Hope. For the first time in a while the Loons felt like they had hope in a road game. This wasn’t “Lets scrape out a point” or “We’ll be lucky to get a late equalizer.” The Loons had their hands on three points, albeit briefly. There were spells in the match where they were the better team and spells where they knew what they were doing. Those didn’t last and DC capitalized on two mistake from rookie Carter Manley to take all three points.
In the first 10 minutes the Loons looked good. Like, “playing at home” good. They were pressing high and the midfield looked stable for once. Fernando Bob had the positional sense of a true #6, Maximiano, freed from his defensive duty shackles, looked passable, and Darwin was able to float free underneath Angelo. Marc Burch and Jerry got their first starts in a while, as did Wyatt Omsberg. Kallman was again the anchor of the back four with Calvo out with Costa Rica/Suspended and Boxall also suspended.
The Loons dominance, however wouldn’t last, but they weren’t overrun. Luciano Acosta and Wayne Rooney were a very smooth together, with several 1-2s causing the Loons problems. The thing that really helped the Loons was getting more numbers in front of Rooney so he couldn’t give Acosta a clean ball back. Rooney either had to lift the ball and Acosta was left with awkward shots or the ball was played short of the backline and Omsberg, Kallman, and Fernando Bob could step up and win the ball on the front foot, rather than running back towards their goal.
Both teams had decent chances in the first half, and while both teams could have gone in leading, neither took the game by the scruff of the neck. The Loons best effort came on a curler from Darwin, and the best chance for DC came on a fierce drive the was easily parried by Bobby. The Loons did lose Jerry after a collision with Wyatt Omsberg when they both attempted to clear a low cross at the near post. This was Jerry’s first game back since the 1-1 draw with Sporting KC in May. He was replaced by Carter Manley, temporarily back from his loan with the Las Vegas Lights.
The second half started about as well as MNUFC could have hoped. Heath made a bit of a tweak to the lineup and the Loons looked faster on the counter. After a turnover in the midfielder, the ball was at the feet of Quintero and he was flanked by Angelo and Danladi. This was a look that the Loons saw very often as the game opened up. This time Darwin fed Angelo and he worked a half-yard of space before ripping a shot that was saved by Hamid. Angelo was first on the rebound and tucked in his first goal of the year. He found himself 1 on 1 on the left side of the box several more times in this game and took a couple shots from bad angles or didn’t pull the trigger fast enough to get a clean sight of goal. His first goal will do him a world of good, but a few more high percentage shots would help him boost his conversion rate as well.
After the goal, DC, who actually has a shot at the playoffs, took off a centerback in favor of a center forward. Chris Durkin dropped deeper for extra cover, and Darren Mattocks pushed up as high as he could. There was more space in the midfield and in front of the DC backline if the Loons could capitalize on it, but for a team that has never been known for possessing or countering well, this wasn’t as easy as it sounded.
The first goal came on a low ball into the box that was missed by the normally sure-footed Rooney. The ball instead fell to Ulises Segura who rolled Manley and bounced a dribbler off of Manley’s ankle and past Shuttleworth. Manley doesn’t necessarily do anything wrong here; Segura gets less than half a year and swings blindly at goal. The thing that Manley could have focused on was stopping that half roll before it starts. Segura’s shot was left footed and Manley clings to Segura’s right foot, with Kallman there for support. Kallman was about half a yard away when the shot was taken, close enough to get a foot in. Since he was on Manley’s blind side, Manley had no way of knowing cover was there and didn’t push Segura away from goal. This kind of thing would be something that chemistry would fix in the future, but in the present it let DC back into a game that the Loons should have been ready to put away.
The second goal came from a hopefully ball over the top that ended up at the feet of left back Joseph Mora. After tussling with Manley, Manley lost his footing and Mora strolled in on goal from the end line, the same kind of area Quintero and Angelo had gotten into in the first half but were unable to capitalize on. Mora slided the ball back across the six to an onrushing Mattocks who blasts into an empty net. Burch had been track Mattocks, but slides way too early and can’t get close to Mora’s pass, and Shuttleworth, in an attempt to cut off the angle, had advanced several steps past his post and couldn’t recover. Usually Bobby’s aggression is a good thing, but this time it took him out of position and gave Mattocks a bigger target.
Five minutes later the Loons made their final substitutions of the match, bringing on Ibson and Pangop for Danladi and Fernando Bob. Bob was looking a little leggy towards the end and Danladi was adjusting to a new position. For his part, Bob looks like he could bring the midfield stability the Loons need, but it’ll take some time to figure out the best team to put around him. Angelo still looks like he’s the end of the attack, not part of it. When the ball gets to his feet, there’s going to be a shot, not a pass. He’s shown the ability to create his own shot, but it may not always he the best shot.
At the end of the day, the Loons can take a lot of positive things into the next match in Salt Lake. For an away match, they looked good, but they continue to beat themselves by giving up goals that are preventable. The next game is in three days and if they want anything more than good vibes from their Utah trip they will need more goals and more focus.