Heading to Nashville for the first time to face one of this season’s two expansion teams, Minnesota United had to deal with short rest from their game against FC Cincinnati on Saturday. The result was a starting XI featuring some returning faces and regular faces in new positions. With mainstay Jan Gregus departing for games with the Slovakia national team, the Loons had to adjust as the next man stepped up. While they couldn’t make the most of their offensive chances, the visitors did well to stymie Nashville’s efforts, earning them a point on the road in a 0-0 draw.
The game began brightly, with both teams looking to pounce on the opportunities presented to them. For Nashville, this meant leaning into long through balls and diagonal passes over the midfield to find wingers in the hopes of diming crosses onto late-arriving attackers. For Minnesota, it meant attempts to work through midfielder Emanuel Reynoso at the edge of the penalty box.
Nashville SC had the best early opportunity in the fifth minute when Derrick Jones — a midfielder working as a forward for the home side due to injury issues — wasted an excellent opportunity in front of goal on a low cross from the right wing. Jones’ shot went wide right thanks to pressure from Aja but between that and a long shot from midfielder Brian Anunga three minutes that was wide left, the Boys in Gold had the better looks early.
Midfielder Ethan Finlay did well in his return from injury and first start August 29, putting his trademark vigor and work ethic to the test with lung-busting runs down the left wing. Defender Bakaye Dibassy slid over to left back to give Chase Gasper a break and accounted himself well in a position he frequently played during his time with Amiens in France. Early on, he sometimes got caught too far upfield but by the second half, he and Boxall were working well together both to provide defense and allow Dibassy to get up and launch dangerous crosses.
Dayne St. Clair had another standout performance in a clean sheet effort, doing well to stop an effort by Alex Muyl in the 26th minute and then shortly after in the 29th minute when Randall Leal unleashed a blistering shot from distance that forced the young keeper to stretch all the way out to his left to push it over the touchline.
Through the first half-hour, Nashville dominated possession to the tune of 65.8% — a trend that would hold up over the length of the game with the home side ending up with 55.9% by the final whistle.
Over the final five minutes of the first half, Minnesota United began to ramp up their attack, clearly hoping for an opportunity to go into halftime up a goal. In the 45th minute, a savvy Emanuel Reynoso cut in deep in Nashville’s half and stole a throw-in, finding himself near the endline with possession before sending in a cross that couldn’t find a target. The first half ended with Finlay sending in his own cross from the right wing, finding Dibassy who unleashed a hard flat shot that went high. The teams headed into the tunnel deadlocked at 0-0.
In the second half, the visitors showed more desire to disrupt the home side, leading to more possession for Minnesota and more opportunities for counterattack for the home side. Minnesota racked up the opportunities with crosses and off of set pieces but found it difficult to get that final ball to make the difference. In the 65th minute, the Loons got their best opportunity of the night up to that point when a short breakaway led to getting a decent look for a hard-charging Finlay, who attempted a chip shot over Willis. Nashville’s keeper, though, read the play well and stopped the chip before it could get very far off the ground.
In the 71st minute, forward Aaron Schoenfeld made way for Kei Kamara and then two minutes later, NSC got their best look of the game up to that point when substitute Alan Winn stayed onside on an outlet pass while the MNUFC backline looked for a call. Winn, though, whiffed on the shot and hit the ground, luckily for the visitors.
Down the stretch, Minnesota couldn’t make anything of the game despite a strong attack that generated opportunities. On the other side of the ball, the backline and the midfield — missing both Osvaldo Alonso and Jan Gregus — did well to limit Nashville and St. Clair cleaned up anything they couldn’t handle. The teams ultimately split the points in a scoreless draw.
ADRIAN HEATH ON THREE CLEAN SHEETS IN A ROW
"We haven’t shot ourselves in the foot. You’ve heard me say it before, about beating ourselves, we haven’t done that. Although, the first 10 minutes, we tried our best to keep turning the ball over cheaply in our defensive third. Once we eradicated that, we looked really, really solid. Really good shape defensively. And, as always happens on the road, our goalkeeper came up with one great save in the first half. And I don’t use that word lightly. Standing behind [Alex] Muyl, it’s an unbelievable save. Only somebody this size and length, would get to it. Another great night for the kid."
ETHAN FINLAY ON WHAT WAS MISSING
"It’s clear. We weren’t sharp in the final third – the last pass, the last shot, some of that decision making, hand up. If I go to chip Joe Willis there, and you look silly if he stands up and you look like a genius, like Messi, if he goes down. You know, you make a decision in that moment and that was the decision I made. I’ll look at it, I’ll go back analyze and see what I could have done a little bit differently … but I’ll take a lot of positives from tonight. We got into some great spots, Kevin had a great chance in the first half and give credit to Daniel Lovitz making a great play coming back, but those little moments where I thought maybe we just weren’t quite sharp enough and you look at the two guys who had those pretty good chances and these are two guys that are coming off of injuries. So, while Kevin and I definitely expect to be better in those moments, I think there’s some understanding, a little bit of patience, knowing we are coming back from injury and getting that sharpness. But, a lot of positives from the chances created tonight and I thought how we executed in the second half was awesome. We had a game plan, we figured them out, a little bit, I thought late in the first half and then coming out in the second half we had a clearer idea of how we wanted to play offensively and defensively and I think we’ve had one of our better 45 minutes on the road that at least I’ve been a part of."
BELL BANK MAN OF THE MATCH
Mr. Ethan Finlay is your MOTM. pic.twitter.com/MeQuNgR9YR— Minnesota United FC (@MNUFC) October 7, 2020
FC DALLAS vs. MINNESOTA UNITED
Toyota Stadium | Frisco, Texas
10.11.2020 | MLS Week No. 17 | MLS Game No. 17
7:30 p.m. CT (FOX Sports North, FOX Sports GO, MNUFC Radio on SKOR North)