On Wednesday night, Minnesota United welcomed the Bundesliga’s Hertha Berlin for the first ever international friendly at Allianz Field. The German side arrived in the Twin Cities having just completed their season while the Loons took the opportunity of the midweek game to get some minutes into players like Hassani Dotson, Wyatt Omsberg, Dayne St. Clair and others who have either had limited or no opportunities to play with the first team so far. Despite losing 1-0, Head Coach Adrian Heath and his staff gained valuable information on players they will no doubt need to lean on with impending international call-ups and the Gold Cup promising to challenge the squad’s depth.
"I thought it was a great crowd," said Heath. "I thought the game was very good for what it was, considering they just finished [their season]. I thought some of our younger players did excellent. Kevin [Molino] is the only worry. We’re hoping it’s not too bad for Kevin, but if Kev comes through unscathed tomorrow, it’s been a good evening."
Early on, Dotson showed he was up for the task. Playing at right back despite mostly training as a midfielder, he cagily poked the ball away from a Hertha attacker in the box and overall showed a great deal of savvy and awareness. St. Clair, likewise, impressed early with an excellent save on a cannon of a shot from outside the box. The 22-year-old goalkeeper — who’s been spending time at Forward Madison this year — stabbed the ball safely away and off to the side, eventually making a number of clutch saves.
"There were some excellent performances," said Heath. "Hassani [Dotson] at right back was excellent. I thought Wyatt [Omsberg] was really good. And I thought Lawrence Olum – considering he hasn’t had a 90 minutes in a very long time – was outstanding. I thought there was a lot of good stuff this evening."
Midway through the first half, Hertha appeared to settle in and take control of possession, forcing the Loons back into their own half and pinning them in front of goal as they moved the ball around. This did begin to open up counterattacking opportunities that could have been dangerous for an MNUFC attack featuring speed demons like Abu Danladi and Mason Toye. Time and again, though, Danladi found himself on the wrong side of the offside line, displaying a lack of awareness unbecoming of a third-year player.
"I thought the movements at times was good," said Heath when asked about Danladi and Toye. "I thought they ran too early at times. I already spoke about that to them both in the past. Athletically they’re both very, very gifted. The secret of playing up front is knowing where to run and when to run, and that’s what we’re still working on with them. But, you know, they have a lot of tools to work with and we’ll keep working with them. I thought Abu [Danladi] was dangerous at times in the first half against a really experienced defender. So, there have been some good things. But plenty for us to look at and them to learn when we look at the film back."
In the final 10 minutes of the first half, midfielder Kevin Molino did what he could to assert himself, firing a shot that pinged off the crossbar after receiving a bullet of a low cross from Dotson. He also drew a free kick near the edge of the box, but was forced from the field after picking up a knock in the 41st minute.
With the first half winding down, Hertha jumped. In the 43rd minute, Andrej Duda ripped a shot from the top of the box that St. Clair managed to stop, but the young keeper couldn’t corral the the rebound. The ball found its way to the feet of Peter Pekarik — a teammate of Jan Gregus’ on the Slovakia national team — who fired it past St. Clair and into the left side of the net to give the visitors a 1-0 lead heading into the break.
For the second half, Heath brought on a few veteran players, including Gregus, Brett Kallman, and Darwin Quintero. In the 56th minute, Gregus smashed a solid free kick shot that didn’t quite dip on frame and instead rose over the crossbar. Minnesota continued to generate counterattacking opportunities, especially with the help of Quintero’s distribution through the middle of the park, but Toye — who shifted over to forward when Danladi was subbed out for Ethan Finlay in the 67th minute — couldn’t get enough space to get off decent shots before being shunted off the ball by Hertha’s centerbacks.
Sometime around the 70th minute, Hertha lost Florian Baak to a possible concussion. Because the visitors had used all their subs in two large chunks, Hertha were unable to put on a sub, leading to the German side playing the remainder of the game with 10 men. Despite the numerical advantage, MNUFC ultimately couldn’t mount a comeback and the game would end 1-0.
The score, though, was ultimately immaterial. The important thing for the home side was the quality shown by players like Dotson, St. Clair and Omsberg — who made a number of heads-up defensive plays and did well in distribution from the backline as well. Add to their number Lawrence Olum, a veteran midfielder and defender acquired earlier in the season who got his first minutes at Allianz Field on the night. With squad rotation becoming a necessity as players depart for international call-ups and the upcoming Gold Cup, Minnesota United will be heartened by a handful of performances on the night going forward.
Minnesota United’s next game is on Saturday, March 25 against Houston Dynamo at Allianz Field at 7:00 p.m. Pre-game coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. on FOX Sports North+, streaming on FOX Sports GO and on MNUFC Radio on SKOR North.
Minnesota United FC: GK Dayne St. Clair; D Hassani Dotson, Michael Boxall (Brent Kallman HT), Wyatt Omsberg, Miguel Ibarra (Jan Gregus HT); M Lawrence Olum, Collin Martin, Mason Toye, Rasmus Schuller, Kevin Molino (Darwin Quintero HT); F Abu Danladi (Ethan Finlay 67’)
MIN Unused Subs: GK Vito Mannone; D Ike Opara, Romain Metanire
Hertha Berlin Starting XI: GK Thomas Kraft (Dennis Smarsch HT); D Peter Pekarik (Maximilian Mittelstadt HT), Karim Rekik (Jordan Torunarigha 64’), Niklas Stark (Florian Baak 64’), Marvin Plattenhardt (Skjelbred HT), Fabian Lustenberger (Javairo Dilrosun HT); M Salomon Kalou, Ondrej Duda (Maurice Covic 64’), Marko Grujic, Valentino Lazaro (Pascal Kopke HT); F Davie Selke
HER Unused Subs: N/A
43’ – Pekarik – HER