In a heavyweight clash between two Western Conference foes that could have major playoff implications come October, Minnesota United grinded out a resolute, hard-nosed 1-0 win over visiting FC Dallas. A game that was filled with gritty challenges and few clear-cut chances saw the Loons win in dramatic fashion. A Mason Toye stoppage time goal and a Vito Mannone penalty kick save minutes later served up all three points for the Loons – propelling them into third place in the Western Conference for the time being.
“[I’m] so proud of the players,” said Head Coach Adrian Heath. “They were running on empty today. I spoke to my staff yesterday after training and I was really worried about the game because the group looked really flat. We've tried everything to get them going and it was a difficult afternoon for us. You could tell [FC Dallas] had had a week off. They came out nice and lively and sharp, as we expected, but I thought our resolve and determination not to lose the game was immense.”
In what was a cagey first half, FC Dallas came out with clear attacking intent, deploying a 4-3-3 with a diamond in midfield – which turned into a 4-2-3-1 while on defense. They looked to position their wingers, Michael Barrios and Santiago Mosquera, high and wide early.
The Loons looked to counteract the attacking positioning of FC Dallas through their own 4-2-3-1 with Ethan Finlay and Kevin Molino dropping deeper on either side of the field to support Minnesota’s fullbacks Hassani Dotson and Chase Gasper. Up top, Darwin Quintero sat directly underneath Angelo Rodriguez and looked to move between the FC Dallas defensive and midfield lines to receive passes at his feet. In a Minnesota offense that is often fueled by crosses, Hassani Dotson and Chase Gasper – two players who have been crucial in providing service into the penalty area – were forced to stay at home and keep track of Dallas’ dangerously positioned wingers. While not a force on offense, Gasper and Dotson valiantly defended, stifling Barrios and Mosquera in one-on-one situations, time and time again.
“Incredible performance from a lot of people,” said Heath. “I've got to single out the two kids, the fullbacks. I've never seen anyone play [Michael] Barrios as well as Chase Gasper's done today. Because of our energy levels, there was a lot of one-v-ones. Can't really remember Barrios getting by him, so it's an incredible performance. Ike's not been 100 percent for a couple of days, so it's a huge win for us, it really is.”
While the first 25 minutes of the game were without quality finishes, both sides trades opportunities to take the lead. In the sixth minute, Darwin Quintero came close to scoring an early goal – just as he did a week earlier against San Jose at Allianz Field. Ethan Finlay’s driven cross hit the back of an unsuspecting Quintero and squirted back to the midfielder who had continued his run. Showing off his vision and composure, Finlay then squared to an open Quintero who fired a quick shot that was blocked off the line by FC Dallas. Then, in the 20th minute FC Dallas’ Michael Barrios was played through on goal by forward Dominique Badji, who had drifted out wide. Vito Mannone, who spotted the danger early, rushed off his line to tip Barrios’ chipped effort just over the MNUFC goal to keep the sides level.
Interchangeably playing on the left and right side of midfield, Ethan Finlay had two golden opportunities in the latter stages of the first half to give the home side the lead. In the 28th minute, Kevin Molino executed a lovely lofted ball over the top of the FC Dallas defense that fell right at the feet of Finlay. With a San Jose defender breathing down his neck, Finlay attempted to hit the bouncing ball first-time but the scuffed shot didn’t have enough power to beat goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez who snatched up the shot. Just eight minutes later, Chase Gasper – making a rare attacking foray in the first half – found himself in space out wide and sent a cross that deflected to the FC Dallas back post. An unmarked Finlay took the ball out of the sky on a left-footed volley that went into the side netting of the goal, causing an eruption around Allianz Field as the ball looked like it had beaten Gonzalez.
Both sides traded blows in the remaining ten minutes of the half but neither could find the decisive breakthrough. With Dallas threatening down the flanks and the Loons generating offense through Ethan Finlay, the first half came to an end, deadlocked at 0-0.
“We actually had a couple of good chances first half,” said Heath. “I was worried. I said to the staff the first goal either way will win the game. We worked hard to try and get the guys going again at halftime.”
Just five minutes into the second half, Barrios – who was a threat for the visitors all night – cut inside from the wing, skipped past Chase Gasper and Michael Boxall and into the MNUFC penalty area. A last second buccaneering tackle from Hassani Dotson – which garnered a roar from the Allianz Field crowd – denied the winger a shot and saved a certain goal.
