Minnesota United FC entered Wednesday’s match against FC Dallas looking to stay hot following a 4-0 thrashing of Real Salt Lake. On a chilly September night, their new-look midfield provided the spark.
Riding a four-match losing streak on Sunday, Ozzie Alonso went down with a hamstring injury in the first half of the Loons’ match with RSL. The worst was feared about how his absence would affect Minnesota’s performance, as in his nearly two years since coming over from Seattle, United carried a minus-two goal differential without their captain.
That narrative turned around in a hurry.
A different Minnesota squad, specifically a different midfield presence, showed up in the second half. Hassani Dotson took over Alonso’s role, newcomer Emanuel Reynoso provided support in forcing turnovers and much-maligned Robin Lod became an attacking force in his first match on the right-hand side of the Loons’ attacking midfield, notching two goals in the blowout victory.
“I definitely think he is more comfortable on the right,” said striker Mason Toye of Lod. “It allows him to come inside and allows Kevin [Molino] to come inside and they can play the slip through balls and get their shots off.”
While it wasn’t as pretty, that same midfield strength was on display again on Wednesday.
With a chill in the air, “Hot Boy” Kevin Molino lived up to his nickname, matching Lod’s performance from the previous game and tallying two goals of his own in a 3-2 win. Recently moved from the middle to the left wing to make room for Reynoso, Molino still found no issues getting in front of goal to put away the service that was sent his way by his midfield counterparts.
Another notable performance came from Jan Gregus who featured a different side of his game, transitioning from a distributor and table-setter to a more free-roaming, multi-dimensional midfielder.
“It’s a little bit different because obviously Ozzie generally plays the deeper one with whoever he plays with,” said Heath on the differences Gregus faces playing alongside Dotson instead of Alonso. “With Hassani, all of Hassani’s strengths is going and foraging for the ball, so, you know, they have to bounce off each other,”
Normally the team’s predominant corner kick taker, Gregus found himself on the receiving end of nearly every one of Minnesota’s six corners, all taken by Reynoso, who’s provided a major boost in his first week in the Black & Blue.
While Minnesota’s record-signing hasn’t gotten on the score-sheet, he’s made a major impact on helping keep possession in build-up play and creating solid goalscoring chances that his teammates have put away in bunches.
“I feel [Reynoso] is going to be a huge piece for us,” said Heath. “You already see that the combination play with Robin [Lod] and Kevin Molino [has been] exceptional at times.”
With Alonso potentially nearing the twilight of his career, the outlook of life without their “No. 6” hasn’t looked too promising up until this week.
Surely Ozzie has more left in the tank, and will continue to be the backbone of this squad for the foreseeable future. But with a solid plus-five goal differential in the last three halves without their captain, maybe that distant outlook after Alonso bids his adieu to Minnesota isn’t so bleak after all.
The Loons’ second win in as many matches keeps them on pace with the leaders of the Western Conference heading into their phase one finale Sunday at Sporting KC, who also find themselves at the top of the table in the west.