Lurching into Frisco, TX on a hot summer night, Minnesota United achieved something they have never been able to in four previous tries: they walked away from Toyota Stadium with a point. After a dominant first half, though, the 1-1 tie felt like a disappointment. As head coach Adrian Heath said after the game, it was a missed opportunity, like two dropped points. “You don’t go on the road very often and create the opportunities that we had,” he lamented. That sentiment of missed opportunity was echoed by Jacori Hayes after the game. “We’re definitely pleased with the point,” Hayes said, “but, I thought we played a really good game and there was more in there for us.”
After the long break, having played only one game in the last five weeks, and with Ján Greguš, Robin Lod, and Jukka Raitala out on international duty, Minnesota began the night with an original look. The most important new look, of course, were the Juneteenth inspired limited edition jerseys both teams wore, which will hopefully be more than just a marketing campaign. But also lining up in the occasionally used 4-3-3 recently acquired Loons Franco Fragapane and Adrien Hunou got their first start together upfront, playing alongside Niko Hansen who, after coming off the bench against Real Salt Lake and netting his first goal for Minnesota, got the start on the right. In the middle of the field Jacori Hayes was slotted in alongside Hassani Dotson, both sitting ahead of Wil Trapp who had an excellent game controlling the rhythm of the first half from a traditional six position. Only the defensive line - Romain Métanire, Michael Boxal, recently returned to health Bakaye Dibassy, and Chase Gasper, with Tyler Miller again getting the start in goal - represented what seems to be Heath’s preferred line-up.
Yet it was that defensive line that caused a moment of concern in the first minute of play when Dibassy gave away a sloppy pass deep in his own defensive end, requiring a professional foul and an early yellow card. Constrained by the card Dibassy had one of his shakier games as a Loon. As a whole, though, the defensive line played an incredibly well organized first half. Employing a very high line just as they did in their first meeting, when FC Dallas were caught offside 10 times, the back line was able to compress the field denying the Toros any space to get their offense going.
Playing incredibly narrowly going forward, and with much more energy than Dallas, Minnesota dominated the first half of play, almost scoring in the 8th minute, when Fragapane slid the ball just wide of goal.
In many ways, even as a missed opportunity, the play was a confirmation of the promise and potential of Fragapane and Hunou, as Hunou’s smart, early run drew the attention of most of the FC Dallas defensive line creating space for Hayes and Fragapane to make late runs into. Throughout their shifts Fragapne and Hunou were able to control the space of the game with the kinds of creative runs at goal that Loons fans have rarely seen.
In the 36th minute Minnesota’s hard work paid off as Fragapane opened his MNUFC goal count and the Loons took a 1-0 lead.
It was a rather straight-forward goal that was mostly created off the hard work of Hayes, with some great timing from Hunou and goal-scorer’s self-made luck from Fragapane.
Unfortunately the game changed at the half. While Minnesota came out flat, FC Dallas had, as Hayes said, a bit of bite to them: “it’s tough, they probably got ripped out at halftime, I know that coaching staff, they were yelling at them at halftime. They came out with a little bite.” FC Dallas also made two changes at half-time, with Franco Jara coming on for the mostly ineffective Andrés Ricaurte and Jesús Ferreira replacing the recently healthy and impressive Paxton Pomykal. “They changed their shape a little bit to cope with the way we were playing,” Heath noted after the game. “[They] didn’t allow our starting points out of the back. That’s what coaches do, you have to try something.” Rather than try to play over it the changes allowed Dallas to play in front of and then through Minnesota’s defensive high-line taking control of the game.
Heath tried to counter in the 67th minute bringing on Ozzie Alonso for Hayes and Ethan Finlay for Hansen, returning the midfield to their more standard double pivot. The change failed spectacularly, as FC Dallas was able to score one minute later. Not yet able to get organized, Ryan Hollingshead walked through the middle of the new midfield triangle, threading a beautiful pass to Ricardo Pepi, catching Dibassy out.
From there, the game opened up and finished with more fun than style or substance. Finlay missed Ramón Ábila, who had come on as a substitute for Hunou, twice; Emanuel Reynoso, who had been brought on for Trapp, missed two very good chances; and Juan Agudelo, who replaced Fragapane late, disappeared almost immediately.
As the Loons prepare for their Wednesday night meeting with Austin FC at home, they will have to get over this game quickly. Remaining near the bottom of the table in the West, ties, even on the road, are not going to get them into the playoffs.