Chances in the second half came few and far between for both sides as the fatigue from a busy July schedule seemingly began to set in for the Loons. Playing in their fifth game in just 15 days, FC Dallas pinned Minnesota back in their own half for much of the second period of play. Looking to change the tide of the game, Heath subbed on fresh legs in the form of Miguel Ibarra and Mason Toye to replace Kevin Molino and Angelo Rodriguez in the 65th minute.
With both sides searching for a goal in the last 20 minutes of the game, play became stretched and the fluidity of the game was lost. Dangerous attacking play was scarce until the 86th minute when FC Dallas came a deflection away from taking the lead. Throughout the game, the visitors sent long diagonal passes to their advanced wingers and it almost paid dividends when Michael Barrios received one of these balls, beat Hassani Dotson to the touchline and drilled in a low, hard cross. The driven ball banged against the outstretched leg of defender Ike Opara and careened into the side-netting — fortunately for Vito Mannone, who was wrongfooted in goal.
With just minutes to play, the Loons knew that they had to expend the remainder of their energy to take three points in such a crucial game. With the Wonderwall roaring, the Loons won a corner kick in the 87th minute, which gave the home side a much-needed spell of possession. In stoppage time, with the tables turned and FC Dallas pinned in their own half, Jan Gregus found space in the midfield. The Slovakian dribbled right at the FC Dallas goal, feinted past one player and ripped an arrowing shot. The strike proved too hot to handle for JGonzalez, who spilled the ball to his right allowing second half substitute Mason Toye to pounce on the loose ball and fire home. Toye’s goal provided a long-awaited breakthrough but the game wasn’t over yet.
FC Dallas – who was determined to make the Loons work for all three points – piled all their men forward in the dying embers of the game. Deep into stoppage time, a miscommunication between Chase Gasper and Vito Mannone led to a controversial foul on FC Dallas’ Bryan Reynolds by the MNUFC goalkeeper. The referee had to turn to video review to officially rule the incident a foul. With every fan in Allianz Field on their feet, Mannone stood up to the task and denied FC Dallas’ captain Reto Ziegler from the spot. The save produced a roar that could be heard throughout the Twin Cities for an immense 1-0 win from the Loons.
“I think it's the biggest win I've had since I've been here, for what it means to everybody,” said Heath. “You saw the reaction of the players, you saw the reaction of the supporters. I’ve got to mention the crowd because I think they got us over the line today and I've never heard the stadium as loud as this, ever. The last five minutes and then when Vito makes the save, incredible.”
Minnesota United’s next game is back at Allianz Field on Wednesday, July 17 at 7:00 p.m. as newly-promoted English Premier League side Aston Villa is in town for a friendly which can be directly streamed on mnufc.com. The Loons then return to MLS action next Saturday, July 20 at 9:00 p.m. CT as they travel to Utah for another important Western Conference fixture against Real Salt Lake. Pregame coverage will begin at 8:30 p.m. CT 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 Chase Gasper, Ike Opara, Michael Boxall, Chase Gasper; M Jan Gregus, Osvaldo Alonso (Lawrence Olum 72’), Ethan Finlay, Kevin Molino (Miguel Ibarra 66’), Darwin Quintero; F Angelo Rodriguez (Mason Toye 67’)
MIN Unused Subs: GK Bobby Shuttleworth; D Brent Kallman, Eric Miller; M Rasmus Schuller
FC Dallas Starting XI: GK Jesse Gonzalez; D Matt Hedges, Reggie Cannon, Reto Ziegler, Ryan Hollingshead; M Brandon Servania (Bryan Reynolds 90+2’), Bryan Acosta, Michael Barrios, Paxton Pomykal, Santiago Mosquera (Jesus Ferreira 67’); F Dominique Badji (Edwin Gyasi 76’)
FCD Unused Subs: GK Jimmy Maurer; D Bressan; M Edwin Cerrillo, Jacori Hayes
90+1’ – Toye – MIN
35’ – Servania (YC) – FCD
45+2’ – Acosta (YC) – FCD
59’ – Gasper (YC) – MIN
80’ – Toye (YC) – MIN
90+5’ – Gonzalez (YC) – FCD