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Recap: Loons bested by San Jose in tight affair

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Minnesota’s lackadaisical offensive effort left the team unable to claw back from a 1-0 deficit.

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Minnesota United FC Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota United’s two-game point streak came to an end on Saturday night as they were bested by the San Jose Earthquakes by the score of 1-0. The Loons were unable to capitalize on their pair of solid scoring opportunities and ultimately sent the 17,605 in attendance home without a result. San Jose’s road victory today was the team’s first since August 12th of last year.

Loons manager Adrian Heath opted to deploy the same starting eleven that had secured a 1-0 win over Colorado last Sunday. The recent consistency in team selection is an encouraging sign for Minnesota moving forward as the first handful of games this season featured a rotating cast of characters that failed to gel and get results on the pitch.

The first fifteen minutes of the game were mostly uneventful until the 13th minute when San Jose right back Cordell Cato found himself just outside of the box and unleashed a curling left-footed shot that smacked the bar and stayed out of the net. Cato normally plays as a wide midfielder but was called upon to start on the Earthquakes backline and nearly gave the team an early lead. San Jose managed to possess the ball 65 percent of the time in the opening fifteen minutes, which was not an encouraging sign for the Loons.

After the early scare, Minnesota United was able to settle into the flow of the game and start mounting attacking runs. Ibson and Kevin Molino looked particularly up to the task as they combined on a few different occasions to get the ball into space. The Loons increased attacking movement didn’t amount to much, however, as the team was unable to test Bingham with a shot on target in the first 30 minutes of the game.

Things really started to heat up for the Loons in the 41st minute when they were able to get the ball into San Jose’s box through some clever quick passing from Ibson and Christian Ramirez. Ramirez put the ball into space for Kevin Molino, who went down after a challenge from Bernardez but a penalty was not given. The ball ended up on the foot of Christian Ramirez, whose shot was blocked by Cordell Cato. Perhaps on another day it may have been called a penalty, and manager Adrian Heath certainly believed it to be one, but it ultimately was not to be. Both sides went into the half without scoring, which stretched Minnesota’s streak of play without conceding a goal to four consecutive halves.

San Jose came out strong in the second half and they had a great opportunity in the 52nd minute when Jahmir Hyka’s touchline cross found Chris Wondolowski in the box. Wondo’s header was turned on frame and saved by Bobby Shuttleworth. Two minutes later the Quakes were awarded a corner kick and ended up scoring when Florian Jungwirth got on the end of a pass and put the ball in the back of the net. Minnesota United looked sluggish early in the half and their marking on the corner kick was uninspiring and San Jose took full advantage. Both Francisco Calvo and Sam Cronin were caught ball-watching as the pass found its way to Jungwirth’s feet.

The Quakes looked destined to extend their lead to two goals in the 63rd minute when Hyka slipped a clever ball into Marco Urena, whose shot forced a nice save by Shuttleworth. The Loons keeper was nearly called upon again immediately after but Danny Hoesen’s follow-up effort was dragged just wide. Shuttleworth continued to demonstrate his excellent form tonight on multiple occasions, and after tonight’s game, there should be little doubt that he belongs as the team’s starting keeper for the rest of the season.

Manager Adrian Heath decided to make a substitution in the 64th minute, bringing on rookie Abu Danladi for Johan Venegas. Tonight’s game was one to forget for the Costa Rican international, who failed to have a positive impact on the Loons attack. Danladi made an immediate impact as he was able to get a shot on target shortly after coming on but Quakes keeper David Bingham was up to the task and stopped the shot.

Minnesota United nearly equalized off of a corner kick in the 75th minute as Francisco Calvo made a fantastic individual effort to put a shot on net. Calvo hit an athletic sidewinding shot off of a Marc Burch flick-on that seemed destined for the back of the net but it was ultimately headed off the line by Kofi Sarkodie. Shortly after, Adrian Heath decided to make his second substitution as Ismaila Jome made his MLS debut for the team in the 79th minute when he came on for Kevin Molino. The 22-year-old made nine appearances for the Loons in the 2016 NASL campaign.

Francisco Calvo continued to be a nuisance on attacking set pieces for the Loons as he was able to get on the end of a corner in the 85th minute. His header attempt from inside the box was extremely close to tying the game at one apiece but his shot deflected off the bar and out. Calvo was then called upon on defense in a big spot in the 89th minute and was able to single-handedly thwart a promising San Jose counter-attack.

Minnesota was unable to mount any significant offense in the dying throes of the match, and the Loons fell to the Quakes 1-0. They will undoubtedly be frustrated with the result as they defended well in open play and had a couple of great scoring chances late in the game. Their attacking play was not up to the standard that we have come to expect from the likes of Molino, Venegas, and Ramirez as the team has now scored just once in their last two contests. This is a complete 180 from where they were in the beginning of the year where the offense looked stellar and the defense was a sieve.

There are undoubtedly plenty of things for Adrian Heath’s squad to work on before their upcoming tilt with Sporting KC. Both of Minnesota’s bona fide scoring chances came off of set pieces and not open play attacking movements. Hopefully, the team will be able to put together a more creative attack in their upcoming games.

Despite the loss, there were a few standout performances for Minnesota. Keeper Bobby Shuttleworth has been on an absolute tear since winning the starting job, and he impressed again Saturday by saving five out of his six shots faced. Francisco Calvo continues to be the rock around which this team is built as he made a number of important clearances and came inches away from scoring two goals off of set pieces. Second half substitutes Abu Danladi and Ish Jome both brought something unique to the table and their fresh legs pushed the Loons attack forward when it looked like they were sputtering in the second half. Perhaps Danladi’s run-out today will be enough to see him start in a second striker role with Christian Ramirez. We’ll see how Heath elects to deploy him but it’s clear that he has something special and a knack for getting into tricky spots.

After the game, Adrian Heath told Jamie Watson, “You pick yourselves up and go again.” They’ll go again on May 7th against a talented Sporting Kansas City team, who came into today’s action with 12 points from seven games played.