Saturday was a beautiful afternoon for a Minnesota matinee, but just over three minutes of play in the second half marred the image as Minnesota United FC gave up three goals and eventually all three points to FC Dallas.
After a 3-0 loss (with a heavy personnel rotation) away to Real Salt Lake on Wednesday, MNUFC head coach Adrian Heath reverted to his preferred lineup. The attacking front four of Luis Amarilla, Franco Fragapane, Emanuel Reynoso, and Bongokuhle Hlongwane, looked ready to go; the Wil Trapp-Robin Lod midfield pairing was restored; and Kemar Lawrence returned to his leftback role, opposite DJ Taylor. Dayne St. Clair started despite a finger dislocation that saw him leave the RSL match early.
FC Dallas featured some faces familiar to Minnesota fans. All-Star Jesus Ferreira, Paul Arriola, Paxton Pomykal, and Sebastian Lletget, all created the trouble from the start were key to what Heath described as “five minutes of madness.”
The first half featured a lot of passing play in the midfield, a nice change from the box-to-box foot races that have been common this season. Minnesota ceded more than 60 percent possession to Dallas but seemed to make the most use of the time they had the ball, feeling out the open space. Unfortunately, much of those plays went through Reynoso which the visitors certainly expected — He was targeted quickly and double-teamed every time he got the ball in Dallas’ half. Reynoso’s 12th minute shot confirmed the danger of letting him have the ball:
In the 13th minute, Lod got the ball on the counter and sent it forward to Fragapane. Fragapane served it up to Reynoso who managed to juke two defenders before ultimately being dispossessed. The squad pulled together a few of these plays through the first half, but all ended with either a turnover or a poor shot sent wide of goal.
Dallas worked similarly through the midfield and Minnesota had to do lots of one on one defending. Brent Kallman, playing at centerback in the absence of Bakaye Dibassy, was often tasked with Arriola and each gave as good as they received.
While scoreless at halftime, Minnesota faced an uphill climb. Fragapane, who Heath rested on Wednesday in part to defray his yellow card accumulation, was shown a yellow card in just the 19th minute meaning he would be suspended for next weekend’s trip to Portland. Further, the targeting of Reynoso took its toll. He was limping in the 23rd after making a run into Dallas’ 18 yard box and went down again in the 45th. He stayed down as play continued and eventually removed himself from the pitch and received treatment on the sideline as added time wound down.
Both players returned in the second half, but it was Dallas that found the breakthrough. In an attempt to prevent a cross from falling to Jesus Ferreira in the 55th minute, Michael Boxall attempted to tap the ball wide of the post but mishit it and sent it into his own net.
We'll take it! An own-goal gets us on the board. pic.twitter.com/QHRBlag79N— FC Dallas (@FCDallas) September 3, 2022
Less than two minutes later Velasco added to the tally, taking advantage of space created by Pomykal and Lletget all crashing into the Loons’ third at once. Kallman was caught ball watching on this one, leaving Velasco unmarked.
Dallas was up 2-0 in the 56th and continued the pressure. Ferreira once again got behind Minnesota’s defense in the 58th as Lletget sent a cross over a handful of blue jerseys. Ferreira’s header got past a diving St. Clair and a 0-0 game turned into a 3-0 deficit for the Loons in mere minutes.
THREE GOALS IN FOUR MINUTES!— FC Dallas (@FCDallas) September 3, 2022
Jesús Ferreira with his 16th of the season. pic.twitter.com/2812qoIdpT
Asked about the difficulty of containing a side with multiple strong attackers, Boxall said,
St. Clair described the three goals as “obviously not ideal,” but said he still thought his side had a chance with more than a half hour to play.
“I think after a goal goes in you try to reset and try to keep your team in for the rest of the game and even after the third goal, I thought we had a chance to come back. I trust in our attack but unfortunately it didn’t go like that today.”
While the Loons outshot Dallas 15 to 10, they managed only two shots on target and hardly looked threatening in any of their eight cornerkicks. The afternoon took another turn when Fragapane talked himself into a second yellow in the 69th minute. The Loons had to play the remaining twenty minutes with only ten men — and will be without Fragapane for an additional match. Heath made a flurry of subs in the following ten minutes. (In fact, he used all five available subs in just 15 minutes, beginning with Mender García for Reynoso in the 62nd.)
Only one substitute was a defensive choice (Alan Benítez replaced Lawrence in the 70th), with the damage of three goals already done. In the 77th minute, Jonathan González, Joseph Rosales and Kervin Arriaga entered for Trapp, Hlongwane and Lod, respectively. Benítez, Rosales and Arriaga all added to the Loons’ shot total, but poor finishing made Paes’ job easy. Dallas’ Nico Estévez made his five subs between the 78th and 83rd minutes and, along with some cramping on the part of remaining starters, masterfully worked the clock to hold Minnesota’s attack scoreless.
The performance was the lowest point yet of the season, and not just on the pitch. Many fans who, like St. Clair, usually trust the Loons’ attack to put on a show of effort even when trailing late, began to leave the stadium a full ten minutes before the final whistle. Even the Wonderwall, which usually remains around half-full until the players are off the pitch, emptied quickly.
While he was “relatively pleased at halftime,” Heath’s thoughts on the second half all boiled down to those “five minutes of madness.”
With three points on Saturday, Dallas moved into third place with 46 points, bumping Minnesota down to fifth with 44 points (Nashville moved into fourth with 45 points with a win against Austin late Saturday night). There’s little space between the Loons and their next two opponents: Portland (Saturday, September 10, away) sits in seventh with 39 points and LA Galaxy (Tuesday, September 13, home) is in eighth with 38.
Boxall emphasized on Saturday that while every match is big, the season isn’t over: “It’s awful to have this kind of result in front of our fans, but we still have five games to go. We need to really pick ourselves up. We are lucky we have these warnings now rather than late October.”
The depleted backline will need to come together in a big way to hold off unpredictable yet proven players in these next matches. The attack will also have to step up to balance the scales. Fragapane’s suspension and Reynoso’s injury (Heath expects to rest him one or two games so he’s healthy for the final stretch) mean Heath’s squad will have to find a different way to score goals.
Minnesota can do it but now — They have to.