Loons Undone Again By Sloppy Play, Falling to the Whitecaps 3-2

Heading into their Saturday night match, Minnesota United and the Vancouver Whitecaps were each in search of some offense. With both teams relying, so far this season, on defense to keep themselves in the middle of the Western conference standings, the final 3-2 score line in favor of the home team was a bit surprising. But even after putting in two, only the second time this season Minnesota has been able to score more than once in a game, the Loons’ run of poor results continued. Starting the season unbeaten in their first five, they are now winless in their last five and continue to drop down the standings.

Both teams started the game on the front foot, Vancouver much more expansive than they have been and Minnesota able to quickly counter into spaces. But it was the opening sequence that was a presage of the game for the Loons. Unable to cleanly control Sang Bin Jeong’s back pass off the opening kickoff, DJ Taylor was pressured into simply lofting the ball forward, right to the head of Vancouver captain Ryan Gauld. The free possession was sloppy by Minnesota, a sloppiness that would continue through the game and lead directly to Vancouver’s first two goals.

In the 17’ a moment of poor control by Wil Trapp would lead to a turnover in the middle of field, setting Vancouver up for their first, off a quick and direct counter to Brian White. And then in the 52’ a moment of indecision from Robin Lod would lead to an in-between back-pass to no-one, a sequence that ended with White clattering the ball past Dayne St. Claire for his second of the night. “It was comical, schoolboy-era stuff,” head coach Adrian Heath would describe it after the game. “It’s bordering on comical, it really it is,” he added. “That we give professional players the opportunity to score goals that easy is scary.”

After Vancouver’s opening goal, the frenetic pace settled into the Caps’ favor, and Minnesota was lucky to go into the locker room at halftime with the game tied. “We didn’t compete from the first minute, especially the first half,” DJ Taylor said after the game. “I don’t think we competed, so we never won our second ball, we were always second to everything, late reactions. All those things contributed to us not competing from minute one.” But against the run of play Minnesota was able to equalize in the 33’ as Michael Boxall was credited with his first goal of the season, the last Loon to lunge at the ball as it pinballed around the box off a corner. If Boxall deserves credit for the goal, though, it is from an earlier tough challenge on Vancouver goalkeeper Yohei Takaoka that seemed to create a hesitancy in Takaoka off his line all night.

Minnesota was also able to go into the half level because of an incredible bit of goalkeeping heroics from St. Claire, dropping for a kick save against White right in front of the goal. But if St. Claire offered that moment of brilliance to close out the half, it was necessitated by an inability of Minnesota to regroup off their own missed corner. With Joseph Rosales taking the corner from the right side, entering the game in the 29’ after Luis Amarilla was forced to exit with a groin injury, and Boxall deep in the box looking for a header, Vancouver was able to counter with three touches: Takaoka finding Julian Gressel on the right in the space vacated by Rosales, Gressel playing a long one-two with Pedro Vite, freeing Gressel to send in a picture perfect cross to White. It was a sequence that caught Minnesota wholly unprepared.

Yet even if they were outplayed in that first half, Minnesota was never fully out of the game. And statistically the night ended as close as the scoreline. While Vancouver was able to get 17 shots off to Minnesota’s 11, only 7 of those were on target, to Minnesota’s 5, with each team generating 5 good chances. The xG was even tighter, with Vancouver ending the night with 2.34 to Minnesota’s 2.35. And Minnesota had a rare game in possession, finishing at 53% to Vancouver’s 47%. All of which is to say the matchday feels like a missed opportunity, 3 points given away from a few moments of sloppiness.

After switching to a 3-5-2 for the last 20’ of the game and bringing on García for Bongokuhle Hlongwane and then Hassani Dotson for Wil Trapp, the Loons had three great chances to sneak out of Canada with a draw. But García was unable to get his feet under him to connect on a cross and was unable to finish a through ball that left him alone in front of Takaoka, while Sang Bin Jeong’s final moment curler was just missed the goal. It would have been a wonderful brace from Sang Bin after he netted his first as a Loon in the 65’ off a lovely pass from Robin Lod. Lod began the game in the deep midfield position alongside Trapp, but every time he got forward he continues to show a growing comfort with Sang Bin.

The other bit of news from the night concerns Emanuel Reynoso, who is back in Minnesota. A few hours before kick-off the club released a statement announcing Reynoso’s return, although it is as yet unclear the extent of that return. As the statement read in full: “Emanuel Reynoso has returned to Minnesota as he works towards reintegrating with the club. He remains unavailable for all team activities until further notice.” When asked after the game, Heath didn’t offer much else: “I haven’t really thought about it. He’s back here and we’ll have a chat over the weekend and see what he’s like and then we can address that then. I’ve got too much other stuff going through my head at the moment, to be honest.”

With that, and as the team prepares for a quick turnaround before facing the Philadelphia Union midweek in US Open Cup play, it is impossible to say if Reynoso’s return will be another distraction or the missing piece of offense. But as this very busy May continues, the club needs to figure out something quickly before the season slips away.