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Striker struggles continue as MNUFC fall 2-1 in 2020 home opener

Heath’s strikers continuing struggles to find the back of the net prove to be a looming problem as the official league-wide MLS restart begins.

August 21, 2020 - Saint Paul, Minnesota, United States - Minnesota United head coach Adrian Heath walks out from the tunnel prior to the Minnesota United vs Sporting KC match at Allianz Field.
August 21, 2020 - Saint Paul, Minnesota, United States - Minnesota United head coach Adrian Heath walks out from the tunnel prior to the Minnesota United vs Sporting KC match at Allianz Field.
(Photo by Seth Steffenhagen/Steffenhagen Photography)

In their 2020 home opener, Adrian Heath’s Minnesota United FC fell 2-1 to rivals Sporting Kansas City one month after the Loons topped SKC 2-1 in the first-ever #MLSIsBack tournament in Orlando.

Two own-goals and a deflected cross made up the three goals scored on the night between both sides, in what became a slow-moving and sloppy game of soccer.

“I just don’t think we did enough to get on the end of things tonight. It was very little in the game if you look at the game over 90 minutes. I thought they shaded it for the first 20 minutes. After that, I thought we were far and away the better team in the second half. We haven’t worked their goalkeeper enough. We haven’t worked the penalty box enough. And we haven’t done enough when we’ve had a lot of the ball in the final third,” Heath Said.

However, there could be a larger problem looming for the Loons.

Since August 4, 2018, Minnesota United has scored 37 goals in 24 matches (competitive fixtures). Of those 37 goals, only thirteen have been scored by their strikers, two of whom are no longer with the team, leaving just Mason Toye and Luis Amarilla as the only forwards who have tallied goals in the past 12 months. Toye has notched 5 of those 13, while Amarilla has 3 goals in 8 appearances as a Loon, following his promise to Adrian Heath he would “score 25 goals in his first season.”

Heath’s continuing trust in Amarilla as the Loons starting striker is both reassuring and troubling, as the Paraguayan did not have a great tournament in Orlando nor did he perform well against Sporting Kansas City Friday night.

“I think that when I look at where we are with Luis – what’s he got, three goals in seven games, eight games, something like that, that he has played in or started – that’s not a bad return. But obviously, we need to get, and not just Luis [Amarilla], we need to get most of our players playing regularly again, Heath said. “It’s interesting that we’ve been back now a week or so, you know, you give the guys a break because they’ve been in the bubble for 40 odd days. Sometimes, you lose a little bit of fitness. I know that they’ve been working really hard down in Kansas since they left the bubble. So, it’s not been ideal, the preparation.”

Since the 2020 MLS season began, albeit irrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic, the three Loons forwards rostered (Amarilla, Toye, Schoenfeld) have scored a total of 4 goals through eight matches, while the rest of their squad has contributed 15 goals. It’s unprecedented for Minnesota to expect or rely on goals from their defense or midfield, but this roster has stepped up immensely in finding production in the final third.

For Minnesota, something is going to need to change moving forward(literally!!). Tactically speaking, it’s irresponsible and frankly, unjustifiable, to rely on your defense and your midfield to produce goals for your team. Having wingers like Ethan Finlay, Robin Lod and Kevin Molino help immensely when your strikers aren’t producing, but to have an expectation that they will continue to make up the lack of goals produced by the team’s #9’s is unrealistic in that sense.

If Adrian Heath truly thinks that Luis Amarilla is the future of the Loons in the #9 position, he has to find a way to get the best out of him. Could the arrival of highly rated designated player Emmanuel “bebelo” Reynoso solve that problem? Maybe, maybe not. If the Loons truly want to be a competitive side in MLS, you need to score goals - consistently. That consistency needs to come up top, whether it’s Toye, Schoenfeld or Amarilla. It’s expected that the arrival of Bebelo will lighten the load and weight off these forwards back, but it should also be noted that with a high-profile player like him arriving, they’re expected to produce much, much more than they are now.

Heath teased the arrival of Reynoso Friday night in his post-game press conference, but also noted his disappointment with the teams’ performance in the final third.

“Yeah, it’s frustrating when you get – I don’t know how many crosses we’ve had, I don’t know how many free kicks or corners we’ve had – but, when I look at it, I don’t think we’ve worked the keeper enough. I can’t really remember Tim [Melia] coming up with a big save. Other than maybe Hassani’s [Dotson] header. When you consider how much ball we’ve had in their box for the keeper to make probably one big save, is not enough. And we’ll have to look at it, we’ll examine it and we’ll see what we can do about it.”

The Loons are back again on Saturday August 28th, when they visit FC Dallas. The last time the two clubs met, was October 10, 2018 when the Loons were toppled 5-3 while Mason Toye was sent off in the final minute of the game for violent conduct.