Our Minnesota United analyst Nic Hallett dives into the major talking points from Wednesday’s playoff-clinching win against Sporting Kansas City.
Hassani the hero
On a team filled with veterans, it was once again the rookie who stood tallest when it mattered most. Hassani Dotson’s first season in Major League Soccer continues to play out like a dream. The latest moment coming in emphatic fashion with this last-minute winner that sent Allianz Field into raptures on Wednesday night.
The strike wasn’t one of his cleanest, but its magnitude was as strong as ever. The saying that, “Dotson only scores bangers,” rings true here once again.
The key from the play is the way in which Dotson seamlessly eliminates defenders from the play. First, he sneaks behind his marker after playing the initial pass to Ozzie Alonso. He then takes away two (!) SKC defenders with a simple yet brilliant first touch across his body into open space. Finally, with some deft dribbling he goes around Ilie Sanchez, one of the best defensive players in the league, before firing home the winning goal.
This type of play is phenomenal from any young player in the league and is among the many reasons people are clamoring for him to win MLS Rookie of the Year. But on this Minnesota roster, he is among the very few that could do this with any regularity, let alone in the biggest moments.
The Loons won, but should they have?
The energy of this game was frantic, to say the least. United was all the way jacked up to play in front of its home crowed whilst also looking to clinch a first-ever playoff appearance. Sporting, which technically had the faintest of hopes to still make the postseason, was full of energy to save their season and spoil the fun of one of their local rivals.
The game was back and forth with numerous chances throughout, the lion-share of which going handily to SKC as this expected goals (xG) chart shows.
The Loons were exceedingly lucky that it was only 1-0 at halftime. The match could have easily been three- or four-nil prior to Ozzie Alonso’s game-tying goal. Minnesota had the woodwork and the unbelievably stellar play of goalkeeper Vito Mannone to thank.
For my money, Mannone was United’s man of the match on the night. His play this season has been invaluable for what the Loons have accomplished this season. (In fact, you almost worry that it’s been too good as clubs from abroad my come sniffing around.)
United’s got some issues to sort out as they head into the one-and-done season though. Wednesday they allowed 23 shots and on Sunday against the Portland Timbers — a 0-0 draw, but another game they were outscored based on xG — they allowed 30.
These types of performances don’t keep you in the playoffs for long.
Heath’s best XI in doubt
It’s been barely more than a week since I suggested Minnesota United head coach Adrian Heath had discovered his best starting XI. Since that time, he’s utilized said best XI in every match. But as we just outlined above, the results have been questionable.
A road draw and a home win definitely look like net positives on paper and in the standings, but those of us with functioning eyeballs know there’s more to it than that. The squad looked exhausted at times in tonight’s match, particularly Kevin Molino and Mason Toye, both of whom submitted two of their worst performances of the season.
Minnesota rose to the occasion after Heath subbed on Abu Danladi and the aforementioned Dotson while also switching the formation to the 4-3-3, which has often been the manager’s secondary preference this season.
Dotson has been spectacular at almost every juncture this season. The 4-3-3 has closed out many positive results for the Loons and it is also the shape Heath elected to go with in the U.S. Open Cup Final a few weeks back.
“We had to change the shape,” Heath said. “I was going to do it at halftime, but I wanted to see if we could get a little of impetus going, actually get a foothold in the game. The more I watched it, the more they had that spare body in midfield and they were using it well so we went to a 4-3-3 and matched them up in the middle of the park and I thought that helped us enormously.”
United’s manager will have some big tactical decisions to make in the upcoming elimination games.
The goal that shouldn’t have been
Sporting KC had a ton to offer on this occasion despite their meager standing in the table. The visitors opened the scoring after a bright start to the match, but what becomes painfully obvious upon further review is that VAR should have disallowed the goal due to handball.
This instance includes two the of the supposed highest priority uses of VAR: 1. Scoring plays and 2. Handballs, particularly ones that lead to scoring plays. How neither of those stipulations led to a video review of this play is flabbergasting. VAR rules vary league to league, but for the most part, it’s understood that all scoring plays should be checked by the official in the booth.
Once again the footballing world — and Minnesota United — were let down by VAR.