ST. PAUL -- Minnesota United’s 2-2 draw at Los Angeles FC felt like a win given the heart-pumping nature of Hassani Dotson’s game-tying goal in the final seconds of last Wednesday’s game.
The Loons’ 2-2 draw at Vancouver three days later, however, felt like a loss given the blood-boiling nature of Ethan Finlay being called for a penalty that led to the Whitecaps’ game-tying goal in the final seconds on Saturday.
“I’m disappointed for the players because on the back of putting so much in on Wednesday evening against a team that makes you work so hard,” Manager Adrian Heath said Saturday. “We’ve probably had our highest physical data that we’ve had since I’ve been here on Wednesday in L.A. So, for the same group to put in the same effort and commitment in that they’ve done (Saturday), speaks volumes.
“Although I said it feels like a defeat, it wasn’t. We keep the run going and we’ve set ourselves up nicely for next week.”
The Loons (6-5-5) will have three home games on the first three Saturdays in August, with a midweek road game at San Jose sandwiched in between nationally televised afternoon matches against Los Angeles Galaxy on Aug. 14 and Sporting Kansas City on Aug. 21. The stretch in August starts with Houston Dynamo at Allianz Field at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Here are two takeaways from the Loons’ game vs. Vancouver.
Hunou to parallel to Lod
The Loons’ starting XI didn’t include new Designated Player Adrien Hunou for a second-straight game Saturday. That decision from Heath was eyebrow-raising.
But after not playing at all against LAFC, Heath subbed on the new French striker at halftime. In the 69th minute, Hunou got his head on the end of Emanuel Reynoso’s free kick, but the shot went off the post.
Hunou finished with two shots, but neither on goal, in his 45 minutes. His expected goals was 0.13 on Saturday.
“It was OK,” Heath said about Hunou’s shift. “… I’d like him to be a bit more positive, a bit more greedy in and around the box. It’s early days for Adrien, he’s got better days ahead of him, for sure.”
Hunou has scored twice this season, against Austin on June 23 and vs. Portland on June 26, which will give him confidence that he can do it in MLS, but the former Ligue 1 player has been quiet on other occasions. It’s been five appearances without a goal and he didn’t even register a shot in the biggest game on the schedule to date, July 18 vs. Seattle.
According to wyscout, Hunou’s expected goals is 3.39 this season, meaning he’s underperforming what others have traditionally done with those same chances.
While Hunou was quiet, Robin Lod produced yet another late goal Saturday. The Finnish attacker, who has played as a winger and as a false nine, has five total this season, each coming after the 75th minute.
The club hopes Lod provides a parallel for Hunou: a slow start that eventually led to the dividends. Lod didn’t score at all in 583 minutes when arrived in the summer transfer window in 2019. He did get a big goal in the U.S. Open Cup final, however.
Lod then scored seven in regular-season games in 2020, added two in the MLS is Back Tournament and one more in the MLS Cup Playoffs. The Finn’s five goals pace the Loons this season.
“If you look at Adrien’s last sort of six months in France, he barely played, so he’s not going to come in and hit the ground running and be right on fire,” Heath said. “Robin came off the beach (on vacation) when he arrived and when you consider the amount of aggravation I took for Robin Lod — internally, as well as externally — we have to give players time.
“They’re moving to a new country, they’ve got to set up. It’s never easy. I know people think it is, but it’s not. (Adrien) won’t be the first and he certainly won’t be the last who comes in and would like to probably be playing a little bit better than he is.”
Minnesota, of course, need Hunou to produce goals and not be like former Designated Player Thomas Chacon, the tiny teenager who never got acclimated to MLS and was put on loan in Uruguay this year. The Loons can’t afford another swing and a miss on a DP.
Defense in transition
The Loons had to dig themselves out of an early hole for a third straight game.
In the 36th minute, right back Romain Metanire turned the ball over in the middle of the park. Vancouver went on the counter attack and right-sided center back Brent Kallman came off the back line to try to snuff it out early. Caps’ Russell Teibert then fed Cristian Dajome in the spot Kallman vacated. Dajome outraced left center back Bakaye Dibassy and put a shot past goalkeeper Tyler Miller.
Loons players wanted an offside call on Dajome, but should have been raising their hands on themselves.
“We gave it away cheaply, didn’t we?” Heath said. “And the way that we play, the way that a lot of teams play now, people are starting to take expansive positions up and higher and wider and if you turn it over cheaply, you concede. The one thing about (Vancouver), they have pace up front. If it’s a foot race and you’re in a bad spot, invariably they’re going to beat you to it. If we hadn’t turned the ball over cheaply, we wouldn’t have had to have dealt with it. But at the end of the day it’s a poor goal from us because we had possession of the ball and it wasn’t a particularly difficult pass that Romain had to keep possession.”
It was a very similar set of circumstances that led to LAFC’s first goal on Wednesday. Metanire had a bad pass and LAFC seized on the counterattack, leading to Carlos Vela getting too much of a head start on Dibassy and Miller.
The Loons back line has been in flux for most of the season due to injuries and absences, and the changes could continue to come. Metanire, an MLS All-Star in 2019, might not be dropped, but DJ Taylor has shown himself to be a more than capable fill-in after starting his career in USL.
Meanwhile, Heath said the club is hopeful captain center back Michael Boxall (thigh/groin) and left back Chase Gasper (hip flexor) will be back for Saturday’s game against the Dynamo.