A Night of Missed Chances and Sloppy Play Defines MNUFC’s Scoreless Draw with FC Dallas

Another solid defensive outing wasted as the Loons fail to convert their chances

We knew it was going to be a sloppy night. A late Sunday start, the club and the league not quite sure when kickoff would be, the forecast calling for drizzle and rain, cold and wind, a Minnesota Spring night when summer feels a long way off.

It turned out, though, to be the other kind of sloppy as well.

At the quarter mark of the season and in search of their first home win, Minnesota United started the return fixture against FC Dallas on the front foot. Michael Boxall and Micky Tapias stepping up quick and early to disrupt the hold-up play of Jesús Ferreira; an early determination by the Loons to switch the field, moving quickly in the build up from Robin Lod and DJ Taylor on the right to Bongokuhle Hlongwane and Kemar Lawrence on the left, opening acres of space for Hlongwane to push forward into; Sang Bin Jeong, again in the #10 spot, stepping high with the team rotating into a 4-4-2 when pressing, pinning Dallas deep in their own half. As head coach Adrian Heath noted after the game, it was all quite successful until it wasn’t.

“You can look at the opportunities that we’ve had. We’ve had probably three, four clear-cut opportunities but pretty much a microcosm of the season at this moment in time. It’s a lot of good approach play, a lot of good movement with the ball and the final, most important piece – the final touch is not quite there at the moment.”

Minnesota United defender DJ Taylor (27) crosses the ball as FC Dallas forward Jesús Ferreira (10) attempts to block the ball during the match at Allianz Field in Saint Paul, Minn., on Sunday, April 30, 2023.
(Photo by Seth Steffenhagen/Steffenhagen Photography)

But if Minnesota struggled with their final touch – and the stat line tells the story there: 17 shots, only 5 on target, and no goals from 1.2xG – they were too often also sloppy in possession. A problem for both teams on the night. In the 14th minute Dallas began a sequence of what was their attacking plan for the game, feeding Jesús Ferreira just outside the box with his back to goal. Holding up the play, Ferreira dished the ball off to Sebastian Lletget who had the time and space to drop a through-ball over the top to Paul Arriola. But with Boxall and Tapias crowding out Arriola’s run, Lletget sent his pass out wide as Arriola went central, the play fizzling out to Dayne St. Clair. St. Clair began Minnesota’s build-up out of the back with a pass to Tapias who dribbled out of the box before finding Hlongwane coming back to the ball. But Hlongwane’s attempted one-touch return pass to Tapias went astray, finding Lletget instead, whose own cross back into the box was easily handled by Boxall. Boxall guided the ball to Tapias to again try to build out of the back. But with time Tapias rushed a one-touch pass to Hlongwane that was intercepted by Jáder Obrian. From there, Dallas cycled the ball across the field to Sam Junqua who, with space and time, whipped a ball all the way across the box to no-one.

Four turnovers, two failed possessions out of the back, and two wasted chances in under two minutes of play. And that, in essence, was the game.

Minnesota United goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair (97) catches the ball during the match against FC Dallas at Allianz Field in Saint Paul, Minn., on Sunday, April 30, 2023.
(Photo by Seth Steffenhagen/Steffenhagen Photography)

Although not happy with their play, Dallas will certainly feel good about the clean sheet and the point on the road. Minnesota, though, should feel nothing but disappointment from the night. The team had the chance to dominate the game and didn’t. Lod not getting enough on a header in the 4’. Hlongwane not getting enough on his shots in the 12’ and 17’. Amarilla not getting around on the ball in the 22’ off a Boxall cutback. Lod unable to finish two incredible dribbles, off of anticipation in the first half and then a weaving run in the second. It was a night of wasted opportunity for Minnesota, and not just in front of goal. The game plan really was there on the night, but the execution was lacking. It was a performance that led Lod to offer an apology afterward. “First of all I feel bad for the fans. We are almost into May and we have yet to hear “Wonderwall,” so I’m sorry about that for the fans. We need to build up mentally that this stadium is where we win games.”

FC Dallas goalkeeper Maarten Paes (30) saves a shot from Minnesota United midfielder Robin Lod (17) during the match at Allianz Field in Saint Paul, Minn., on Sunday, April 30, 2023.
(Photo by Seth Steffenhagen/Steffenhagen Photography)

And that – mentality – seems to be a problem, and not just at home. After the great start to the season, this run of poor results by the Loons seems to be a problem of mentality. Whether that be the slow start in Chicago, the poor finish against Orlando, or the missed chances and sloppiness last night, this team is unable to settle in for a fully engaged 90 minutes of play.

Aside from the continued failure to win at home, and so the failure to reverse the team’s run of bad results, the biggest news of the night came courtesy of AppleTV analyst Taylor Twellman during the broadcast. “Two weeks ago.” Twellman recounted, “[Minnesota United] were down in Argentina and felt like [Emanuel] Reynoso was going to get on the airplane and then 24 hours later he did not. I think that door is closed.” That bit of news was confirmed by Heath after the game: “We’ve had people down there for a lot of time. We’ve spoken to Rey consistently. Obviously, it was disappointing, we thought he was going to be back but he didn’t. We’ll keep asking the question and, hopefully, some sort of common sense will prevail, and he gets on a plane and gets back here.”

There is still so much that we don’t know about the Reynoso situation, and each revelation rewrites the narrative that the club has given. But after a night like last, the story, whatever that story actually is, is about the club and not the team. In nine games this season, Minnesota has scored 8 goals, 22nd in the league. In 2022, a full season with Reynoso, the team finished with 48 goals, 14th in the league. In 2021, the first full season with Reynoso, the team finished with 42 goals, 20th in the league. In that season the team also finished with the league’s worst shot percentage, converting on 27.9% of its chances. In 2022 the team was better at finishing, ending the season at 33.5%, good for 19th in the league. But this season the team is back down near the bottom of the table, second worst, converting 29.7% of its chances. Even with Reynoso, in other words, this team has struggled to score and has been comparatively bad at finishing its chances. Whether it is roster construction, training, tactics, or individual quality Minnesota United struggles to score.

Fans filled the Wonderwall for MNUFC’s match against FC Dallas at Allianz Field in Saint Paul, Minn., on Sunday, April 30, 2023.
(Photo by Tim McLaughlin)

And so off the field, Reynoso’s absence remains the story of the club. But on the field, there is so much more to figure out, and it starts in front of goal. Until that is sorted out, until this team figure out how to score, it’s going to be a long, tough season.