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Minnesota United came out victorious against FC Dallas, 1-0, on Saturday after a stunning series of events at Allianz Field. Our soccer analyst Nicolas Hallett gives us his main takeaways from the match.
1. An incredible sequence leads to a euphoric night.
The game was a tense one from a classic soccer match perspective. Two quality opponents matching blow for blow. It seemed destined for a scoreless stalemate until two events threw everything into a frenzy.
Both teams appeared to be running low on energy as the seconds melted down. United, though, did seem to hold a slight advantage as the home crowd continued to inject a vivacious life into the stadium with every attack. Understandably, the locals have become a bit used to winning as the Loons had won their last six games in all competitions entering this match.
United were attacking once more but didn’t look overly dangerous until a smart one-touch pass and hesitation from the Dallas defense all of the sudden left Jan Gregus, one of the team’s best pure ball strikers, in a prime shooting spot just outside the box with the ball on his preferred right foot. The entire stadium let out a collective gasp, knowing what could happen next. Gregus fired a low hard shot, which was saved by Dallas goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez, but the ball had spilled outward in front of the goal. Minnesota’s second-year forward Mason Toye reacted quickest and buried the rebound into the net with only a few minutes remaining on the clock.
Cue euphoria moment No. 1.
“I mean it’s just more makeshift stuff being a forward, stuff that coaches have been telling me since I was little, my dad especially, just being locked in and staying on my toes and always being ready for the rebound,” Toye said. “At Indiana that was a big thing, they called it sniffers, just going to get a rebound it’s just basic stuff.”
The game seemed surely home and dry for United, but there was more. A seemingly innocuous challenge was called down to the head referee to be given a second look via VAR. The penalty was ultimately given. Suddenly what was going to go down as one of the most feel-good wins in franchise history was going to be nullified by the lukewarm feeling of a 1-1 draw.
Enter Vito Mannone, one of the most experienced keepers in Major League Soccer. The odds of saving a penalty kick stands at about 15 percent. It seemed completely improbable given the circumstance.
Cue euphoria moment No. 2.
Mannone made a quality penalty save and leapt to his feet immediately to let out a roar. The stadium was utterly booming in celebration.
“You saw the reaction of the players, you saw the reaction of the supporters. I’ve got to mention the crowd because I think they got us over the line today and I’ve never heard the stadium as loud as this, ever,” Heath said. “The last five minutes and then when Vito makes the save, incredible.”
2. Speaking of the Italian, Mannone has emerged as one of the key pickups of the offseason.
United was in such desperate need of defensive help that the impact of Ike Opara, Ozzie Alonso and Romain Metanire were clear to see from opening day. And though those defensive outfield players have been vying for the awards of Team MVP and Best Offseason Addition most of the campaign, Mannone has entered his name into the ballot late, but with aplomb.
The former Arsenal goalkeeper’s impact had become especially apparent in the preceding weeks as he’d been forced to stand up and be counted on in a couple of occasions. Saturday proved another as he repelled numerous quality Dallas chances before making the save of the season thus far. The shutout served as Mannone’s sixth on the season, which is a franchise record.
This would also serve has a good reminder to credit United’s sporting director Manny Lagos, who went out and acquired Mannone from Reading in England despite having a goalkeeper in Bobby Shuttleworth that many were perfectly comfortable with being the No. 1.
“I’ve just got better players now, that’s the difference,” Heath said. “And we need to keep bringing more players into the club to continue moving forward like this.”
3. Continuing to give out credit where credit is due, it must be said after a rocky beginning, Adrian Heath has established a winning culture at United.
As of this writing, the Loons sit in third place in the Western Conference with 33 points, which is also the fourth most points league-wide. Heath’s squad has now won seven straight matches and is set to host a cup semifinal at home. All of this, without their lone MLS All-Star selection Metanire. It’s obvious the dividends Heath and Lagos’ vision is now paying back. Many shouted for their heads, but their message of slow and steady seems to have been a commendable path all along.
4. The young guns continue to get it done.
Unprompted, Heath heaped praise on Chase Gasper immediately following the match. The left back seems to have further cemented his role in the starting eleven after providing another complete performance defending and going forward. The former was what really caught Heath’s eye.
“Incredible performance from a lot of people,” Heath said. “I’ve got to single out the two kids, the fullbacks. I’ve never seen anyone play [Michael] Barrios as well as Chase Gasper’s done today. Because of our energy levels, there was a lot of one-v-ones. Can’t really remember Barrios getting by him, so it’s an incredible performance.”
I’ve said numerous times recently on The Minnesota Soccer Podcast that Gasper’s spot in the lineup is safe, as it makes more sense to allow him to develop in his natural position than to pigeonhole Hassani Dotson into it. It appears that is what is unfolding now.
Additionally, Mason Toye’s resurgence continues as the 20-year-old suddenly has four MLS goals in the last four games after having zero in his first 18. His emergence as a second striking option behind Angelo Rodriguez is a massive boon for United this season and beyond.
5. Paxton Pomykal is going to play for the U.S. men’s national team someday.
Though his team came out on the losing end, Dallas’ No. 10 was the best player on the pitch on the night. The 19-year-old showed a bit of everything and nearly was able to push his team over the line. His cutting, running and passing were all sublime at times. He was among the key men for the U.S. at this summer’s U20 World Cup and I’d say there’s a good chance he features for the senior team in Qatar in 2022.