MNUFC Looks to Pivot Mid-Texas Two-Step

Minnesota United FC is experiencing a lot of the south this week, returning home from a mid-week visit to Dallas [Frisco] to host Austin FC on Saturday in Saint Paul. Despite Wednesday’s dismal performance, the Loons still sit in the top four but it is a precarious position at this stage of the season. So how did Dallas break down Minnesota? And are the Loons poised for a rebound on Saturday? Let’s take a look.

June 19: FC Dallas 5-3 MNUFC

The final score tells you most of what you need to know so we won’t belabor this one. The fact that Minnesota managed to keep the game close for so long despite sending so many shots over the crossbar is perhaps the biggest highlight of the match. The lowlight is the fact that the first three goals Minnesota conceded came from one man.

What can one say about Petar Musa’s hat trick? The stars aligned? The Loons’ did not? He showed up and a few goals were due? The striker entered Wednesday’s match with four goals on the season but his last was May 18, a five match drought. Musa cut through a few different defensive partnerships to get his hat trick against Minnesota. Mickey Tapias was caught on the back foot on the second and third, unable to follow through as the last defender, but a five-man back line should have had the forward better marked – especially after the first goal.

Even with a few younger players at the back, a defense anchored by Tapias and Michael Boxall should have had Musa locked down. Clint Irwin can’t be faulted for all five goals — he likely expected a bit more help and communication, and Musa’s strike was patient and near perfect.

“It was a collective at fault for the large portion of the goals,” said Eric Ramsay, when asked about the evening’s goalkeeping. “You look at how the ball goes into the net, but we’ve given away big spaces that we typically wouldn’t give away. We really struggled in some individual moments where based on the way we try and defend, we have to make really good decisions, we have to be really clean in our decision making, and how we defend certain spaces.”

Despite two beautiful goals (and a Wil Trapp penalty goal) this was a performance to forget. BUT. We’re still going to look at the two non-penalty goals again because, well – potential.

Setpiece magic. Did you ever imagine scoring from a corner could be so much fun?

Hassani Dotson scoring on FC Dallas might not be new but this ball cut a new path into goal.

Creating chances and using possession was not a concern for Ramsay: “We’ve lost the game based on the number of goals that we have conceded and the key incidences that have led to those. I’m not too disappointed in how we used the ball and how purposeful we were around the edge of their box and what that led to. It’s the other side of the game unfortunately where we have been found wanting today.”

Ever pragmatic, Ramsay summed up his hopes for improvement:

“Our big battle at the moment is making sure that we are level-headed and stoic enough about the situation we are in and we really grind through this difficult period and we learn a lot about what we can do as this group of players and in many senses it’s a really nice chance to cultivate that mentality, which is positivity, realism, being pragmatic and making sure that have a look at ourselves in the mirror after this game, but we move on with the right conversations going on amongst players and in players’ heads because they are the only things that amount to good performances and us making the very best of the situation.”

That is especially important when working on a three-day turnaround.

June 22: MNUFC vs Austin FC

While Minnesota came out of their opening week match at Austin victorious (2-1 win with goals from Robin Lod and Alejandro Bran), the squad will look a bit different this Saturday. Interim head coach Cameron Knowles rolled out a pretty standard Best XI in that matchup but Ramsay’s squad for this leg remains depleted with Dayne St. Clair, Tani Oluwaseyi, and Alejandro Bran, away on international duty and Teemu Pukki (knee) and Devin Padelford (concussion) ruled out again. But the team’s performance has not dipped that far since the winning tear that began at Austin.

Following training on Friday morning, Eric Ramsay talked about the overall working atmosphere in light of Wednesday’s loss and the continued build up of his staff’s new system:

“It’s tough when you’re not picking up the points that you want to pick up irrespective of the situation, that everyone has this disappointment to them there. I suppose the big battle for us is to make sure that there is no sort of deep embedded feeling of poor performance, disappointment that seeps into the coming weeks and months because we know we’re onto a good thing here. We know that we’re in a really good place as a group. Certainly when everyone’s here and everyone’s fresh, we can be really, really competitive. So the big thing about this spirit is that we’re getting our heads down. We’re grinding through it. And that’s the message amongst everyone that’s involved at the moment.”

Unfortunately Austin is trending upward at the same time. Loons co-captain Wil Trapp explained one key difference and what Minnesota can do about it:

“They’ve got [Sebastián] Driussi back when he wasn’t there in the first game of the year. So that’s their talisman, their best player in many regards in terms of their attacks. So they are a little bit more confident in the sense of – he’s there, he can pull the strings and they can get guys wide attacking you, running one-v-ones but ultimately I think when they are most dangerous is when the game is open. So for us, it’s understanding that if we’re doing what we just talked about, keeping the space compact, you should limit a lot of [their] chances.”

Driussi, back from injury, has five goals and two assists for Austin in 15 appearances this season.

Austin sits in 9th, two spots above Dallas and five below Minnesota. It sounds like a good gap but, while 4th place Minnesota is a whole eight points behind 1st place Real Salt Lake, only five points separate them from Dallas in 9th. It will be far easier for Dallas to find a crack in the top seven than for Minnesota to maintain a berth in the top four. While the end of the international break and the opening of the summer transfer window should benefit the Loons, any points that they can salvage from this rocky period known as June will put them in a better position for the back half of the regular season.

We’re right behind you, Wil.

Wil Trapp gives a thumbs-up to the sideline while MNUFC plays against FC Dallas at Toyota Stadium on Wednesday, June 19. (Photo courtesy: MNUFC)