Image: Minnesota United
Following a preseason that spawned exponentially more questions than answers regarding Minnesota United and their prospects for the 2023 campaign, the Loons did the only thing they could to bring a response. They went to Dallas and picked up three points without their starting striker or All-Star attacking midfielder.
On an opening night that saw technical difficulties on the broadcast and in the stadium, Minnesota navigated a difficult task of its own and beat Dallas 1-0 on the road, thanks to a Mender Garcia 2nd half goal, to provide a small amount of revenge for last season’s playoff loss at Toyota Stadium.
“I was just so pleased with the effort from the boys, you know, we had a difficult offseason with a lot of things that have gone on,” said Heath. “Even this week, we had three players who haven’t trained, Kervin [Arriaga] and Joseph [Rosales] and obviously Luis [Amarilla], he’s not back. Obviously, we’ve had the the disappointment of the Reynoso situation … I thought it was magnificent display from the guys and I can’t fault their effort, desire, and enthusiasm. Everything that we asked for.”
While Heath hinted in recent weeks that the club had been experimenting with different formations in preseason, Minnesota started opening night in Heath’s usual 4-2-3-1 formation, with Garcia starting up top for Amarilla, who wasn’t able to make it back in time from his successful green card appointment in Paraguay. Robin Lod took the “Reynoso” role at the No. 10, and Zarek Valentin received the start at right back, with DJ Taylor available off the bench. Taylor missed a sizable portion of preseason action, most recently battling tendonitis.
The lineup did feature Arriaga in the XI and Rosales on the bench. Both were also in their home country of Honduras receiving green cards this week.
The first half didn’t see a ton of big opportunities, but the hosts got the better of the chances.
In the 5th minute, CBs Michael Boxall and Miguel Tapias lost track of Dallas midfielder Paxton Pomykal, who was fortunately only able to glance a header wide of goal.
Following the chance, MNUFC tightened things up defensively and didn’t allow Dallas much past the halfway line over the next 20 minutes, sitting back in a 4-4-2 defensive formation with the wingers hanging deep.
Wil Trapp received his customary first-half yellow card in the 24th minute, following an aggressive slide tackle on Pomykal.
What followed can only be described as a cornucopia of corner kick opportunities for the hosts. In total, Dallas earned seven first-half corners, the most dangerous of which came in the 29th minute, as Sebastian Lietget got a clean header off the Jesus Ferreira delivery but St. Clair was able to tip it over the bar.
Minnesota’s best chance of the opening 45 came off a Kervin Arriaga free kick. The Hondurian fired a laser toward goal but it banged off the crossbar.
All in all, Minnesota only mustered two shots in the first half to Dallas’ six and accumulated just .09 xG.
In the 2nd half, the Loons flipped that script almost right away. Off a sustained attack, Franco Fragapane teed up a volley and sent a rocket toward Paes, who was only able to parry it directly to an awaiting Mender Garcia. The Loons striker put the rebound away to give the visitors the lead in the 48th minute.
“He worked hard,” said Heath of the Colombian’s performance. “Obviously Mender came in late last year and had to wait patiently for an opportunity. He got a goal tonight so that will do his confidence a world of good.”
Just seven minutes later, Garcia nearly doubled the lead after a bad Dallas turnover sprung the Colombian in on goal. Sebastian Ibeagha interfered from behind, taking Garcia down, but surprisingly no whistle was blown in what looked to be a DOGSO. The No. 9 stayed on the turf for a few minutes but eventually came to his feet and re-entered the match shortly after.
“I’ll have to see [the tackle] again,” Heath said. “I thought it was a foul at the time.”
The first substitution of the match was a notable one, as Adrian Heath called upon Hassani Dotson, who missed nearly all of last season with an ACL tear, to replace Garcia.
“It feels great to get back on the field,” said Dotson. “Obviously, I still need to work on my fitness level and get a little bit comfortable. But, it’s good to be back after so long.”
Heath showed with the early sub that he understands the value Dotson brings from a quality and flexibility perspective.
“It’s like having a new player for us,” Heath said. “Anybody who knows me knows what I think about him. I think he has the talent to be a U.S. International.”
Joseph Rosales also saw his first minutes of the season, coming on for Fragapane in the 71st minute, and provided a lot of energy and possession to help MNUFC see the match out in the closing minutes. Late on, Tani Oluwaseyi made his first-team debut, coming on for Lod in the 89th minute.
After effectively keeping the hosts at bay for an extended period, Velasco maneuvered his way around a trio of Loons defenders to get an angle for a right footed shot in the 82nd minute, but it begged wide of the far post, and Dallas weren’t able to muster a quality equalizing opportunity the rest of the way.
“It’s been no secret that a lot of people had questions about us this year,” said Dotson. “Obviously, Dallas is a good team, but we feel we can hang with any team in the league.”
Minnesota has a week off before hosting New York Red Bulls March 11th at Allianz Field in their home opener.