While Minnesota United FC’s 1-0 loss at home to the Los Angeles Galaxy on Saturday evening was an unfortunate result, the circumstances surrounding it provide some measure of explanation. One needs to look no further than the lineup used that evening to see that things are not in a great spot for Adrian Heath’s squad.
- Out is Robin Lod, he of the team-high six goals and by far the team’s most consistent player in the striker position.
- Out is Franco Fragapane, an offseason signing made to augment the team’s attack.
- Out is Niko Hansen, an impact substitute who has shown his value already.
The injuries have stacked up to a degree that Hassani Dotson, long praised by this author for his remarkable versatility on the field, started the game at left wing. It worked… to a degree.
“Obviously, we all know it’s not his best position, but the great thing about the kid is he gives us everything he’s got whenever we play him,” said Heath during his postgame comments of Dotson. “He kept breaking in that inside-left channel a few times in the first half, and I thought he was going to get in a couple of times but it wasn’t to be, but, wherever we play him, we know what we’re going to get out of him.”
Heath also acknowledged the impact the injury situation has had on the team. “Obviously, we can ill afford injuries at this moment, especially with attacking pieces,” he said. “Niko’s come on and gave us a lift in game, Franco’s started ever so well and Robin’s top goal scorer, so that doesn’t help us, but I thought the attitude and the way that the players went about the game against a really good side speaks volumes of the rest of the group, I really do.”
Minnesota started the game on the back foot, but played relatively well in the first half only to be punished by a slick LA Galaxy counterattack for the game’s only goal. Their pressure in the second half ratcheted up several degrees when Dotson moved back to his normal central midfield position, as Ján Greguš departed the game and Justin McMaster entered to play on the wing.
“Guys have to step up, right?” said captain Wil Trapp. “I mean, you look at a little bit of a reshuffling of the lineup to start, but a natural winger coming in like Justin gives a little bit more continuity of that position. Hassani, for all his qualities, he would probably prefer to be playing in the middle of the field, but he still does a great job when he’s out there. It’s really just about damage control for that first part and really getting guys comfortable and confident in what their role will be.”
The squad pressure does not ease, as the Loons travel to San Jose on Tuesday and then back to Minnesota for a game against the Western Conference-leading Sporting Kansas City on Saturday afternoon. It seems unlikely that any of the three missing attackers will be back in the picture for either game, based on the reporting that’s out there, so Heath’s creativity and trust in the squad he has available will be tested.
One wonders whether McMaster will be in line for a start. This was the first match that he had been available for selection since July 24 due to COVID protocol, and the opportunity is surely there if his fitness is there. The attack managed 12 shots in the game’s final 15 minutes (via Matt Doyle at MLSsoccer), and only a spectacular, once-in-a-career goalkeeping performance by LA’s Jonathan Klinsmann (starting his first MLS game of 2021!) kept Minnesota from getting a point or more late.
There are goals to be had from the players that are there, but the pressure is mounting on Adrien Hunou to not be yet another failure at the 9 for Minnesota. Hunou hasn’t scored since his (only) two goals this season in back to back games in late June, while strikers of recent memory tear it up in Montreal and Scotland. Someone has to finish the chances Emanuel Reynoso creates, and as long as no United player beyond Lod has more than two goals on the season, these upcoming games spell danger.