Tag Archives: Hassani Dotson

Loons Highlights With All The Feels

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

While the month is ending on a good note for the Loons, with an exhilarating mid-week win clinching the club’s first MLS postseason appearance, September has truly been a mixed bag for Minnesota United. As the Loons prepare for their final regular season appearance at Allianz Field, let’s review the emotions and results of the past month.

Confusion in Houston: 2-0 loss

United commemorated 9/11 in Houston, with what should have been the first episode of Batman vs. Superman. Fresh off of the international break, Loons fans expected to see Miguel ‘Batman’ Ibarra suit up against best friend, and former teammate, Christian ‘Superman’ Ramirez for the first time since the latter’s midseason departure in 2018. Instead, Ibarra viewed the match from the stands with Ramirez’s wife and daughter while Adrian Heath’s favored international stars took on the Dynamo with tired legs.

It didn’t go well. Fielding a 4-3-3 to compensate for the absence of an injured Darwin Quintero, the Loons struggled to find anything resembling a rhythm. Mason Toye and Thomas Chacón were not able to connect with anything resembling chemistry up top and the midfield struggled to string together any threatening passes. Ethan Finlay, playing on Toye’s right, was the only noticeable attacking mid, both for his box-to-box runs and a couple spectacular misses toward goal. And so, it was only fair that Ramirez be the one to put the last nail in that road trip coffin:

Salt Lake Rejuvenation: 3-1 win

Darwin Quintero made a strong and healthy return to the Starting XI when Minnesota hosted Real Salt Lake on September 15. The Loons were down early on a Albert Rusnak goal in the 17th minute, but just minutes later, Quintero humiliated the RSL defense, leveling the score and giving us a perfect illustration of Nick Rimando’s legacy against Minnesota attackers:

Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando watches helplessly as Quintero scores the first of three goals against him during his final MLS appearance in Minnesota. Courtesy of MNUFC

The Loons pulled ahead early in the second half, with an equally beautiful brace from Quintero. A final goal from Ethan Finlay in the 81st minute sealed the result and allowed MNUFC to bounce back up to second in the west. Amazingly, they pulled it off with just 38% of the possession and fewer than 400 passes — a testament to the system and chemistry in that night’s lineup.

Frustration in the Portland Forest: 0-0 draw

Did anyone really want to win last Sunday? Did either team, other than the goalkeepers, know a playoff berth was at stake? Despite a flurry of shots, a bevy of saves and much cursing (and worshiping) of the crossbar gods, United’s trip to Portland was a non-starter. Vito Mannone had words with a handful of teammates who he felt had left him an unfair amount of work, but he managed to keep the clean sheet.

“I’m trying to think of a really, really classic save. I think he save the ones he should’ve saved but we needed him,” said Heath. “When you go on the road at places like this, you know your goalkeeper is always going to have to play well and I thought he did.”

Meanwhile, this writer stepped away from the screen mid-match to do something unprecedented — unpack from a weekend trip within hours of getting home. And she missed nothing, other than a Mason Toye embellishment foul (which prompted his second disciplinary fine within a week) and a few expected saves from Mannone.

Friendly Rivalry Exalted: 2-1 win over Sporting Kansas City

On a night when a win would seal a playoff berth, Minnesota faced perhaps their most comfortable opponent — the ever-present Sporting Kansas City. Minnesota even cranked up the Nice Factor by serving tater tot hot dish in the press box. Obviously, the officials were not given a helping of this northern comfort food:

There was no VAR call for this questionable seventh minute goal and the remaining 38 minutes of the half could only be described as flustered. The Loons weren’t able to cancel out Barath’s questionable goal until late in the second half. Captain Ozzie Alonso found himself on the end of a set piece rebound and fired off a shot nearly identical to his goal on opening night:

For the remaining 20 minutes, it appeared both teams may be dropping two points that night. The frustration came roaring back for fans and players alike. But then, just as stoppage time was announced, United’s Rookie of the Year contender sealed the deal. It just took a little help from Barath (of all people).

