For Minnesota United fans, it probably feels like the movie Groundhog Day.
There have been a number of common themes with this club over the course of the 2022 campaign, and two of the big ones were on full display in a 1-0 loss to defending MLS Cup Champions NYCFC at Allianz Field Saturday night.
Theme 1: Minnesota had their chances and once again. They weren’t able to convert.
A pair of those opportunities came in the match’s opening minutes. In the 4th minute, Kemar Lawrence sent in a cross which found Bongi Hlongwane, who was able to redirect the ball to Franco Fragapane. However, the winger wasn’t able to place his shot outside the reach of goalkeeper Sean Johnson, who made the save.
“I think [NYC are] probably the best team in the MLS at this moment,” said Heath in the postgame press conference. “When you have them opportunities against a team like this, you have to take them, especially when it’s the first goal.”
Later in the half, the visitors would make the Loons pay for their inability to convert, as Alexander Callens buried a header off a corner to give NYCFC the lead in the 29th minute.
Minnesota earned yet another chance just six minutes later, as this time a Reynoso corner found the head of Kallman, but his effort found nothing but woodwork.
Loons’ manager Adrian Heath made a tactical change at the half, bringing on struggling striker Luis Amarilla for Hlongwane and switching the formation to a 4-3-3.
The home side seemed to find some energy from the change as they began the 2nd half on the front foot, just as they did to open the match. In the 53rd minute, following a nice attacking buildup, Amarilla fired on net from just inside the 18, the shot was blocked but ended up at the foot of Kallman, who buried the gimme. However, he was approximately a mile offside along with three other Loons, so the goal was disallowed.
“Well it changed the dynamic of the game because it stopped letting their two central midfield players get in on the ball,” said Heath of the halftime switch. “We started to play more in their half and we started to get the ball switched and I thought that we would score.”
Theme 2: Dayne St. Clair did everything he could to keep his team in the match.
What more is there to say about Minnesota’s goalkeeper at this point? The team is now below .500 (5-6-3 record), but it’s hard to imagine how much worse it would be without the Canadian’s exceptional play between the posts.
In the 63rd minute, DSC was able to get a paw on a dangerous corner kick. The ball was then crossed back in and probably should have found the back of the net, but Santiago Rodríguez’ wide open, far-post header somehow went over the bar.
Just six minutes later, NYCFC’s Thiago Andrade is in on goal, but St. Clair alertly comes off his line to cut off the angle. The goalkeeper gets a shoulder on the shot attempt to keep the Loons in striking distance.
“Of course I think every day is an opportunity for me to prove myself not only within this league but without,” said St. Clair. “Pushing for things and the World Cup — a lot could happen six months from now. I think just getting that consistency is important for me.”
Back to Theme 1: Chances Missed
Pressing for an equalizer in the dying minutes, Minnesota was able to turn desperation into more quality scoring chances.
In the 90th minute, Reynoso put in a quality shot from outside the box, which took a deflection but remained headed toward the net. Somehow, some way, Johnson shifted his weight and got a diving hand on the ball. The save, however, went right to the foot of Robin Lod, who immediately fired on net, but Johnson was yet again up to the task and able to push the ball over the bar.
In stoppage time, DJ Taylor’s beautiful long ball found the foot of Amarilla, but he wasn’t quite decisive enough and the defender caught up to deflect his shot out for a corner. With nearly 18,000 scarves in the air at Allianz, Reynoso’s corner found an open head, but again Johnson was there to tip it over the crossbar.
“We know that in this league you win two or three games in a row and things change pretty quick,” said Wil Trapp. “We would have liked to have, obviously last week against Dallas a win, and then stepping into this break with another win. That didn’t happen, so we can rest up and get guys healthy. Get guys back who’ve been suspended and be ready to kickoff as we go into a busy June.”
The stats weren’t all that lopsided. NYC had a lot more crosses (20-9), while Minnesota saw yellow significantly more (4-1). Other than that, possession and shots were similar, and the Loons actually won the xG battle significantly (1.2-0.6), which reinforces the “missed opportunities” theme.
In the end, the final whistle blew, and Groundhog Day set in once again for the Minnesota United faithful. Great chances and great goalkeeping usually end up in victories.
But for the Loons, the alarm clock hasn’t been playing “Wonderwall” very much. Luckily, that alarm can be shut off for a few weeks.