Image: Minnesota United
Two goals conceded. Two shots on target. Two weeks in a row.
Adrian Heath talked all week about wanting his team to get back to what they do best. Statistically, Minnesota United dominated almost every category, but ultimately fell 2-1 to Orlando City Saturday night at Allianz Field.
It’s the second consecutive match where Minnesota allowed only two shots on goal, with both ending up in the back of the net. The loss is the Loons’ second in as many games, after starting the season’s first five contests unbeaten.
“Today, I feel for the players a little bit,” said Heath. “It’s a difficult one to take, but that’s football. Small margins at either end”
After a goalless first half, Minnesota opened the scoring in the 58th minute, with Robin Lod springing Hassani Dotson toward goal with a nice outside-footed pass. Dotson would pay it forward with a great ball across goal, where Bongokuhle Hlongwane tapped in his second goal of the season.
“[Orlando’s] outside center back went to Robin [Lod], and I saw like a quick gap for me to burst into and [Bongi] has been making that run all game, so I just decided to hit it with some pace for him to have a chance at goal,” said Dotson.
The lead wouldn’t last long, though, as the Loons’ backline couldn’t intercept a Gaston Gonzalez pass across the box, and Ivan Angulo’s shot beat Dayne St. Clair to even the score in the 66th minute.
You can’t say Minnesota didn’t have their chances to grab a winner of their own after conceding the equalizer.
In the 80th minute, Bongi centered one in the box for Lod, but the Finn’s left foot failed him and the effort skied well over the bar. Six minutes later, Amarilla poked a pass to a wide-open Fragapane inside the six-yard box, but the Argentine couldn’t pick a side with his shot and sent it directly toward Gallese.
“We’ve had good opportunities this evening, and invariably with opportunities you will expect to score goals,” said Heath. “Obviously people don’t mean to miss chances, and hopefully it will start to get a little bit better fortune and take the opportunities when they come, because obviously we’ve had really big opportunities in important times [tonight].”
In the 88th minute, St. Clair came off his line to deny a winner, but Duncan McGuire headed home a rebound off the crossbar to clinch three points for the visitors.
Both Orlando goals came from counter-attacks on the left flank, an area Oscar Pareja’s side saw they could exploit on film, with two weeks to prepare.
“We knew that [Minnesota is] strong in the middle, with a good central box,” said Pareja. “We wanted to offend the left and right backs.”
In all, MNUFC outshot the Lions 17-12, held a 4-2 shots on target advantage, and accumulated 2.34 expected goals to Orlando’s 1.26. In the midfield, the Loons completed 81% of passes, their best mark of the season so far, and forced 10 interceptions. Along the back, Minnesota blocked five shots and had 24 clearances.
Of all those impressive numbers, there’s only one that stands out (or technically two). One goal from 17 shots.
“When we have that many chances, it’s disappointing,” said Dotson. “But I think we’d rather have that problem than not create any chances at all. Sometimes that’s just how the cookie crumbles. I have all the confidence in our attacking players.”
The lineup was a 4-2-3-1, but with a different wrinkle, as Sang Bin Jeong made his first start as a Loon at the No. 10, with Hlongwane at left wing and Lod back on the right for the first time in nearly nine months. Mender Garcia received the start as the lone No. 9.
Sang Bin impressed with his crossing and delivery in a short debut last week against Chicago, and he continued to show quality in that area vs. Orlando. A 10th minute corner-kick from the 21-year old found the head of Michael Boxall at the near post, but the defender’s clean flick-on couldn’t connect with a Loon.
In the 17th, it was the 21-year old’s longball into the attacking third that started an opportunity for Hlongwane, who played a give-and-go with Kemar Lawrence, but the South African’s effort hit Gallese in the chest.
Sang Bin would show off his acceleration in the 21st, as Boxall was taken out in the midfield to no whistle, leading to an Orlando counter opportunity, but it was the South Korean who tracked back at a full sprint to deflect a pass and shut down that chance.
“I thought [Sang Bin] played really well,” said Lod. “He hasn’t played many games lately so the time he was on the field I think he did really well and you can see that there’s a lot of potential…he’s a skillful player and works hard and seems like he likes to play combination plays. I think he’s pretty good.”
There are two schools of thought after a loss like this one. Maybe the chips just didn’t fall in the Loons’ favor, and the chances created will start to end up in more goals as the season wears on. Or, maybe, there’s a larger issue at play with being clinical in the final third. It’s not the first-time finishing, or lack thereof, has been a talking point for Minnesota following a loss.
Is 2023 a season where chances lead to goals? Time will tell.