Hassani Dotson’s shot took a deflection of the Kansas City defender and found its way past Tim Melia. And chaos ensued.

Three points. Playoffs. Euphoria and validation. Was that the biggest goal in Dotson’s career?

“Yeah, I would say so. It was the game winner but the credit goes to the team and all the effort that everyone in the organization has put in for us to get here.”

But it is not over yet.

“Let’s go on and see if we can win this game against LAFC,” said Heath. “I know nobody gives us a chance, but it’d be nice to beat them on Sunday and that’ll be three times we’ve beaten them out of four.”

And so, we go again.

COYL

Featured image: Bridget McDowell

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

MNUFC’s Three-Year Plan Gets More Puzzling with Open Cup Loss

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

Imagine spending more than two years searching for and fitting together all the edge and corner pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Halfway through that third year you still need one or two more pieces, but the frame is coming together. More and more people have been asking you what the final picture is, but you either can’t or won’t tell them, saying only that the little pictures change the game. You’re gathering little clusters here and there, snapshots you can piece together and show off at big gatherings. You’ve given them glimpses, little hints about the final product, especially one particular section. 

Then one night, with everyone watching and waiting anxiously to see a completed section of your puzzle – the part they have been eyeing for the better part of a year – you approach the table, hesitate for a moment with your hands over that beautifully progressing section and… You shove it to the side and start fumbling with loose pieces in the opposite corner while a whole party of of supporters and skeptics looks on.

That is what Adrian Heath did with his United squad on Tuesday.

An Open Cup Final berth was billed as a cornerstone to Heath’s Three Year Plan from the outset in 2017. Open Cup and playoffs, Open Cup and playoffs, Open Cup and playoffs: The buzz words used by Heath & Co as they settled into each MLS season. The third time was the charm for an Open Cup berth and fans – even the most fervent pessimists – could not be faulted for going into the final in Atlanta expecting to see a lineup and formation akin to those laid out for the preceding matches.

Heath has stuck to his favored 4-2-3-1 to start nearly every match in 2019, reverting to a 4-3-3 only when absences dictated it and even then, only for short periods of time. He also held back his favored starters for two important league matches, presumably resting them for the final. So when MNUFC posted a 4-3-3 and a Starting XI that was largely untested in that shape, well – The only thing we know to expect is a surprise and this was no different.

Rookies Chase Gasper and Hassani Dotson have performed well for the last couple months, often appearing mature beyond their years, especially when played alongside veterans like Michael Boxall, Ike Opara and Ozzie Alonso. Mason Toye, despite disciplinary issues, has reaped the rewards of having a USL affiliate nearby, finally breaking out of his second-year rookie slump; and newcomer Robin Lod has shown promise in his very short time here, when slotted in for short periods with perennial starters who needed someone to light a fire under their feet. 

Despite all of that, expecting these players to hold off and break down a hot-running Atlanta side, in an unfriendly environment (Say what you will about the NFL, but they got one thing right in setting single-elimination style finals at neutral sites.), was incredibly unfair, especially given the blood, sweat and tears they gave to get there.

Midfield turnovers and final-third panic were, per usual, the Loons’ downfall in Atlanta. Opening the scoring with an own goal didn’t do much to settle the nerves of the defense (In all fairness to Gasper, that ball took an odd bounce and Minnesota veterans have been credited with even uglier own goals off of even poorer decisions.), but completing their own scoring opportunities could have wiped that moment clean from the Loons’ collective conscience. Had Minnesota managed to level the score and bounce back for the win, there is a good chance Man of the Match honors would still have gone to a player on the backline.

While Opara and Boxall (especially Boxall) took flack on Twitter for whiffing on some sitters that could have won the game, the defenders played their roles well in the second half, holding Atlanta goalless on one counter attack after another. Vito Mannone also came up huge, giving up only one goal to Atlanta (and one, of course, to Gasper) despite seeing too much of Josef Martinez.

