Tim-burrr, that was a cold result from Portland. Not in a “that’s tight” kind of way, in a “that’s harsh” kind of way. The scoring frustrations for the Loons continued as they fell short of the net for the third game in a row. What stings is how well the team played. MNUFC found their form, closing the gap left by the loss of Bakaye Dibassy and outshooting the Timbers 21 to 11. All that was missing was that final finishing touch.
Head Coach Adrian Heath thought his team deserved something from the match. “I thought we were the better team most of the evening,” said Heath. “Our ball circulation, our decision making…when to play forward, when to play long, was excellent. We just didn’t have that finishing touch…We played better than them. I thought for the players to come away with nothing is very disappointing.”
The new 3-5-2 formation worked beautifully for the Loons. The formation played to the strengths of the team, allowing the wingbacks (Alan Benítez and DJ Taylor) to join the attack more often, while the back three (Kemar Lawrence, Michael Boxall, and Brent Kallman) anchored the defense. Up top, Luis Amarilla and Ménder García used their speed to cause all sorts of problems for the Portland back line, and the center midfielders (Wil Trapp, Robin Lod, and Kervin Arriaga) fed the ball well into the attack and added some padding to the defense when needed.
“I thought we defended very well playing against a really confident team on the back of three wins,” said Heath about the new formation. “We knew they [Portland] were going to try and put us under pressure, but I thought we broke the pressure really well. About passing, it’s…everything that we asked of the players…In terms of the shape of the team, the way we moved the ball, the opportunities that we created, I thought everything worked really, really well.”
So what happened? Everything was aligning for a Loons win, and yet somehow the game garnered a different result. Well, in a game of inches, that’s really what it came down to – the little details. The slightest differences in the timing of runs or the turning of hips can make or break a scoring opportunity. With how close MNUFC came to scoring, all there really is to point at are those smallest of missteps.
“For us to not score a goal with the clear-cut chances that we created this evening is disappointing,” said Heath. “But hey, players don’t mean to miss. There’s nothing more the strikers want to do than to finish opportunities off. We weren’t clinical enough tonight. On the road, I say it all the time, when them opportunities come, you have to take your opportunities. Because you know on the road, you’re going to have large periods of the game where you’re defending. Them little moments, them little details, are so important.”
Center back Michael Boxall would agree with Heath on the importance of small moments, from both sides of the ball. “I felt like the work we put in on our part certainly deserved to get something out of the game,” said Boxall. “But again we just get punished by small margins, a corner that probably we should have prevented and should have never came to be. On the flip side with the ball, I think we in the first 45, first 60 minutes, I felt like we were in charge of the game. There were a couple times [we were] a few inches away from putting one in the back of the net, but were just a little bit unlucky. Overall, yeah, the guys work their butts off and just the small things on both ends, really, that cost us points tonight.”
Though a frustrating result, the Loons are trending upwards. Losing a center back is never easy, and with a team that plays a lot of soccer from back to front, an adjustment period was expected. Last game showed a team that found solid form and more confidence, even with great players like Emanuel Reynoso out of the mix. The postseason race is still very close, and MNUFC began to find their footing at the right time, and in a difficult place no less.
“When we miss Rey [Emanuel Reynoso], we do notice that,” said Boxall. “But I think tonight we created enough opportunities to score, but we just weren’t lucky or just didn’t quite have that finishing touch tonight. It was a more promising performance tonight than probably last week, so even though we’ve lost, it kind of felt like we’re better defending as a team, and we’ve been a lot more dangerous with the ball, even without one of our best players.”
A quick turn-around awaits the Loons as they head back home to face LAFC – the top team in the conference – on Tuesday. It’s difficult to pull a 180 in any sense, but to go from such a difficult game, to then form up mentally and physically for another strong opponent is a tall order. But what’s that thing that people say about bootstraps? All it takes is a little bit of grit, and the Boys in Black and Blue will be right back where they want to be.
“We’ve got LAFC on Tuesday, then we’ve got [Sporting Kansas City], then we’ve got San Jose [Earthquakes] and Vancouver [Whitecaps],” said Heath. “We’ve got to win a couple of games. Win a couple of games — we’re going to be fine. But we said that six games ago and now we’re down to four. We’ve got to win a couple of games. If we do, we give ourselves what we set out to do back in February of last year… the beginning of this year. That was the aim to make the playoffs, get home-field advantage. We have two more games and I still think we’ve got a really good chance at that as well.”
Michael Boxall doesn’t seem too phased by the task in front of him, which speaks volumes to the team’s mentality on the matter. “It’s the same turnaround as a Wednesday-Saturday [schedule], so, it’s not something we haven’t done before,” said Boxall. “We’ve just got to get some rest, get everyone as fit as we can and hopefully see more healthy bodies back in Minnesota for us to help us on Tuesday.”
LAFC is up next for Minnesota United. Sitting fairly comfortably at the top of the conference, the team from the Golden State will be difficult to beat, but not impossible. Having lost four of their last five matches, LA is teetering in their otherwise strong season, but players like Gareth Bale will always make it tough for the opposition. MNUFC is finding their way back to the form that left them unbeaten in nine out of 11 games from July-August. With only five points that separate the Loons from second place, they’ll be looking to add that finishing touch and gain some points heading into the postseason.
Minnesota United FC vs LAFC
Allianz Field | St. Paul, Minnesota
09.13.2022 | MLS Game No. 31
7:00 p.m. CT (MLS LIVE on ESPN+, Bally Sports North EXTRA, The CW - Twin Cities,1500 ESPN)