Image: Minnesota United
Minnesota United FC pulled off an astonishing 1-0 road victory against FC Dallas Saturday night at Toyota stadium. Forward Mender Garcia, 24, scored the lone goal of the contest early in the second half, earning MNUFC all three points in their season opener.
The result came in unexpected fashion as Dallas had not lost a home opener since 2009, while the side from Frisco (yes, Frisco) have also had MNUFC’s number of late. The Loons’ 2022 campaign ended at Toyota Stadium following a 1-1 draw that saw the hosts advance on penalty kicks 5-4. After failing to gain a win on Dallas’ turf over their first five years in MLSMinnesota have now won their last two regular season matches down there.
The Loons won’t return to action until their home opener on March 11 at Allianz Field, as their bye week arrives early in the campaign during week two.
Here are my three biggest takeaways from the first three points of the season.
Winning without Rey
It’s slowly beginning to look like the Loons will have to adjust to life without their Argentine talisman as reports continue to circle in, while Reynoso continues to stay in Cordoba. With no firm timeline on his return, it’s time to focus on the players that are with the team, actively contributing to their success.
The Loons rolled out in a 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 formation with Kervin Arriaga and Robin Lod as dual central midfielders and Wil Trapp sitting beneath them. Up top was Garcia due to Amarilla’s absence; the Paraguayan had left early in the week to obtain his green card and did not arrive back in time for the match. Their typical look with Reynoso as the attacking midfielder was abandoned and they got the job done. Wingers Bongokuhle Hlongwane and Franco Fragapane were dangerous in the final third, with the lone goal being created nearly single handedly by Fragapane, whose initial shot put the ball into danger for Garcia to pounce.
With two weeks until the home opener, and a rumored U-22 attacker from South Korea set to join the club, the Loons are now set to find their identity; without Reynoso. Maybe the club doesn’t need a face to represent them, maybe Minnesota simply needs to unify as a group moving forward, but without Reynoso… change is on the way.
Tapias’ outstanding debut
Saturday evening was a bit of luck, but there’s always a reason luck rolls around. The Loons were well prepared to handle this incredibly talented FC Dallas side, including the front-three of Alan Velasco and their pair of U.S. internationals in Jesus Ferreira and Paul Arriola. However, this goes without saying, but the Loons defense was stellar during the entire 90+ minutes of play.
Newcomer Miguel Tapias was handed his first start for the club as the left-sided central defender alongside Michael Boxall, and he was outstanding.
FCD had an XG of 1.0 on the night with 11 attempted shots in total, with only one of those ending on target. Tapias completed 88% of his 51 passes on the night with 65 total touches on the ball. He was dribbled past only once, committing only one foul on the night – which earned him a yellow card. Highlighting his evening was eight total defensive clearances, including three headed clearances – two of which were inside Minnesota’s 18-yard-box.
The Mexican defender looked right at home in the Loons’ back-four and helped keep one of the most dangerous frontlines in MLS quiet all evening. Have a debut, Micky.
Attacking depth is needed
Garcia scored the game-winner Saturday evening, but his overall performance left something to be wanted. The Colombian managed just six total touches on the ball through the first 45 minutes, struggling to integrate into the match. Despite the first half struggles, he scored with his first touch of the second half, improving on the first 45 minutes until his exit from the match in the 63rd minute.
The attacking options on the bench for Minnesota were bleak, however, with homegrown forward Patrick Weah – who has just seven professional minutes on his belt – available alongside 2022 Superdraft pick Tani Oluwaseyi and newly acquired attacker Cameron Dunbar. Oluwaseyi was the lone forward brought off the bench Saturday, where he made his MLS debut after being brought on in the 89th minute.
The current depth of MNUFC’s attacking core is their weakest link, even if you bring the missing Amarilla into the picture. There’s no true replacement for Fragapane on the left wing, and with Lod in the midfield, Hlongwane is the lone right wing option as well.
The aforementioned incoming U-22 initiative transfer is rumored to be announced early this coming week, but in an ideal world, that deal gets done during preseason.
The Loons’ attack – who scored just 48 goals last year – is in need of dire, consistent goal-scoring help. It’s a big year for Amarilla, who has never lived up to the promise of being a starting caliber forward in MLS, while Garcia is still a raw talent we do not know much about. Unless there are changes in the system and the shooting boots of the current players, it’s going to be a testing campaign for the attacking front.
Hlongwane and Fragapane will play big roles moving forward, but someone in this group needs to step up and take the reigns for the sake of consistency.