What do you do when you have a player too inexperienced enough to start every game, but talented enough to be called into youth national team camps. Only scores bangers and is on the Olympic qualifying roster, but isn’t the best on the roster in any one position. That’s the struggle that Minnesota United has with Hassani Dotson.
The second round draft pick found himself starved of minutes early in the year, coming off the bench four times in the first 12 games of the year for a total of 15 minutes. He had to wait until the May 26th match against Houston for his first start, at left back of all places. Chase Gasper’s injury delayed his debut and the defensive cover was in short supply with Miguel Ibarra deputizing at left back in the previous match. The Loons won 1-0 and Dotson found his groove, starting the next five matches as well, all on the back line. The Loons went 3-3 in that stretch.
Dotson’s first start in midfield came came in the therapeutic 4-1 Open Cup victory over Sporting KC. He notched his first assist of the season with a through ball to Ethan Finlay and could have had a second if his well weighted diagonal to Finlay in the opening minutes of the match had yielded the same result. His midfield debut in MLS came about a month later and he rotated between the bench, defense, and midfield as the season came to a close.
Despite all his hard work, versatility, promise, goals, assists, and everything he contributed in 2019, nothing was more important and more memorable than his 90th minute winner against Sporting KC to clinch the Loons’ first appearance in the playoffs. After playing the ball back to Ozzie Alonso, the second half substitute dropped his shoulder not once, but twice before sending the ball into the bottom right corner, courtesy of a deflection from the backside of Botand Barath.
Sooner rather the later, the Loons will come to depend on Hassani Dotson as a starter. He won’t start over Romain Metanaire at right back, nor Chase Gasper at left back. He doesn’t have the passing range of Gregus, nor the guile of Alonso. Should a certain South American maestro don the wing kit this season, he would undoubtedly take up the number 10 position over Dotson as well. So where does that leave him?
Of the 40 matches with meaning the Loons played last season, 34 were regular season, five were Open Cup, and one was a playoff match. Dotson’s positions were almost exactly even between substitution appearances(10), midfield starter(10), defensive starter(9), and not appearing(11).
In his ten substitute appearances, the Loons were an incredible 9-0-1. That seven of those ten appearance were 13 or less minutes, but in all but two cases the score was within one goal, so it’s not like he was a garbage time sub just used to waste the clock. Dotson as a sub resulting in a total points per game over those ten games of 2.8. This is a fairly small sample size, especially given that he only directly changed the game once and his longest appearance was 29 minutes.
His record in the other three positions isn’t quite as stellar, but the glaring result when he didn’t get on the field. In those 11 games, the Loons finished 2-5-4. This set includes the home playoff loss against LA as well.
His record as a midfielder was 3-4-3 in ten games and 5-4-0 in nine games as a defender for 1.2 and 1.7 points per game respectively. Overall, the Loons’ points per game for the 40 games was just under 1.6, so the only time the Loons were significantly less successful was when he didn’t play at all.
Production wise, his four goals have predominantly come from defense. Three of his four goals have come from defense, with the fourth coming from his substitute appearance against SKC. His two assists were split with one from defense and one from midfield. His position in midfield was somewhat deeper on offense than it was as a defender. Filling in for Metanaire who played a large role in the crossing game, Dotson could get higher up the field where he could unless shots on target with impressive efficiency.
This should be read that Dotson is necessarily causing wins or losses directly. In matches in which he was subbed on he was there to hold a result. In matches where he wasn’t subbed on, a striker was preferred to change the game, a skillset outside of his own. What he is is trustworthy, reliable, and versatile, and those are the things that get a player on the field and get points in the standings.
The thing that saves Dotson is the same thing that hurt him in the first place. He isn’t the best in any position so he can’t force anyone out of the lineup on his own, but he is so high up the depth chart in so many other positions that he is the perfect 12th man. Performances and other advanced statistics aside, the Loons need to be getting Dotson on the field. As far as his best position, he doesn’t have one, he’s just gotta play.