What a juxtaposition this night was to the two teams’ first meeting back in 2017. On that bitterly cold and snowy afternoon, Minnesota’s defense couldn’t buy a break, losing their home opener 6-1. On Tuesday night, Minnesota lived and died by its defense, holding Atlanta to one goal and then having the best opportunities to score at the other end of the pitch.

While Heath shuffles the midfield and attack – a carousel of MLS rookies and veterans, internationals and hometown favorites – he would do well to leave the back four intact. And not let them beat themselves up for not doing the job on the other end of the pitch, too.

Featured image: MNUFC

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

A Goal Epiphany: MNUFC Sees The Other Side Of A Goal Windfall

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

Saturday, June 29: 7-1 win

Starting XI: Vito Mannone, Chase Gasper, Michael Boxall, Ike Opara, Hassani Dotson, Osvaldo Alonso (Lawrence Olum 70′), Jan Gregus, Miguel Ibarra, Darwin Quintero (Kevin Molino 61′), Ethan Finlay, Angelo Rodriguez (Mason Toye 62′)

Minnesota United FC have struggled to find the back of the net this season, winning low-scoring games and losing on the back of a stale attack. Any Minnesota sports fan will tell you not to count on a shaky expansion side like FC Cincinnati to pad your goal average, but just 30 minutes into the match everyone in blue and orange was sweating and not just because of the 95 degree heat index.

Sure, scoring 4 goals in 45 minutes is less impressive when it comes against a squad depleted of internationals, players the club relies on to stave off overwhelming defeat. Scoring 7 in 90 minutes against said club… Well, that’s not expected from a club that used to be that club.

Despite a low 38% share of overall possession, Minnesota United pulled out a 7-1 win over the newest expansion club, with 6 different Loons making the score sheet and 2 forwards sharing in the spoils.

For the first time in a long time (or ever) Adrian Heath’s go-to slogan, “Goals change games,” was a positive reflection of his squad’s performance. With a trio of first half goals sinking Cincy’s possession-based momentum. True to recent form, backfield players were credited with those goals, continuing the Loons’ offensive drought.

All 4 were beautiful goals, but the most impressive perhaps came from rookie Hassani Dotson. Cal Williams, calling the nationally televised game for a local radio audience on SKOR North, called it “a pure Minnesota Black-and-Blue belter.”

Cincinnati came out of the locker room after halftime primed to slow Minnesota’s momentum. They made one substitute at the break, taking advantage of a lopsided 3-0 scoreline to give midfielder Tommy McCabe his MLS debut before the regulars return from international duty. It wasn’t long before their quick movements bore fruit. Midfielder Emmanuel Ledesma was able to slot a quick shot past Vito Mannone to put the visitors on the board in the 56th minute.

Typically, conceding an early goal is enough to damper any offensive moves from the Loons. Cue another Heath standby: “I said to the players at half the first 15 minutes will dictate the other 30. Which it does. Because we conceded a sloppy goal. You know, there’s no way we can dress that up because it was a poor goal to concede.” Indeed. But Saturday was far from typical, as Heath added, “The response from that was terrific.”

Unbelievable and beautiful were just some of the words heard around in the press box and on the broadcasts to describe the Loons’ second half offensive renewal. Following a 70th minute brace from Opara, Mason Toye finally scored his first goal for the club in MLS competition in the 75th minute.

I’ve been trying to score goals since I got here. It’s been a bit of a roller coaster for me, a bit of a mental game. I’ve just been trying to work hard and I’ve heard the goals will come. So, it feels really good that my hard work is paying off.

Twelve minutes later, he added an assist as Kevin Molino, fresh off of a Gold Cup stunner for Trinidad & Tobago, poked his way into the box to put the final nail in the coffin.

It was a true team effort. Defensive mid Jan Gregus, back from Slovakia national duty, tallied a gentleman’s hat trick, assisting Dotson, Opara and Toye. Darwin Quintero marked 2 assists and very nearly made a couple goals of his own. Rookie Chase Gasper made his first career start and stood tall for a full 90 minutes on the left flank.

