MNUFC came into Houston facing a Dynamo squad desperate for a win and toehold in the Western Conference playoff hunt. The Loons were coming off their first back-to-back wins while the Dynamo were hoping to overcome a six-match winless streak. Houston came out flat and it was a second-half sub who would light a fire under the team and ultimately lead them to a 2-1 win over Minnesota United.
“I was confident coming here today that if we played well we could get something from the game,” said Head Coach Adrian Heath. “We started reasonably well — a lot of possession. But once we got past the middle third of the field, didn’t have a threat all evening, I didn’t think. It was only a matter of time because they had a couple of breakaways and a couple poor misses and a couple of big saves from Bobby [Shuttleworth] sort of kept us in it. But it was a disappointing evening.”
Each team withstood several early tests in the opening minutes. Minnesota got its first corner kick in the fifth minute after defender Jerome Thiesson struck a good cross into forward Christian Ramirez, forcing Houston to clear it over the endline. The ensuing corner was initially cleared, but grew dangerous again when defender Marc Burch got a foot on the clearance and flicked backwards and in for Ramirez on the near post, although without a goal to show for it. In the eighth minute, it was Houston’s turn to threaten as a quick counterattack led to midfielder Alex nearly getting a shot through a curtain of Minnesota defenders before he was turned away.
Burch — tasked with slowing down forward Alberth Elis down Houston’s right wing — tracked Elis well down the wing on a nifty give-and-go in the 17th minute and poked the ball away from him while drawing a free kick. Good defensive efforts like that were buoyed by a pinch of good luck as well: in the 22nd minute, Elis served up a beauty of a cross from the right corner of the box that found forward Romell Quioto wide open in front of goal, but Quioto opted for a more awkward right-footed shot instead of the more natural left and the ball went high over the ball.
Houston earned its first CK in the 31st minute — perhaps an indicator that the Dynamo’s pace and aggression was wanting on a night when they badly needed a win to stay in the hunt for the playoffs. A few minutes later, it was Quioto’s turn to find Elis in the box, but Elis’ header went high. Chances like this kept going begging in the first half: In the 42nd minute, Quioto got the ball from Elis again in front of goal with goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth out of position but hesitated long enough for Shuttelworth to recover and get a hand on his shot.
In all, Houston’s attack in the first half got into position quickly when opportunities were presented, but those opportunities were few and far between and the efforts of Shuttleworth and the backline kept Minnesota in the match. For their part, the Loons’ plan seemed to be to play for possession and hope for Houston to make a mistake out of desperation for the three points. Minnesota went into halftime with 60% of the possession but only two shots to Houston’s 10 and level with the home side in a scoreless draw.
The second half opened much as the first had gone with neither team seizing the moment, but the complexion of the match would change dramatically in the 62nd minute when Houston brought in midfielder Andrew Wenger and seasoned veteran forward Vicente Sanchez.
Seven minutes later, the 37-year-old Sanchez provided just the spark the Dynamo had been looking for when he delivered an early cross from the left wing to Elis, who took on three Minnesota defenders and came away with a strong header right past Shuttleworth.
“I thought we were waiting for them to score to make a change and it didn’t surprise me when they did,” said Heath. “And then you look at the poor marking from us and it just about summed the evening up, people getting a free header from a corner six yards out.”
With Houston now up 1-0, Minnesota had to make its own move to get back in the match, bringing in midfielder Johan Venegas for midfielder Miguel Ibarra and forward Abu Danladi for midfielder Kevin Molino in the 71st minute. Danladi — who has four match-winning goals so far this season — almost immediately got a look at the goal but put it into the side netting in the 74th minute.
Minnesota began to build up their attack with more crosses into the box from both wings, but couldn’t find anyone on the receiving end. Then in the 82nd minute, Sanchez delivered a free kick into the box that led to a collision between Elis’ face and Shuttleworth’s fist as the latter punched the ball away. Elis stayed down for some time, but when he got back up, it was for a Sanchez corner kick that found forward Mauro Manotas in the box for a header past Shuttleworth. That goal gave the sub two assists on the night and Houston a 2-0 lead with under 15 minutes to play.
It was Sam Nicholson who would spoil the clean sheet with his first MLS goal. In stoppage time, the young Scottish winger picked up the ball on the left wing, cut hard to the middle and unleashed a powerful strike that curved around goalkeeper Tyler Deric and into the bottom right corner of the net for what would be the final goal of a 2-1 loss for Minnesota.
“I thought we weren’t very good this evening,” said Heath. “I thought we had a lack of energy all over the field, lack of desire to win the game. Our front four who were excellent last week and had a lot of praise given to them didn’t do enough. I didn’t feel as though we wanted it badly enough from the very first whistle. It’s another timely reminder for me that we’re not good enough and we need to get better. The offseason can’t come quickly enough for me in terms of trying to shake this roster up because that wasn’t acceptable for me tonight.”
It’s a tight turnaround for MNUFC as the team stays on the road and heads to Atlanta for a rematch against fellow expansion side Atlanta United on Tuesday, October 3. That match gets underway at 6:00 p.m. CT with pre-match coverage beginning on FOX 9+ and MNUFC Radio on 1500 ESPN at 5:30 p.m.
Minnesota United FC Starting XI: GK Bobby Shuttleworth; D Jerome Thiesson, Michael Boxall, Francisco Calvo, Marc Burch (Sam Nicholson 83’); M Ibson, Collin Martin, Ethan Finlay, Miguel Ibarra (Abu Danladi 70’), Kevin Molino (Johan Venegas 71’); F Christian Ramirez
MIN Unused Subs: GK Patrick McLain; D Brent Kallman, Jermaine Taylor; M Collen Warner
Houston Dynamo Starting XI: GK Tyler Deric; D A.J. DeLaGarza, Adolfo Machado, Leonardo, Dylan Remick; M Ricardo Clark, Eric Alexander (DaMarcus Beasley 73’), Alberth Elis, Alex (Vincente Sanchez 63’), Romell Quito; F Mauro Manotas (Andrew Wenger 62’)
HOU Unused Subs: GK Joe Willis; D Jalil Anibaba; M Tomas Martinez; F Erick Torres
69’ – Elis (Sanchez) – HOU
85’ – Manotas (Sanchez) – HOU
90+’ – Nicholson (Calvo) – MIN
68’ – Boxall (YC) – MIN
70’ – Elis (YC) – HOU
85’ – Quioto (YC) – HOU
87’ – Calvo (YC) – MIN