Wednesday night’s game against Hertha Berlin gave Minnesota United fans and coaches an extended look at a number of players on the fringes of the first team. Of the six players that played the full 90 minutes in the game—Dayne St. Clair, Hassani Dotson, Lawrence Olum, Mason Toye, Wyatt Omsberg, and Collin Martin—only Dotson has seen competitive minutes for the Loons so far this year, getting a quartet of late substitute appearances. For the most part, players took their chances well to work their way into the team.
“I thought some of our younger players did excellent,” head coach Adrian Heath said after the game, highlighting Dotson and Omsberg’s performances against stronger competition from the Bundesliga side. “It was good for them just to get some football. It’s a challenge when you don’t have reserve team football—it’s something that we’ve spoke about in the past—and I think you can tell Wyatt’s benefited from playing more games than the rest, which is obviously the beauty of having the Madison situation.”
The importance of game play hasn’t been lost on rookies Dotson and St. Clair. “Being a rookie, there’s always places you can learn from,” St. Clair said, “and it’s just applying that every day is going to help in the long run... Game experience is important at a young age, and whenever I can get games is important for me in my development.” Dotson, meanwhile, has taken Heath’s comments to heart in the search for more playing time: “Keep focus, keep trying to improve, and when the opportunity comes, take it. That’s all you can do.”
The Stars Weren’t In Minnesota’s Eyes
Hertha Berlin broke up some of the routine that falls on a squad in the middle of an MLS slog, forcing players into different challenges. “The biggest difference you will always find when you go higher up in the ladder, their decision making in crucial times is very good,” Adrian Heath said, “and when they go they go full on with athleticism. They’re generally bigger, they’re generally quicker, they’re generally stronger, and that’s why they play at the level that they’re at. So it was a good learning experience for a lot of our players this evening.”
Hassani Dotson in particular shone in the first half against longtime Ivory Coast international Salomon Kalou, limiting his crossing chances repeatedly through the first half hour and eventually forcing the winger to try to cut to the inside. The occasion wasn’t fully lost on Dotson, who got a chance to mark a former star of his boyhood club. “I didn’t realize I was going to be marking him before the match,” Dotson said, “but I’m a big Chelsea fan since growing up. During the game you don’t think about it, but after the game you take a moment to appreciate it.”
On St. Clair’s Big Mistake
Hertha Berlin’s lone goal of the game came in the 43rd minute. Slovak international Ondrej Duda hammered a shot from outside the box, forcing Dayne St. Clair to parry a save into the path of the waiting right back Peter Pekarik. Needless to say, the shot was at the top of St. Clair’s mind after the game.
Duda’s shot “had a little movement,” St. Clair admitted. “Obviously I wanted to push it a little wider than it happened. It kind of caught me in a need to either catch it or push it wide.” The rookie pointed out that mistake first and foremost in the lessons he planned to take from his performance, citing it in the need to “be a little bit cleaner in every aspect” and take greater control in the game.
That didn’t keep Adrian Heath from plying the 22-year old with praise. “I like him a lot. I think the kid’s got a huge chance... He made big saves, looked competent, made good decisions, kicking was good. The odd little mistake for a young kid who’s in the infancy of his career, but he showed a lot of promise.”
Molino’s Inopportune Injury
It’s not an international friendly without an injury coming to a suddenly important player. Sure enough, Kevin Molino took a precautionary walk-off in the 41st minute due to a hamstring problem. “He just said that he felt tight, but he didn’t want to push it further for obvious reasons,” Adrian Heath said afterward. “You know, it’s why players need games. Once you hit that period of inactivity, it’s very difficult once you get into the cut and thrust of it.”
While the team planned to check on his fitness Thursday, Heath openly admitted the injury damages their depth on the left wing in light of Romario Ibarra’s loan move to Liga MX side Pachuca on Tuesday. “We are [short at the position], but there’s never a perfect time to make decisions when people want people. You have to make that decision then and there, and sometimes they come at the wrong time.” The depth issues have been exacerbated by rookie left back Chase Gasper’s recurring hamstring problems, as well as knocks to Eric Miller (quadriceps) and Ike Opara (knee) that kept them from being risked Wednesday.
The possible injury spell was a concern for Heath, who had pointed to Molino as someone to step up following Romario’s departure. “I saw enough in Kevin last week and even in spells in the first half today, he’s getting back to something like he was,” Heath said, “so the last thing we need now is for him to not be available for a few weeks. Not just because we’re going to miss him, because you know it’ll be a blow for him. He’s just started to getting to looking like his old self again.”
Collin Martin’s Route Back to the First Team
Logistical reasons have made it so Collin Martin has spent most of his time in Connecticut since being loaned out to USL Championship club Hartford Athletic. That meant the midfielder—who says he logged his first ever minutes at right back in the second half—has missed out on some changes to his parent club. “I didn’t get to say goodbye to Francisco [Calvo],” Martin said, “I heard about Romario yesterday, he was saying his goodbyes the day before I got here. So yeah, it has been different.”
That doesn’t mean his move hasn’t been positive. “I went on loan to be ready for when I get my chance,” Martin said, explaining why he worked with the team on a loan move. “Before, maybe physically, I haven’t been ready when I’ve gotten my chance. In previous years it’s taken me a game or two to get ready.”
Heath concurred about Martin’s need for minutes. “What do we do? Do we keep him in and around us or do we try to get him games so when we do need him? He proved in the first half today he’s a good footballer, but he’ll be the first to say, and he just said it, he’s thankful to have that 90 minutes over the last few weeks playing. So we’ll assess Collin’s situation, as everybody, when we sit down and figure out what we’ve got and what we haven’t got for the next week or two, ten days. Obviously we’ve got games coming up, Open Cup, etc.”
That falls in line with what Martin described as the “schedule” that the team keeps with him. The midfielder said that he has tentative plans for the next six weeks of matches split between Minnesota and Hartford, with a return to first-team contention plotted out for June 2’s game against Philadelphia. “It’ll give a better base when I’m here permanently. I know it’s announced as a season long loan but I’ll be here eventually for the rest of the season.”