Revenge is a dish best served cold. Unfortunately, the opening game against FC Dallas was played in Texas. Despite the warmer climate, the Loons exacted some revenge for last year’s playoff defeat, taking their opponents down by a score of 1-0. After a long offseason that saw plenty of new faces join the fold, MNUFC have started the 2023 season in the best way possible.
After the game, Head Coach Adrian Heath was quite pleased with his squad.
“I can’t speak highly enough of the guys,” he said. “We’ve had a difficult offseason, as everybody knows, and I know what would’ve come if we hadn't put in a performance like this today. Joseph [Rosales], Kervin [Arriaga] had been away, they arrived late last night, so unbelievable shift from Kervin. I thought Joe [Joseph Rosales] did great when he came on. With the [Emanuel] Reynoso situation and everything that’s gone on, this press conference would have been a lot different if the result would’ve gone against us, but it speaks volumes of the attitude and the fortitude of the group. I thought their discipline was outstanding at times, and I couldn’t be more pleased with them.”
Despite distractions off the pitch, Minnesota United played a solid game. There were a few encouraging flashes in an otherwise unremarkable first half, including a long-range Arriaga freekick that clanged off the crossbar. Aside from that, there was relatively little offense generated by the Loons in the first 45 minutes. An impressive first half from Kervin Arriaga stood out most, as the midfielder tracked down loose balls and provided a foundation for MNUFC to build off of.
"I thought Kervin [Arriaga] was at his best tonight,” Heath said. “Last year, he started the season the first eight or nine games he was outstanding, then he had a high ankle sprain. He never really got himself going, but tonight was like the proper Kerv, covering loads of loads of ground, getting in good spots. Obviously he's back. I thought he was composed and used the ball very, very well. He has the ability to be one of the better players in the league for sure."
Right out of halftime, the game changed. Man of the Match Ménder García pounced on the rebound from a venomous Franco Fragapane shot, skipping the ball off the ground and over the helpless Maarten Paes for the lone goal of the match. An opportunistic goal, but well-struck nonetheless. Though García barely touched the ball in the first half, it was his first touch in the second half that won the game. Coach Heath commended the young striker's resilience after a lackluster opening 45 minutes.
“You have to keep going, don’t you? That’s the life of a forward,” Heath said. “On the road, at times, you have to be really defensive, it’s like a rear-guard action. We wanted to take away the six, and that was the responsibility of Robin Lod and Ménder [García], and at times, it’s a selfless task. Being a center-forward, you’ll get the headlines quite rightly. He kept working and working away. He’s worked really hard in preseason, and that will do his confidence no harm. It’s a great start for us, a great start for the kid, so we’re pleased.”
Saturday’s game marked not only the start of the 2023 season, but several other new beginnings as well. Center back Miguel Tapias made his full MLS debut, going 90 minutes and helping the squad earn a clean sheet. Forward Tani Oluwaseyi also made his MLS debut, subbing on in the latter stages of the match.
For Loons midfielder Hassani Dotson, the match saw a long-awaited return to action. After his season-ending injury kept him out for most of 2022, Dotson came on for the goalscorer just after the hour mark. For fans and teammates alike, his return was a welcome sight.
“It was great,” said MNUFC defender Michael Boxall. “Honestly, for all the work he has had to put in. He’s such a great kid. So happy for him to see the pitch again. Being cleared for training a couple weeks ago was the first step and now getting back out there where he deserves to be. Couple weeks to get his fitness up and he’s going to be pushing guys to be in the starting eleven. So stoked for him, and his work ethic is outstanding and he has such a good future ahead of him.”
For their next match, the Loons return to Allianz Field for the first time this season. Eastern Conference powerhouse New York Red Bulls will be in town after losing their season opener to Orlando City, leaving them hungry for their first points of the season. New signing Dante Vanzeir didn’t play in the first match, but the highly-rated goalscorer could feature against MNUFC. With another top-level opponent to start the season, you won’t want to miss a moment of what promises to be an entertaining home opener.
Minnesota United FC v. New York Red Bulls
Allianz Field | Saint Paul, Minnesota
03.11.23 | MLS Matchday 2
7:30 pm CT (Exclusively on AppleTV’s MLS Season Pass)