Mounting injuries and illness forced Minnesota United FC and head coach Adrian Heath to play a different lineup in a third consecutive match, this time facing off against the high-powered New York Red Bulls, a feisty crowd, and a dash of New Jersey snow in the 2022 home opener at Red Bull Arena.
Both Bakaye Dibassy (ankle) and Oniel Fisher (thigh) were absent from the MNUFC backline after playing all 180 minutes of the club’s first two matches. DJ Taylor got his first start of the season at right back, while Hassani Dotson dropped back to the left back position after spending the previous two matches in the midfield. Goalkeeper Tyler Miller came down with the flu and wasn’t well enough to play, so backup Dayne St. Clair started in net for the Loons. Honduran International Kervin Arriaga returned to the midfield after missing the home opener with an injured thorax and started alongside captain Wil Trapp.
St. Clair needs to be the first player mentioned, as the backup keep for Minnesota made his mark on the game in the early-going and played brilliantly all night. Seeking their first 3-0 start in franchise history, the Red Bulls came out on the front foot and unleashed a barrage of offense from the opening whistle on the Minnesota defense.
Lewis Morgan, the always-dangerous Scotsman who punished Toronto FC to the tune of three first-half goals in Week Two, nearly continued his first-half scoring heroics in the eighth minute. Red Bulls midfielder Frankie Amaya fed the ball to Morgan, who uncorked a shot destined for the Upper 90 from outside the box, but St. Clair deflected the ball out of play to concede a corner.
New York’s best chance in the opening minutes came after Dotson was whistled for a handball in the box after a VAR review in the 13th minute. Polish DP Patryk Klimala lined up at the penalty spot for the Red Bulls seeking his second goal of the season. Klimala sent a hopeful right-footed shot to St. Clair’s left, but found his shot denied by the Canadian wunderkind in goal.
St. Clair made a decisive dive to his left and got low immediately as Klimala struck the ball. It may not have been the most unsavable penalty attempt, but St. Clair did a solid job to get two gloves on the ball and prevent any chance at a rebound.
Gerhard Stuber’s men smelled blood after the saved penalty and remained on the attack for most of the evening, often sending all 10 outfield players into the attacking third. New York controlled the scoring opportunities in the first half, outshooting Minnesota by a count of 8-1.
The second half opened with a few more scary moments for the Loons. Klimala again found himself inches away from putting the home team up 1-0, this time as the setup man, as he sent a dangerous cross to Omir Fernandez only to be denied by another fantastic save by St. Clair. Fernandez put another opportunity on goal with his head not even a minute later, but St. Clair was up to the task.
The Loons broke the tie in the 51st minute. Hassani Dotson, fresh off providing the point-saving goal in the home-opener for MNUFC, collected the ball off a long corner kick from Emanuel Reynoso on the right side of the box and sent a looping cross back in towards goal. Dotson’s ball found the dangerous right foot of Luis Amarilla, who one-timed a half-volley and beat goalkeeper Carlos Coronel near-post to give Minnesota the lead.
Momentum shifted to the side of the visitors after the goal, and the Loons were able to find the opportunity and crisp possession that felt so elusive in the first half.
Minnesota had a golden opportunity to double their lead in the 75th minute. Robin Lod made a great take-away on the defensive end and got the ball to Arriaga in midfield, who turned and spurred a dangerous counter-attack. Arriaga found Amarilla in plenty of space, who took a clever touch and delivered a gorgeous pass to Reynoso in the center of the box for what surely looked to be the back-breaker for the Red Bulls, but Reynoso couldn’t beat Coronel.
New York had its fair share of chances to equalize as well, with the most dangerous chance coming courtesy of midfielder Dru Yearwood in the 84th minute. Amaya, who had been dynamic in the Red Bull attacking third all night, fed the ball to the Englishman with plenty of space in the center of the field. Yearwood took a couple of crafty touches and blasted a left-footed shot from just outside the box. The ball was destined for the lower-corner, but St. Clair flew in at the last second to punch it out of bounds with both fists.
The Red Bulls continued to make things juicy as time wore on, bringing on their newly-arrived Brazilian DP Luquinhas in the 81st minute, who stimulated the attack immediately. The remaining nine minutes, plus four of added time, were anything but comfortable for the Loons, but St. Clair and company held firm and kept an away clean sheet against a team coming off two wins and a total of seven goals on the road.
In total, St. Clair made eight saves and earned clear Man of the Match Honors. Tonight marked the 18th regular season start of his career, and his seventh clean sheet.
The Loons fly back home for a date with the San Jose Earthquakes and former Minnesota United players Francisco Calvo and Jan Gregus next Saturday at Allianz Field.
Minnesota United FC vs. San Jose Earthquakes
Allianz Field | Saint Paul, Minnesota
03.19.2022 | MLS Week No. 4 | MLS Game No. 4
7:00 pm CT (Bally Sports North, The CW - Twin Cities, SKOR North)