Bug A Boo: MNUFC Suffer First Home Loss to Houston Dynamo

Minnesota United defender Devin Padelford (2) heads a ball during an MLS match against The Houston Dynamo at Allianz Field in Saint Paul, MN on Saturday, April 13 2024 (Tim McLaughlin)

On Saturday, April 13, Minnesota United FC faced the Houston Dynamo for the 21st time, including both MLS and the U.S. Open Cup. Both teams came into the match on three wins, separated only by 1 point in the Western Conference. Not surprisingly, the match was physical with Houston taking all three points in a close 2-1 win at Allianz Field.

 Say My Name — Starting XIs

MNUFC formation: 4-3-3Front 3: Hlongwane, Pukki, Sang Bin Mid 3: Bran, Trapp, Lod Back 4: Padelford, Bacharach, Boxall, Taylor GK: St. Clair Bench: Irwin, Fragapane, Oluwaseyi, Dotson, Arriaga, Clark, Eriksson, Nyeman, Adebayo-Smith
Minnesota United’s Starting XI vs Houston Dynamo, courtesy of MNUFC

Minnesota started in their usual 4-3-3 with a lot of youth on the left side. After Hassani Dotson’s precautionary early exit from the Real Salt Lake match, the midfielder began this game on the bench. Alejandro Bran started his first game for Minnesota after subbing into two previous games.

With Joseph Rosales out on a red card, Devin Padelford started his fourth straight match, this time at left back rather than centerback. The tall Hugo Bacharach made his first start and appearance for the senior team filling in for the injured Miguel Tapias, the role previously filled by Padelford.

Bacharach spoke about the support of fellow center back Michael Boxall: “He was like a leader to me. He behaved like a big brother. He’s been in my shoes. Everybody, not only him, but everybody has been very supportive of me, especially him as my partner at the other center back. But he really told me what to do, gave me some tips and it really helped me a lot.”

Minnesota United defender Michael Boxall (15) during an MLS match against The Houston Dynamo at Allianz Field in Saint Paul, MN on Saturday, April 13 2024 (Tim McLaughlin)

As in the last game, Bongokhule Hlongwane started at the left wing. He has two goals on the year. On Friday, when I asked him how it felt to start again, he replied, “I’m happy to be back. I still need to keep on going working hard so that I’ll be able to play 90 minutes in the future.”

Houston Formation: 4-1-4-1Striker: Bassi Mid 4: Aliyu, Blessing, Carrasquilla, Kowalczyk Def Mid: Artur Back 4: Steres, Bartlow, Sviatchenko, Dorsey GK: Clark Bench: Tarbell, Smith, Schmitt, Gregus, Sargeant, Segal, Raines, Sylla, Micael
Houston Dynamo Starting XI, courtesy of Houston Dynamo FC

Coach Ben Olsen has mostly used a 4-2-3-1. However, he has also tried a 3-5-2 and 4-3-3 in Houston’s two losses this year. With designated players Héctor Herrera and Sebastián Ferreira both out injured, Houston continued the formation experiment with a 4-1-4-1 this week.

The Loons saw the visitors get their fullbacks high on the attack. Both Daniel Steres and Griffin Dorsey made an impact around Dayne St. Clair’s net. The 25-year-old Panamanian Adalberto “Coco” Carrasquilla, who has helped marshal the midfield in Herrera’s absence, also proved problematic.

Former Loon Ján Greguš made the matchday roster but did not see playing time.

Check On It

In the 34th minute, Teemu Pukki pressured Micael into passing up the middle to Artur. Trapp stepped in front of the pass to win the ball and shot it past Houston goalkeeper Steve Clark. Unfortunately for the Loons, centerback Ethan Bartlow slid along the goal line enough to keep the ball from crossing the line.

“Steve [Clark] makes a good little play on it, and then [Ethan] Bartlow comes through and saves it off the line. For me, it’s just finishing the play, run all the way through instead of thinking it’s going to cross the line. It’s a great recovery play from them, but Teemu [Pukki] did a good job pressing.” — Wil Trapp

No, No, No

Moments later, in the 38th minute, Houston scored off a cornerkick that hit Loons midfielder Bran, deflecting in for an own goal. Bran was running with Micael, who had replaced Erik Sviatchecko due to injury in the 34th, and was victim to an unfortunate bounce off his thigh.

Bran would get a block on a Dynamo shot in stoppage time of the first 45, but at halftime, the Loons saw themselves down 1-0.

Second Half Nature

“We didn’t start the game well, it was the same story as I would’ve summed up last week, where we genuinely look almost like two different teams, first half and second half.” — Eric Ramsay

The Loons looked like a different team in the second half: more energy, better passes, different attacks to try to break down that Houston defense. Dotson was subbed on for Bran at the start of the half.

Around the 60th minute, Sang Bin Jeong hit the right post and Boxall hit a shot that just missed wide right. The Loons were flocking around Clark’s net looking much more like predators than prey.

