On a windy night in Dallas, MNUFC faced off against an as-yet undefeated Dallas squad that won the Supporters’ Shield last season and notched 60 points in each of the last two. Hoping to build chemistry with their newest additions, the Loons defense looked immediately better, but a bevy of scoring chances went begging as Dallas keeper Jesse Gonzalez turned shot after shot away in a 2-0 Dallas win.
Newcomers Sam Cronin and Marc Burch were brought in to shore up a shaky defense and they made an early impact. Cronin began the match with a lot of touches and a clear intention to direct players on the pitch to keep the defensive shape intact. The longest MNUFC had gone in a match before conceding a goal was 17 minutes, and conceding early had been a major problem.
“They're both experienced players who can play at this level,” said Head Coach Adrian Heath about Cronin and Burch. “They've played over 400 games between them. There's not a problem for them — they can play at this level. They'll be two good additions for us moving forward.”
Tonight, the Loons held off a strong Dallas attack for much of the first half by cycling the ball back to Francisco Calvo and Brent Kallman and letting them and Cronin send longer, probing passes forward. In the 14th minute, a string of passes up the left side of the pitch opened up an opportunity for Christian Ramirez to cut in from the right and get a good look at the net. His shot, though, sailed over the cross bar.
As MNUFC tried to build their attack forward more gradually, FC Dallas did their level best to take advantage by springing lightning fast counterattacks. In the 25th minute, Michael Barrios got out ahead of the Minnesota defense down the left side and into the box. Cutting right, he curled a shot that beat Bobby Shuttleworth but couldn’t bend hard enough to sneak inside the post.
As the half wore on, Dallas stepped up their aggressiveness and physicality as they battled for possession in the midfield, but Minnesota’s defense kept stepping up when they had to, including a beauty of a tackle by Brent Kallman in the penalty box that foiled a strong attack by Roland Lamah in the 38th minute without giving up the penalty kick.
“I thought we started the game well,” said Heath. “And then — because we were moving the ball quickly, getting people in the right spots — then we started to try and force the issue — do things that we've not been working on — and then we sort of turned the initiative over them a little bit.”
Dallas’ persistence was eventually rewarded, as a long curling cross from Barrios from left to right found the head of Walker Zimmerman inside the 6-yard box. Zimmerman redirected it into the mouth of the goal and Javier Morales just barely dinked it over Shuttleworth and got it into the goal.
MNUFC headed into the half likely happy with the defensive effort overall compared to many of their matches so far this year, but still down 1-0 despite winning the possession battle 55% to 45%.
It didn’t take long for FC Dallas to double their lead once the second half whistle blew. In the 49th minute, a miscue on a throw-in lead to a quick break for Dallas that ended with Barrios’ first goal of the season, assisted by Kellyn Acosta.
“I look at that second goal and we've got a throw-in halfway in our own half,” said Heath. “Two second later it's in the back of our net. We can't keep doing that to ourselves. We're giving ourselves a mountain to climb all the time.”
Perhaps sensing that urgency was called for, MNUFC began throwing more forward, with Cronin taking a cannon of a shot from way out that forced Jesse Gonzalez to get a hand on it in the 51st minute. Collen Warner came off in the 55th minute for Ibson, another indication that Minnesota was looking to get more offensively active. Then, six minutes later, Abu Danladi came in for Bashkim Kadrii, another sub to tilt the field more toward the final third.
MNUFC responded by generating plenty of chances, but Gonzalez was more than up to the task, putting up five strong saves, including a few possible Save of the Week candidates. Both Johan Venegas and Abu Danladi put quality shots on goal that Gonzalez confidently turned away to record the clean sheet in the 2-0 win.
“[You've got to get] a bit more belief in the group,” said Heath, “and believing that you can actually get something from the game and have some confidence on the ball and I think we did that a little bit in the second half. We started to move the ball quickly, started to get people in the right holes, started to get some good combination play. As I say, I knew we'd had a lot of opportunities. We needed more of them to go in. When the keeper comes up with three or four unbelievable saves and obviously then you always leave yourself vulnerable for the counterattack and that's what happened. Some of our approach play in the second half wasn't bad.”
Ultimately, with two new starters on the field in Cronin and Burch and facing an FC Dallas team that hasn’t allowed a goal in the run of play so far this year, MNUFC couldn’t crack Dallas’ defense once they settled in, especially given Gonzalez’s outstanding performance.
Minnesota United returns to Texas next week for a matchup against the Houston Dynamo on Saturday, April 15. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. and the team will look to build on their improved defense and making that connection from their half of the field to the opponent’s half. Catch all the action on My29 and MNUFC Radio on 1500 ESPN beginning at 7:00 p.m. CT.
Minnesota United FC Starting XI: GK Bobby Shuttleworth; D Marc Burch, Francisco Calvo, Brent Kallman, Jerome Thiesson; M Collen Warner (Ibson 55’), Sam Cronin, Bashkim Kadrii (Abu Danladi 61’), Johan Venegas, Kevin Molino; F Christian Ramirez
MIN Unused Subs: GK John Alvbage; D Justin Davis, Jermaine Taylor; M Rasmus Schuller, Miguel Ibarra
FC Dallas Starting XI: GK Jesse Gonzalez; D Hernan Grana, Walker Zimmerman, Matt Hedges, Atiba Harris; M Kellyn Acosta (Victor Ulloa 71’), Javier Morales (Carlos Cermeno 79’), Carlos Gruezo; F Michael Barrios, Maximiliano Urruti, Roland Lamah (Tesho Akindele 63’)
FC Dallas Starting XI: GK Chris Seitz; D Anibal Chala, Aaron Guillen; F Cristian Colman
43’ – Morales (Zimmerman, Barrios) – FCD
49’ – Barrios (Acosta) – FCD
5’ – Warner (YC) – MIN
30’ – Gruezo (YC) – FCD
61’ – Ibson (YC) – MIN
72’ – Kallman (YC) – MIN
88’ – Gonzalez (YC) – FCD
89’ – Grana (YC) – FCD