Another home game, another 1-0 result for the Loons, keeping their undefeated streak at Allianz Field intact. Against a formidable Houston Dynamo squad sitting above them in the standings, Minnesota United put together a balanced game featuring stout defending and just enough attacking to get them all three points and push them within two points of fourth place in the Western Conference.
"Where I’m really pleased today – for different reasons – we don’t take anything from this game, last year," said Head Coach Adrian Heath. "The collective mentality to defend the goal. Do what’s asked of them. People doing what the coaching staff wants them to do. Defending properly. Putting the group before individuals. I thought it was outstanding at times, and I’m really pleased for a lot of aspects from the game today. Because I don’t think we’ve played as well as we can today, but we certainly, as a group, worked really, really hard to deny a really, really good attacking team."
Houston established its gameplan early: press high when Minnesota’s backline won the ball and strike quickly when its own defenders won the ball back. In addition to forward Mauro Manotas and wingers Romell Quioto and Memo Rodriguez, the Dynamo’s #10, Tomas Martinez, pushed up very high in an effort to keep the Loons from getting comfortable with the ball.
Midfielder Darwin Quintero — who has struggled recently to find top form thanks to some nagging injuries — very nearly got in his bag early on. In just the fifth minute, he found himself receiving the ball on the near post on the right side of Houston’s box. In one motion, he popped the ball up, whirled, and struck a roundhouse shot with his back to the net, pinging it off the top right corner of the woodwork and just missing a wondergoal.
Moments later, Minnesota was forced to defend a host of Houston attackers dancing through its box. Somehow, the collective effort kept the Dynamo from getting a sliver of daylight to put it on frame and the Loons successfully staved off the attack. It was a pattern that would persist throughout the first half as Minnesota couldn’t keep the visitors entirely out of the box but managed to bend without breaking.
A big part of that was the excellent showing by rookie Hassani Dotson, starting his first MLS game and playing out of position at right back after usually being deployed as a central midfielder in his collegiate career. After a strong night in Wednesday’s exhibition against Hertha Berlin, Dotson put in a solid full 90, providing both defensive resilience and some heads up distribution on the offensive end.
"I thought, for his debut, playing in an unfamiliar position, against whoever came down his side – it was [Romell] Quioto, it was [Memo] Rodgriguez – I thought he was outstanding," said Heath. "The kid did everything that we asked of him. And as we said after the game. If he, God willing, stays injury free, listens and learns – which we don’t think he won’t – he has a great opportunity because the kid's just got a feel for the game. No matter where you play him, he gets a feel for the game. You can’t give that to people. They’ve either got it, or they haven’t and he’s got a feel for the game."
In the 20th minute, Minnesota got on the board with a bit of luck. After spending a good deal of the game’s opening building through the midfield on the left side, the team leveraged the space created by that approach to start switching the field and getting the ball to defender Romain Metanire on the right. In one of these sequences, Metanire settled the ball and dribbled it a few steps forward before firing in a hard cross that caught defender Boniek Garcia’s outstretched leg. The ball arced high into the sky and over goalkeeper Joe Willis, settled softly just inside the upper left corner of the goal, and gave the home side a 1-0 lead.
"Well, he said he meant it: the deflection," said Heath. "He’s obviously pleased. Maybe, maybe they’ll give it to him after the one that Angelo [Rodriguez] claimed a few weeks ago. But no, another outstanding performance from him."
From there, it was back to more solid defending from a Loons squad that’s made it very difficult for visiting teams to get looks at Allianz Field. Despite the Dynamo’s ability to get balls in and even get long shots off the clearances, they couldn’t quite solve Minnesota’s defending or sneak one past goalkeeper Vito Mannone. Despite nine shots in the first half, Houston only put one on target, forcing Mannone’s lone save of the first half. For a team that thrives on counterattacking on the road, Houston’s 59.1% possession was also a possible sticking point for them. The teams headed into the tunnel with MNUFC on top.
"I said to the players at halftime – I thought our defensive block in our own half was excellent," said Heath. "I thought the middle was okay. And I was disappointed in the final third. I don’t think we had enough controlled possession to create chances. It was isolated breakaways, and then it was the block again. You know, I’d rather be defending from the front because we’ve got controlled possession in their half of the field. And I don’t think we did a good enough job at that."
Houston opened the second half with a surplus of energy and drive, pushing their luck a bit and getting deep into the attack quickly. This in turn opened up more opportunities for Minnesota United, leading to a wild opening 10 or 15 minutes where the chances piled up for each side but with none bearing fruit. Minnesota rung up chances for midfielder Ethan Finlay, forward Angelo Rodriguez and Darwin Quintero in short order but all sailed wide or high.
The MNUFC defense also managed to get a bit more aggressive as the game wore on, getting up the pitch and putting pressure on Houston’s backline. In the 62nd minute, the game of subs began, with Houston pulling forward Romell Quioto for Tommy McNamara. In the 65th, Heath pulled Angelo Rodriguez for Abu Danladi, perhaps hoping to take advantage of an overcommitted moment from Houston’s attack to have the speedy attacker run in behind. Overall, though, it was clear the Loons were largely content to move the ball around the middle of the park and try to keep it away from the Dynamo without giving up opportunities.
Down the stretch, Quintero had to leave with a bit of a knock and was replaced by midfielder Rasmus Schuller, signaling a shift to a more defensive mindset in the 78th minute. The shift was completed in the 83rd minute when Miguel Ibarra made way for Ike Opara, giving the home side five at the back. Nevertheless, MNUFC continued to get opportunities, including killing the game off in stoppage time in Houston’s end of the field with a series of corner kicks and free kicks.
"I prefer it be down their end — defending — than in our end. But I thought we managed the game really well. And that’s, you know, that’s something that we haven’t been good at. We managed the game well. People knew when to go forward, when to err on the side of caution and go no, no. I’m going to stay at home and mark people. As I say, I’m as pleased tonight as I have been all season. For different reasons."
In the end, Minnesota left with a sound 1-0 win, marred only by a late yellow card for Man of the Match Romain Metanire, meaning he will miss the team’s next game, an away tilt against Atlanta United on Wednesday, May 29 at 6:00 p.m. Pre-game coverage for that contest begins at 5:30 p.m. on FOX Sports North, streaming on FOX Sports GO and on MNUFC Radio on SKOR North.
Minnesota United FC Starting XI: GK Vito Mannone; D Romain Metanire, Michael Boxall, Brent Kallman, Hassani Dotson; M Jan Gregus, Osvaldo Alonso, Ethan Finlay, Miguel Ibarra (Ike Opara 83’), Darwin Quintero (Rasmus Schuller 78’); F Angelo Rodriguez (Abu Danladi 65’)
MIN Unused Subs: GK Dayne St. Clair; D Wyatt Omsberg; M Lawrence Olum F Mason Toye,
Houston Dynamo Starting XI: GK Joe Wilis; D A.J. DeLaGarza, Alejandro Fuenmayor (Kevin Garcia 69’), DaMarcus Beasley, Aljaz Struna; M Matias Vera, Boniek Garcia, Romell Quioto (Tommy McNamara 62’), Tomas Martinez (Marlon Hairston 75’), Memo Rodriguez; F Mauro Manotas
HOU Unused Subs: GK Tyler Deric; D Adam Lundkvist; M Darwin Ceren, Juan Cabezas
20’ – Metanire (Gregus) – MIN
40’ – Fuenmayor (YC) – HOU
66’ – B. Garcia (YC) – HOU
90’ – Metanire (YC) – MIN