MNUFC Remains Winless in Seattle

After a brief mental lapse, Minnesota United lose again to the Seattle Sounders, dropping their third straight game

MLS After Dark it was not.

On a rainy, dreary night Minnesota United and the Seattle Sounders played a rather rainy, dreary 90 minutes of soccer. “Yeah, there wasn’t a lot in the game,” head coach Adrian Heath said afterward.

It was also a 90 minutes that ended as it always does in Seattle, with a win for the home side, stretching Seattle’s home record against Minnesota to 8-0-0, their all-time record to 11-1-1. Midweek, Seattle head coach Brian Schmetzer worried that their run of form against Minnesota would have to, at some point, come to an end. Apparently not yet.

The evening, though, started with a bit of promise. Making only one change from the starting XI that played so well for 60’ last weekend against Orlando – Zarek Valentin taking over at right back as DJ Taylor moved to the left for the unavailable Kemar Lawrence, tending to a family health issue at home in Jamaica – Minnesota began the night with more ambition than might have been expected. Kervin Arriaga and Hassani Dotson pushed the team forward, as they have all season when paired together, opening the field and making space for a more expansive game. Robin Lod, working his way back into form, did what he does out on the right, Bongokuhle Hlongwane showed flashes on the ball, and Sang Bin Jeong played with an attacking directness from the #10 that is not, in any real sense, a replacement for the absent Emanuel Reynoso, but does offer an exciting different look for the 4-2-3-1 when going forward.

But if the expansiveness of the team continued to show promise early on, it also showed a vulnerability, as Seattle left winger Léo Chú threatened to quickly take over the game and right back Álex Roldán continually entered the attack down the other side. And so, by the 20th minute, Minnesota had settled back into a defensive 4-4-2, looking to lock the game down and grind out a draw. Or maybe a quick-break win.

The play of the game for Minnesota, both as an example of their attacking potential and as their best chance on the night, came in the 41st minute. It began with Sang Bin driving down the left side, threading a beautiful through ball into Hlongwane. Staying onside, Hlongwane beat his man to the ball at the end-line just outside the post, able to cut it back into the path of Lod’s secondary run to the post. The sequence was a half-second too quick for Lod who only managed to redirect the ball on goal without much control. But that redirection was enough for a rebound that made its way all the way back out to the top of the box finding Sang Bin who had continued to drift along with the play. Alone with the ball at his feet, Sang Bin sent the shot well over the goal, wasting the opportunity. It was the shot of an attacker working off the rust after a long time off. As Heath said after the game of Sang Bin’s performance, “he’s obviously still getting his legs under him a little bit. He’s not played for an awful long time, consistently, and so that little extra sharpness still needs to come.”

For as uninteresting as sitting back and absorbing pressure, looking for a quick counter is as a strategy, it almost worked again for the Loons. With just under 66% possession, the Sounders only mustered 3 shots on goal from 15 total shots, ending the night with a .8xG. After early struggles containing Chú and Roldán, Minnesota’s defensive posture held for most of the night. DJ Taylor looked in control on the left, having become a very good 1v1 defender over the past season, now also looking comfortable on either side of the field; Michael Boxall and Micky Tapias had another shut-down night, keeping Héber and Nicolás Lodeiro quiet; and Valentin proved himself again to be an important off-season signing, weathering the early threat from Chú, which had as much to do with Hlongwane struggling with his own defensive assignments as anything else, to put in another good shift.

But Minnesota could not hold that defensive posture for the entire 90’ minutes. The series record between Minnesota and Seattle seems a fair representation of the gap between the two clubs. Last night, as on so many occasions, that gap came down to a difference in mental strength. Seattle had the patience to slowly, methodically, consistently build themselves into the game, while Minnesota had one mental lapse and conceded a goal. It was, in a small way, a repeat of the 2020 Western Conference finals, when a final 20’ collapse by Minnesota turned an 0-2 lead into a 3-2 loss at Seattle. Last night, from 60’ minutes on, Seattle began to test Minnesota, looking like they would eventually score. The breakthrough came in the 79th minute. Scrambling to find their assignments after a substitution paused a throw-in deep in their defensive half, Minnesota left Albert Rusnák alone at the top of the box for the only goal of the night. And the game was decided in 30 seconds of mental drift.

After a great start to the season, earning 11 points from their first 5 games, Minnesota now finds itself in trouble, having dropped three straight as the promise that they showed is now looking like unfulfilled potential. Heading to Detroit City FC on Tuesday for the first game of their 2023 US Open Cup campaign, the club needs to find a way to turn that potential back into results. Otherwise, on very short rest, a heavily rotated team risks another early exit from the US Open Cup, and an even longer season ahead.