The issue, on Saturday, was that neither are naturally defensive midfielders and the pairing often pushed up the field in unison. Several times when Ibson or Schüller lost the ball at midfield, the other was not behind the ball and in a position to break up the Quakes’ counterattack.
There does not seem to be a set timetable for Cronin’s return, so the speed at which MNUFC’s coaching staff can integrate Fernando into the team may have a significant impact on the start of Minnesota’s season.