Much like in the last home game, against Salt Lake, the Loons started slowly but improved the tempo in the second half. Trapp said, “It’s a mentality shift. The urgency, in some ways the instinctual play of the second half, is where we need to just start games with [that urgency]. It can’t be when we get scored on, then we play a little looser, we play a little bit more riskier that those performances come out. I think that if we do that for 90 minutes, it’s going to tilt the scales a lot in our favor. From the beginning, it’s turning teams around, it’s pressing them, it’s winning the balls high up on the field and not worrying about trying to overplay to start the game. This is a team, obviously [Houston Dynamo FC] wanted the ball, but you saw in the second half we were suffocating.”

Lose My Breath

In the 65th minuted, Minnesota subbed Tani Oluwaseyi for Pukki and Franco Fragapane for Bongi.

Minnesota United forward Tani Oluwaseyi (14) heads the ball during the match against Houston Dynamo FC at Allianz Field in Saint Paul, Minn., on Saturday, April 13, 2024.
(Photo by Seth Steffenhagen/Steffenhagen Photography)

Five minutes later, Trapp, DJ Taylor, and Robin Lod combined to progress the ball up the right side. Lod hit Fragapane on a diagonal pass, and Fragapane one-timed it with his right boot to tie the game.

Trapp explained, “It’s the idea of risking and playing forward. Dynamism in our attack is where we start to create chances, and that’s one where I’m coming across and Robin [Lod] makes a good run behind. Ultimately, it’s rewarding guys who make those vertical runs. He makes a great lay off to Fraga [Franco Fragapane] and a good goal.”

Nasty Goal

In the 77th minute Artur remembered soccer’s Golden Rule: “Do unto others as they have done to you.” Artur stole the ball from Trapp and passed it up to Bassi who fed a hungry Sebastian Kowalczyk. Kowalczyk nutmegged and spun Bacharach before firing a rocket of a shot past St. Clair to put Houston back in the lead, 2-1.

Destiny Un-Fulfilled

After the 80th minute, Ramsay made two more substitutions: Jordan Adebayo-Smith for Trapp in the 81st and Caden Clark for Taylor in the 85th. When I asked about what made Ramsay comfortable with subbing in a wing at fullback, he remarked, “It was more the stage of the game in that it was us largely very dominant and camped on the top of their 18-yard box. So it wasn’t going to be a game where Caden [Clark] was going to have to play as an orthodox fullback and defend 50% of the time and attack 50% of the time. He was going to attack and be on the last line, and he was going to be combining on that side with Jordan [Adebayo-Smith] at that point. So it was more to do with the stage of the game.”

Minnesota United midfielder Caden Clark (37) tries to get to a ball during an MLS match against The Houston Dynamo at Allianz Field in Saint Paul, MN on Saturday, April 13 2024 (Tim McLaughlin)

The MNUFC fans applauded when it was announced there would be 10 minutes of stoppage time. Clark, who took his gloves off to tie his boot, was one of several Dynamo players who were warned about time wasting, and fullback Daniel Steres received a yellow card for it.

For the rest of the match, the Loons would see the better of the attacking chances including a Fragapane leaping kick and an Adebayo-Smith header. Clark leapt to bat away both.

Despite the Loons previous ability to change results with late goals, Houston’s defense lived up to the hype, securing all three points and a 2-1 win off a banger by Kowalczyk. It was Minnesota’s first loss at home in 2024 and Houston’s first-ever win in Minnesota.

Supporters in the Wonderwall celebrate after Minnesota United midfielder Franco Fragapane (7) scored a goal during the match against Houston Dynamo FC at Allianz Field in Saint Paul, Minn., on Saturday, April 13, 2024.
(Photo by Seth Steffenhagen/Steffenhagen Photography)

Jumpin’, Jumpin’

The Loons lost their first game at Allianz Field, but the club’s staff noticed the supporters’ energy early in the second half.

Hugo Bacharach noticed it too: “To be honest, the thing that surprised me the most was the environment at Allianz Field. I had never felt something like that. Especially in the second half, you could see how we felt that support from all the fans. And we were playing kind of like in their goal [attacking near the Wonderwall end], and we were also only missing that winning goal. But it was a great environment and that’s definitely going to help us in the future.”

Minnesota United defender Hugo Bacharach (24) dribbles the ball during the match against Houston Dynamo FC at Allianz Field in Saint Paul, Minn., on Saturday, April 13, 2024.
(Photo by Seth Steffenhagen/Steffenhagen Photography)

Stand Up for Love

This match was the first of 2024’s scheduled theme nights. Minnesota United celebrated Black Excellence. Members of Walker West Music Academy (St. Paul) sang the National Anthem and performed a string arrangement of “Lift Every Voice and Sing”.

MNUFC writer Kyle Hayward wrote about the history of three black players in Minnesota soccer history: Patrick “Ace” Ntsoelengoe, Briana Scurry, and Tony Sanneh.

One young fan and his mother made a sign with Dayne St. Clair’s name that noted his involvement with Black Players for Change (BPC) which Kyndra de St. Aubin discussed with the Loons goalkeeper last year.

Get On The Bus

Next Saturday, Houston host Texas-rival Austin FC. Minnesota returns to the road on Sunday, April 21, to play 2022 expansion side Charlotte for the first time. Who will be the Survivor of that East-meets-West matchup? What is the Destiny of this Minnesota United squad? Keep your eyes on Northland Soccer Journal for what’s next.


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