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Ah yes, the sweet taste of victory on a Monday morning; it’s been too long! For the first time in the young history of the matchup between Nashville SC and Minnesota United, there was a victor. The Loons came away from GEODIS Park with a 2-1 win, a result that didn’t come easily for the visitors. Following a gritty, hard-fought 90 minutes, Head Coach Adrian Heath was pleased with his team’s resilience and quality on the night, following some disappointing results before the All-Star break. 

“We had a really good session on Saturday,” Heath said. “I think it was a huge boost getting the four or five back that were missing from the previous week. Robin [Lod] is huge for us. I thought Boxy [Michael Boxall] won some really important headers. Rey [Emanuel Reynoso] did some unbelievable stuff again this evening. Some of his control and vision is a beauty to behold at times, it really is. I thought Bongi [Bongokuhle Hlongwane] might have even been man of the match for us. Incredible amount of hard work he did both halves of the field. Looked to threaten behind in attacking sets, but defensively never shirked his responsibility, so he can be really pleased with his night’s work as well.”

Goals from Franco Fragapane and Alan Benítez proved to be the difference on the night, despite Nashville’s overwhelming 21 shots throughout the whole game. No matter what they threw at the MNUFC backline, the boys in Black and Blue seemed to have an answer. 

“They get the fullbacks really high and wide,” Heath said about Nashville’s attacking strategy. “Then they’ve got the three in the middle because [Randall] Leal doesn’t play wide. Then they’ve got Hany Mukhtar who gets in between. C.J. [Sapong] has developed into a really good center forward. He’s really good at backing in, so every time they clear the ball they have a chance of getting hold of it and starting again. For us to have come away from here and won the game, I’m delighted. It might be [our] best win on the road this season because I knew this was going to be really tough this evening”

On the few occasions that the defense was beaten, a brick wall was waiting in front of the net. It appears that All-Star MVP Dayne St. Clair found himself again at the MLS All-Star game, as his performance on Sunday night further proved his status as one of the league’s best shot-stoppers. 

“Coming out of the Colorado [Rapids] game, it’s no secret that I cost us points on the road there, so being able to bounce off that game and have a mental refresh at the All-Star was big for me,” St. Clair said. “To put on a good performance there, it was nice as well. Like I said, during that game I’m using that game to keep pushing because more importantly is the games for Minnesota this year. I’m glad that I was able to have a performance like that tonight, and I’m looking to build off of that for the game against Austin [FC].”

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While St. Clair deserves plenty of praise for his performance, the back four deserve their fair share as well. Kemar Lawrence, Michael Boxall, Bakaye Dibassy, and Alan Benítez were solid all night long, earning recognition from their keeper.

“I think we did a good job of defending the box today. They [Nashville] committed a lot of numbers, we cleared the balls, blocked shots and I think we tried to limit as many quality chances as they had. We know they had quite a few chances still. But, I know I’m going to be called upon and the guys rely on me the same way I rely on them. So I think this is a two-way street and we have a lot of trust in these guys. And, credit to them - after the Colorado [Rapids] game, they came up to me and said they still believe in me, so that was definitely a confidence booster as well.”

In particular, Benítez had himself a fantastic game. Improved defensive play helped to rectify the issues from the Colorado game, while his trademark attacking play paid dividends when he scored the game-winner in the second half. Coach Heath was happy with the progress of his new right-back.

“I thought he was better defensively this evening than he was in Colorado,” Heath said. “We had a long chat about his defensive positioning. Everybody plays differently. He’s been used to being a little bit higher up the field playing in a back-five, if you like, as a wingback. But in a back-four you have to be alongside your center backs. It’s something we spoke about. I think he tried to take that onboard. But it’s just his natural instinct to go forward. Everything that we watched of him down in Paraguay was in the attacking third. He wants to play in that attacking third and he did well.”

This game marked the sixth road win of the season for MNUFC, a club record. In addition to snatching points on the road, the Loons were able to get valuable game time for newcomer Jonathan Gonzalez. As the season progresses, Heath is optimistic that Gonzalez will grow into his role at the club.

“The one thing is, he gets the game. I think one of the biggest contributions he had, we had cleared a corner and he closed the ball down really well, and he entered the box and got another header on it that obviously stopped another restart for [Nashville]. He’ll be better for just being with the group. Traveling with them, being in the hotel, being in meals, watching video with the rest of them. He’ll be better for that, and he seems a great kid. He seems really keen on making this work, so we’ll get him every opportunity to do that.”

Now that most of the squad is back from prior suspensions and injuries, MNUFC is gearing up for a strong finish to the year. Moving forward, the Loons will be hoping to take this momentum into their home match against Austin FC next weekend. With the playoffs quickly approaching and a tough slate of games left on the schedule, it’s go time for everyone jockeying for position in the Western Conference standings. 

UP NEXT

Minnesota United FC v. Austin FC

Allianz Field | Saint Paul, Minnesota

08.20.22 | MLS Game 26

7:00 pm CT (MLS LIVE on ESPN+, Bally Sports North EXTRA, 1500 ESPN)