MN United

Rookie Debuts as United Claim Signature Win

May 25, 2019; Saint Paul, MN, Saint Paul, MN, USA; Minnesota United midfielder Jan Gregus (8) celebrates a victory over the Houston Dynamo after a match at Allianz Field. Mandatory Credit: Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports

It felt like a statement win. And that statement would be this: We’re the best Minnesota United team ever.

Now, considering the Loons have only existed in Major League Soccer for two-and-a-half seasons, it’s not exactly the highest of bars, but it doesn’t make it any less true. It’s something that Minnesota United head coach Adrian Heath has hinted at after multiple wins and did so again after this one.

“We don’t take anything from this game last year,” Heath said, echoing a statement he’s said multiple times this season which implies this team is unlike any that has come before it under his tenure.

Minnesota winger Ethan Finlay shared his coach’s sentiments.

“In 2017 or 2018 we tie that game and possibly even lose it,” Finlay said. “It’s a testament to the experience that we have added to this roster and the experience that we have gone through.”

Based on quality of opponent, the 1-0 win over the Houston Dynamo on Saturday night should also rank as one of United’s best wins of the season. The Dynamo entered the match slightly ahead of Minnesota in the Western Conference table and, if the season ended tonight, they’d be facing each other in the first round of the postseason fixtures.

It’s United defense which has been astoundingly good over the last few months and has now produced back-to-back clean sheet performances. Not only has United held serve and remained unbeaten at home in six matches, but the Loons have also now tied the franchise record for shutouts in a season with five.

“The collective mentality to defend the goal. Do what’s asked of them. People doing what the coaching staff wants them to do. Defending properly. Putting the group before individuals. I thought it was outstanding at times, and I’m really pleased for a lot of aspects from the game today,” Heath said. “Because I don’t think we’ve played as well as we can today, but we certainly, as a group, worked really, really hard to deny a really, really good attacking team.”

Heath opted for the fabled 4-2-3-1 formation, his favorite of the primary two he’s rotated between this season, but with a shock inclusion: rookie Hassani Dotson at left back. Not only was it the second-round pick’s first-ever MLS start, but it was a far cry from his favored position of central midfield.

“I was a little nervous, but it helped that I got to play with the team against Hertha,” Dotson said. “I just want to thank the coaching staff and the athletic training staff for helping me get through this.”

In midweek, United played a friendly match against one of the German Bundesliga’s most well-known clubs in Hertha Berlin. Heath used it as an opportunity to vet some of his young guns. Second-year center back Wyatt Omsberg played strong throughout, but it was Dotson who played on both the right and the left side of defense that stood out.

May 25, 2019; Saint Paul, MN, Saint Paul, MN, USA; Minnesota United midfielder Darwin Quintero (25) plays the ball as Houston Dynamos midfielder Matias Vera (22) defends during the first half of a match at Allianz Field. Mandatory Credit: Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports

Most the young players within the franchise that are scrapping for playing time don’t often even dress for most the games as it’s clear Heath and Co. don’t yet trust them. Though Dotson has only been with the squad since this year’s draft and is the only ever second-round selection to play for Minnesota, he’s suited up for nearly every game, which speaks volumes for how the coaching staff rates him.

“I thought, for his debut, playing in an unfamiliar position, against whoever came down his side… I thought he was outstanding. The kid did everything that we asked of him,” Heath said. “And as we said after the game. If he, God willing, stays injury free, listens and learns – which we don’t think he won’t – he has a great opportunity because the kid just got a feel for the game. No matter where you play him, he gets a feel for the game. You can’t give that to people. They’ve either got it, or they haven’t and he’s got a feel for the game.”

Coach rating out of 10

9 — After making a bold call last week, Heath doubled down against Houston by handing a rookie his first-ever MLS start out of position. And like last week, Heath was rewarded with a solid team performance and shutout victory. United has now already tied the club record for shutouts in season (five) in just 13 games played.

Select Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best.)

LB Hassani Dotson, 8 —  The major secondary story of the night was the rookie, who made a surprise start at left back. It wouldn’t have been as shocking had you viewed United’s friendly versus Hertha Berlin in midweek as Dotson shut down numerous attacks during a contest against an elite opponent while also rarely losing possession. The second-round pick looked calm and assured in what was his club debut performance. Coaches and players alike have been raving about the kid and tonight was further evidence why.

CB Michael Boxall, 7 — Has continued to be a stalwart since returning to the lineup. Somewhat surprisingly it’s been a partnership of himself and Brent Kallman, a tandem that’s been a part of some really poor outings, that have played key parts in back-to-back 1-0 shutout wins. With Ike Opara returning to full fitness, the center backs have created a welcomed selection headache for Heath.

Mandatory Credit: Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports

ST Angelo Rodriguez, 7.5 — Did his usual role of bruising the opponent center back pairing as much as possible. Created a few good chances for teammates and was unlucky to be substituted fairly early in the second half.

CAM Darwin Quintero, 5 — Looks like he could be rounding back into form, but made major miscues when he could have set up teammates for clear-cut scoring chances. If he can return to the Darwin of 2018 and the defense can stay this impermeable, the possibilities for Minnesota are endless.

CM Jan Gregus, 6 — Playing simpler and adding a bit more bite to his tackling is serving him and the team well at the moment.

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May 25, 2019; Saint Paul, MN, Saint Paul, MN, USA; Minnesota United midfielder Jan Gregus (8) celebrates a victory over the Houston Dynamo after a match at Allianz Field. Mandatory Credit: Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports

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