Minnesota United traveled to Houston to take on the Dynamo in the quarterfinals of the 2018 U.S. Open Cup this evening. The squad made it this far courtesy of some goalkeeping heroism by Bobby Shuttleworth in the previous round against FC Cincinnati during a penalty shootout. The Loons advanced on penalties after three saves by the big man between the sticks. On the opposing end, Houston qualified for the quarterfinals after a convincing 5-0 win against amateur side and Cinderella story, North Texas Rayados. In their previous meeting this season in MLS, Minnesota took home all three points after a 2-1 victory at home against the Dynamo. That game was also the game where Ibson scored THAT goal. The Brazilian's cheeky back heel was the eventual winner for the Loons, and he earned a solid, much needed, three points.
Adrian Heath rolled out with what was a normal starting XI, minus the absence of injured Eric Miller and midfielder Ibson. Ibson’s absence may have been noteworthy, but at his age, leaving him out made sense.
The 4-3-3 has been Heath’s second favorite formation on the year, and this squad fulfilled its duties fairly well despite their being no true #6 on the squad. Colin Martin was playing an attacking mid role while switching to wing with Darwin Quintero throughout the first half. The two moved back and forth frequently and it proved to be a good combo, with Quintero sending Martin on a near go-ahead long-ball goal, but Martin couldn't settle the ball quick enough to get a foot on it. The first half was fairly bland on both sides, but the Loons had the better of chances. A few good runs from Christian Ramirez saw attacking flanks penetrate the 18 yard box on Houston’s end multiple times, but the finish in the final third never came for either side. The main talking points of the first half were how empty the stadium for Houston was and how amazing Darwin Quintero was. The Colombian was everywhere for the Loons, creating nearly every opportunity for Minnesota as well as tracking back defensively on nearly every occasion. The designated player was definitely man of the match material just based on his first half performance.
The first half did not provide much action for either side, but you know, it is the Open Cup. The tournament of optimism and hope, anything can happen. Literally... anything (yes, we are looking at you Christos FC). The second half came quickly, as did Houston’s opening goal. Three minutes in off of a corner kick, Mauro Manotas slotted a header right through the hands of an off-balance Bobby Shuttleworth. The three hundred fans or so in BBVA Compass Stadium applauded—though it couldn’t be heard—and the game continued. For the next 40 minutes, the Loons straight up dominated. Possession, shots, passing and even tackles. Everything was in our favor, except for one thing. I’ll get to that one thing in a bit, but lets finish recapping this mess. Adrian Heath made three changes in the second half, and all three came before the 75th minute. Frantz Pangop, Alexi Gomez and Mason Toye all came onto the pitch, while Pangop replaces Martin, Gomez for Manley and Toye for Ramirez. All were like-for-like switches, but man oh man did those three have a rough time integrating into the match. Gomez has been the most out-of-sync player on the Loons roster for the past month, and it’s no surprise to see that he is rumored to be ending his loan here in favor of a move to Brazil; he just does not fit this playing style. Mason Toye on the other hand, he has so much potential but before anything the kid needs a loan. He needs playing time desperately, his first touch is out of sync and he can’t seem to synchronize with the technicalities Ibarra and Quintero bring up top. Pangop brought some pace and a few decent crosses, but they were accompanied by some awful first touches and a few passes to the opposing side. He is another player who is in need of more playing time; he has not adapted to MLS at all yet. The three subs created chances, but were they good? Not really. You could say that Mason Toye was denied a penalty, but the footage is from a far distance and the ref wasn’t even paying attention. Judge for yourself:
That play came in the 78th minute, and it highlighted Mason Toye’s run tonight. The kid just couldn’t adapt to the match quick enough and it was visibly noticeable by his first touch and through his attempts at communicating with body positioning. The highlight of the second half for the Loons came with about 4 minutes left in the match - Miguel Ibarra was thrown to the ground mid-air in the box off of a set piece and he earned the Loons a penalty and a chance to gain a late equalizer. Minnesota’s Designated Player and man of the match, Darwin Quintero, stepped up to the plate with the game on the line. The result? Well, watch for yourself.
Here's the penalty miss from Quintero. Still 1-0 Houston. pic.twitter.com/k2fujucP2x— David Naylor (@ProfCedar) June 19, 2018
Quintero smashed it off the post, compromising an otherwise decent game from the Colombian. The missed penalty was the final set of action for the Loons and after the ball went off the post the effort level fell even more than it already was at.
This was an embarrassing result and this squad should not be holding their heads high tonight. I get that the team is without a starting CB in Calvo and without fullbacks Eric Miller and Jerome Thiesson along with Ibson, but their positions were not the problem tonight. The defense played fine for the most part, and that covers three of the four missing players. Ibson is a game changer, yeah, but even with Ibson the result would not have changed. The effort level tonight was a near record low, it felt as if we were watching March 2017 Minnesota United, and that is not a team anybody would like to be compared to. The Loons dominated the stat sheet tonight in every favorable category, yet they lacked the one thing every squad needs in order to secure a win on any given day: the want to win. The only exceptions to this would be first half Collin Martin and Darwin Quintero; they played sublimely together and I truly think that could be a combo going forward. This squad does not seem to have faith in their system, their coach and their teammates. They just seemed to give up, and it was heartbreaking to watch. The effort level was nonexistent at times and it was almost as if they didn’t want to win. Every team goes into a match wanting to win, but throughout the match they seemed to lose every ounce of determination and motivation. Of course there were sparks here and there, but sparks are not goals. Sparks are opportunities and we did not finish a single one of them tonight. Chance after chance for this squad to go up against a practical B team from Houston and they didn’t; that’s embarrassing. Alberth Elis didn’t even start the match, their best player, was on the bench. They brought Alberth Elis off the bench while we brought Mason Toye—and that says plenty.
What I am getting with all of this is how it all correlates and relates back to a concept, with that concept being the technical staff of Minnesota United. I am specifically referring to head coach Adrian Heath and sporting director Manny Lagos. As a head coach, it is your job to lead your team and guide them to success; it is the reason you are hired in the first place. This is Heath’s third embarrassing loss this season and by now he should realize that his system is not working. A head coach needs to hype his players up, tell them at halftime that they need to get out there and win this match. Maybe he did that, maybe he attempted to, but what he said obviously did not work. The second half from Minnesota was sloppy, uncoordinated Sunday league soccer. Lagos would be partially at fault too. The current roster players for Minnesota are not good enough to compete in this league. The starting XI for Minnesota rolls out weekly can compete, but depth hasn’t been proven. The two Cameroonian signings were hyped up in the offseason, but Owundi has seen the bench one time this season and Pangop hasn’t had enough match time to be evaluated. The signing of Darwin Quintero was magnificent, though arguably much later than it should have been. When will there be more like him? There are so many unanswered questions for Minnesota United. Orlando City sacked their head coach Jason Kreis, the manager who took over for Heath, last week. The hot seat is officially here for Heath.
The Loons return to action this Saturday on the road against the Colorado Rapids where both squads Unified teams will also meet post-match in a night to remember. If you have any thoughts about tonight's match, hit the comments section.