In emphatic fashion, Minnesota United continued its undefeated run through the MLS Is Back Tournament on Saturday night with 4-1 thrashing of the San Jose Earthquakes. It was presumed that San Jose was possibly experiencing a renaissance and thus would provide an even-keeled matchup with Minnesota. Instead this game was reminiscent of the two franchises’ last bout, which also saw the Loons win by a three-goal margin.
Though it may be true that Loons manager Adrian Heath clearly has Matias Almeyda’s number — and that the latter is far too stubborn tactically — you must give Heath and Co. massive credit for going seven matches without a loss to start this MLS campaign.
Squad depth. Heath has been crying out for roster additions for the better part of his tenure with Minnesota. On Saturday, he offered a change in tune.
“I’m so happy with the group that I have,” Heath said. “This is the best group of people we’ve had in the club in terms of actually doing what the staff want of them, doing what is expected of them and being a really good teammate even when it’s not going great for yourself. And, that’s what football is all about.”
Finishing. It will fall by the wayside when dissecting this match because there are so many more pressing positives to be admired. Still, the Loons could have certainly had a 7- or 8-goal night in different circumstances.
Coach rating out of 10
8 — I think the most impressive thing about the form of Heath’s team at present is that they’ve done it all while overcoming myriad absences. Ike Opara, Ozzie Alonso, Kevin Molino, Luis Amarilla and Romain Metanire have all missed time during different stretches. Yet, it doesn’t seem to faze this team. That points to a collective understanding, a collective strength. It points to a manager who is doing the right things on the training pitch. Heath has this club organized like never before and heading in the right direction.
1-10 | 10 = Best
*Players introduced late may get no rating
GK Tyler Miller, 6 — Wasn’t asked to do too much, but handled the few decent looks San Jose got with calm and precision.
RB Hassani Dotson, 9 — This is what I’ve been talking about. In this space, I’ve been dogging Dotson for one specific reason: I knew he could perform better than he was. This was all that and more. It takes a truly class player to influence a match as much as Dotson did on Saturday from a fullback position. The 22-year-old (23 on Aug. 6) had a hand in three of MNUFC’s four goals.
I’ll talk about this more on the next episode of The Minnesota Soccer Podcast, but in brief: Dotson, unencumbered by the responsibility of a CM, flourished in his return to the fullback role he utilized to break into the team. His performance was such that it has to be pondered whether RB might actually be his best position and where he fits best long term. (Metanire is 30, so it isn’t inconceivable. Though the Malagasy international did just sign a contract extension.) I’ve discussed previously how Dotson could be targeted by clubs outside the MLS. This is the type of performance that could pique interest from potential suitors across the pond.
CB Michael Boxall, 6 — Not asked to do much. Almost repeated his fantastical feat from last year of dribbling all the way into the San Jose box to score a goal (Boxy going box to box), but alas was denied at the very end.
LB Chase Gasper, 6 — Completely shut down his opposite man and tied Dotson for second on the team in key passes (2).
CM Jan Gregus, 7 — He barely puts a foot wrong these days. Despite being second on the team in touches, he completed 97% of his passes on the night. Hit the crossbar with a late free kick.
CM Ozzie Alonso, 7.5 — Even on a night were his cleaning services weren’t as in demand, he still managed to pick out multiple phenomenal passes.
CM Jacori Hayes, 8 — Last match he was the highest rated Loon after coming on for his Minnesota debut as a substitute. Talk about a tough act to follow. Heath saw the performance in a similar light and awarded Hayes with a start in the season’s biggest match. The former FC Dallas recruit didn’t disappoint and again offered a sprightliness much needed by this team. Gregus and Alonso offer loads of positives, but can become too methodical at times, so whoever partners them must offer something more dynamic, unpredictable; Hayes does just that. Oh, and did I forget to mention, he scored the match-winning goal? Lock him into the starting XI for the semifinal.
LW Robin Lod, 7 — The tournament maven strikes again. I’ll say it once more, louder for those in the back: Lod is at his best inside the box. If the Finnish international Finn-ally can keep Finn-ishing consistently then watch out because that’ll mean United’s attack is truly potent.
ST Luis Amarilla, 7 — There he is. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that Minnesota won in blowout fashion in what was easily Amarilla’s best performances inside the MLS bubble. Last year, a fully-dimensional striker was clearly the missing piece for Minnesota. It’s likely why they didn’t get a better seed in the postseason and it’s specifically why they were eliminated by the Los Angeles Galaxy in the first round of the playoffs.
Think about it, when has United looked its worst this season? It’s unequivocally the three matches of the group stage. Amarilla missed the first match entirely (injury), subbed on late in the second (due to the same injury) and started the third, though he looked far from 100%.
When did United look its best this season? The first two matches of the year where they rampaged to a 2-0 start and jumped out to lead the MLS in goals scored with eight. Amarilla started both those matches, providing two goals and one assist.
United is built to win now. It’s a team filled with veterans. They nearly won the US Open Cup last year and were in the postseason. As much as we talk about Alonso and Opara as the MVPs of this team, it’s Amarilla who might actually be the catalyst for silverware.
ST Aaron Shoenfeld, 2 — Was gifted two Grade-A chances and botched them both. He’s shown nothing to suggest he’s ahead of Mason Toye in the striking pecking order. His experience makes him an ideal sub for United when sitting in the driver seat, though.
RM Marlon Hairston, N/A
LM Raheem Edwards, N/A