Minnesota United welcomed international competition to Allianz Field for the first time on Wednesday, losing a spirited friendly 1-0 against German Bundesliga side Hertha Berlin in front of a near-sellout crowd of 18,704. The changed atmosphere without points at stake allowed for the Loons to try out a number of different looks, with young players like Hassani Dotson and Dayne St. Clair getting the headlines for their strong play.
Surprising few, Adrian Heath started a heavily rotated squad, returning only three starters from Saturday’s win against Columbus. Abu Danladi was given the start at striker, with Miguel Ibarra returning to the left back position to start the game. Lawrence Olum and Dayne St. Clair saw their Loons debuts, with Collin Martin and Mason Toye joining Wyatt Omsberg in getting returns from loans for the game.
Hertha, for their part, came out of the gates in fairly robust fashion: eight of their starters in their Bundesliga closer against Bayer Leverkusen made the start, most notably Slovakia international (and Jan Gregus’s teammate) Ondrej Duda and former Chelsea and Lille winger Salomon Kalou. The game marked their first match after the departure of coach Pal Dardai at the end of the Bundesliga season, and was their first stop on their Tear Down The Walls tour commemorating the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The Loons’ youngsters in particular acquitted themselves well early on. Dayne St. Clair made some solid saves—namely on a fizzing shot by Liverpool loanee Marko Grujic—while Hassani Dotson used his right back spot to keep the veteran Kalou at bay. For the most part, the Loons held their ground throughout the opening half, conceding shots but limiting the damage in the first 40 minutes to missed half chances.
Things ultimately went south with five minutes left in the first half, however. Kevin Molino walked off with a thigh knock in the 41st minute—after the game, Adrian Heath described his departure as a precaution—and with the team holding a sub for halftime, St. Clair’s fluffed parry of Ondrej Duda’s shot from outside the box found the foot of Hertha right back Peter Pekarik for the opening goal. St. Clair admitted after the game that it was a mistake to have missed the catch.
The two sides made competing plans for reinforcements as the second half started, with the Loons bringing in usual starters Darwin Quintero, Jan Gregus and Brent Kallman on to bolster their case with the visitors taking off five starters. The team’s four loanees ultimately saw the game out, with Dotson and Collin Martin playing at left and right back in the second half and Mason Toye switching from the right wing to striker as Abu Danladi was taken off.
Minnesota gave Hertha a run for its money consistently in the second half, a task made easier as second half substitute Florian Baak was taken off with an apparent head injury after the visitors had exhausted their bench. The additions of Quintero and Ethan Finlay in particular gave the Loons more bite going forward, with the pair setting up numerous solid runs with Toye that threatened Hertha’s rotated back line.
The changes certainly resulted in a more efficient attack in the second half; while only taking 38% of the possession, Minnesota outshot their visitors 7-6 in the second half, getting three of their five shots on target and five of their seven corners for the game after the break. Despite that pressure, however, Minnesota was always close but not quite as they looked for their breakthrough goal. Their efforts in crossing from the right couldn’t crack the first defender and their moves to the left all but dried up after the halftime removal of Miguel Ibarra, and ultimately the Loons fell to the visitors.
Nonetheless, the game provided a look at a number of players that had been on the periphery of the team’s plans. Veteran signing Lawrence Olum went the full 90 minutes, as did four of the club’s five loanees to USL clubs. While Hassani Dotson has stayed with the team throughout the season so far, Wednesday night was his first chance to start and finish a full match, gaining plaudits for his skill in shutting down a set of talented attackers on the flank and in the middle. Minnesota’s scoring woes continued, but the break from regular MLS action provided ample excitement and opportunity for the fringes of the squad.