Dubbed the “striker whisperer,” Minnesota United FC head coach Adrian Heath has struggled to find a permanent fit at the No. 9 position for the Loons over his three-and-a-half year tenure in Minnesota.
The Loons have gone through seven different forwards over the course of their time in Major League Soccer, with three of those seven currently rostered: strikers Luis Amarilla, Mason Toye and Aaron Schoenfeld. Heath, a former striker himself, finds himself in a predicament, though. Mason Toye, a third year player out of Indiana university, happens to be the only healthy striker on the current roster, with both Luis Amarilla and Aaron Schoenfeld out with their own respective injuries.
Toye, who has only played a full 90 minutes for the Loons three times in his career, now has a lot resting on his shoulders following two straight United victories with him in the starting XI.
“Obviously it’s been a big opportunity for me, being our only healthy No. 9 at the moment. I’m just trying to continue to score goals and help the team any way I can and prove when everyone gets healthy that I can be our starter,” Toye said postgame Wednesday.
Toye notched the sixth goal of his professional career Wednesday evening, scoring the opener for Minnesota in an eventual 3-2 victory over FC Dallas.
Heath said postgame that he was proud of the effort that Toye brought on the pitch, but he also made it clear that he plans on moving forward with Toye as the Loons starting striker for the near future as Schoenfeld is still “1-2 weeks away” from a return to the field while Amarilla could be sidelined for over a month.
“Aaron [Schoenfeld] has had a problem at the bottom of his calf. He feels a lot better today. He’s running on the Alter G machine and he feels a lot happier with the injury,” Heath said. “Luis [Amarilla] has had an injection in his ankle. He’s had a little problem there since, probably, for five, six weeks. As I said the other night, we hoped he would respond to treatment and a little bit of rest, and it hasn’t. So, we’re hoping that the injection will help it settle down. We’ll wait and see.”
The Loons have tallied seven goals over the past four days through two matches, but those kinds of numbers are unrealistic if you cannot rely on your strikers to put up consistent numbers. Over the past 13 months, there has been a stagnant, flat line of goal contributions from Loons strikers.
Since the closing of the secondary transfer window on August 4, 2019, the Loons have scored 45 goals in 28 competitive matches, averaging 1.6 goals per match. Those goals, however, are not coming from Minnesota’s strikers. The Loons have rostered six forwards since that date, three of whom are no longer with the team, and they’ve only scored 14 times combined, a mere 31% of the Loons total.
Toye bagged his second goal of 2020 Wednesday, though, which Heath thinks will be a big boost for the young striker while boasting his belief in his ability.
“Hopefully it will help his confidence. I think he’s overthinking things a little bit at times. But, obviously for front men goals mean an awful lot. So, he’s got a good opportunity, because, you know, Luis [Amarilla] has had his injection, and we still think he’s going to be two or three weeks. And, [Aaron] Schoenfeld is showing a lot more signs of being fit, but we still think he’s maybe a week, two weeks away. So, Mason [Toye] has got an opportunity to show everybody what he can do. I’m sure that scoring a goal this evening will do his confidence no harm.”
Toye’s growth as a forward can be seen on the pitch, but Heath still thinks that he might be “overthinking” things. He wants him to simplify his game, to calm down and embrace the moment. Heath believes that Toye is a long-term project for the Loons squad, and that with a few adjustments to his game, he can be a “top striker” in the league.
“I’m still trying to figure a couple things out and get my feet under me and starting games consistently,” Toye said when asked about Heath’s postgame comments. “I’ve been coming off the bench so much [lately] and that’s really what it is, I’m trying to figure stuff out. This goal has done me a lot of good and I’m going to continue to try and play simple and let the game come to me.”
Toye has four days to rest and recuperate before the Loons travel to Children’s Mercy Park to play Sporting Kansas City for the third time in 2020. Following the conclusion of Wednesday evening’s MLS fixtures, the Loons and SKC were tied atop the MLS Western Conference, but the Loons sat ahead of their I-35W rivals due to criteria points.