Midfielder Miguel Ibarra still had energy to burn in the waning minutes of the game, sprinting the full length of the pitch as if the Loons were down a goal rather than up by 6. Opara stunned his Cincinnati counterparts with his first career brace.

FC Cincinnati’s defenders look on helplessly as Ike Opara heads in his second goal of the match in the 70th minute. Photo by Louis Livingston-Garcia

“Sporting Kansas City didn’t want to win,” people said after the Loons’ Fourth Round Open Cup victory. “Houston wasn’t at their best,” they said after the Round of 16. “It’s only Cincinnati” was a justifiable reaction after the first half. Seven goals. Six, beautiful, perfect strikes – and one off of Opara’s… thigh? This match wasn’t ‘just’ anything in any way, shape or form. 

Goals change games. Goals also change mentality, spirit, drive, confidence. Goals change hearts and minds. Goals from those who were brought in to score them and score them often earns trust. Goals from players not thought of as ‘strikers’ in any sense earns respect. Goals are what fans at Allianz Field and dozens of travelling supporters should have been witness to from Day 1 of the 2019 season.

On Saturday, 19,778 fans witnessed goals galore. “Downright bizarre,” said Williams. Downright glorious. And the Loons go marching on – to two matches that will set the tone for the rest of their season.

MN United FC hosts fellow Western Conference playoff contenders San Jose Earthquakes before a cross-conference trip to Montreal Impact on Saturday.

Featured image: Louis Livingston-Garcia // @LouisGarcia12

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

MNUFC Continues Consistent Inconsistent Streak

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

Wednesday, May 29: 0-3 loss | Sunday, June 2: 3-2 loss

After the exhilarating home win last weekend, the Loons traveled to Atlanta to face their expansion rivals in a midweek match, then turned tail to host Philadelphia Union at home. Through the two matches, Minnesota’s defensive streak came to a screeching halt. Would their attack rise to counterbalance?

It nearly happened in Atlanta, but the best chance came from a much contested play, when Brad Guzan’s goal line save appeared to be a goal from one angle.

There was just enough reasonable doubt that many Loons fans expected a VAR call and were frustrated when it didn’t come. Had it happened, the call would not have changed, but not using VAR on a possible equalizing play is a bit confusing, but that’s another story. Josef Martinez got his mojo back and Atlanta went on to win 3-0. The Loons turned around to prepare for a Doop duel.

As opposed to a number of previous matches when, even after a win, Heath would criticize a handful of players for poor performances, he sang their praises on Sunday afternoon, refusing to address any mistakes or poor quality.

Even in the face of a league-high shots tally (29!), Heath refused to discuss the elephant in the room – his strikers’ failure to finish when putting up all those shots: “A little higher percentage of [goals to shots] we would’ve been, probably, clear. But I’m not going to let that mask what was an outstanding performance on top of the shift that the guys did on Wednesday in Atlanta.”

Instead, he put Sunday’s loss down to fantastic “last-ditch defending” by Philadelphia and their “very, very good – shall we say, professional” ability to go to ground cheaply and stay there. The latter was certainly a factor, earning deafening boos from the Wonderwall, but the former was made easy by some poor finishing from Minnesota’s attackers.

Rookie defender Hassani Dotson, who scored the first equalizer on his first ever MLS career shot, was asked by media if he would do anything to commemorate his first goal: “It was a nice moment, but it doesn’t feel good because we lost.” He did add, however, “Everyone put in a good shift and we were unlucky to not get three points.”

The players, especially defenders, were disappointed. Brent Kallman, involved in Philadelphia’s third goals, said: “I was looking around, I was kind of – we didn’t have many numbers at the back post, we had no guys there. So I stayed on the spot. The ball came in and I kind of got frozen[…] If I keep my feet moving, then I can attack and and it’s not a problem […] It’s obviously one I’d like to have back.”

That self-criticism and drive is one reason Minnesota fans like that hometown boy. Another is his honesty about his teammates. Kallman had words for Dotson on a few occasions, when he didn’t feel enough support from the left back, but he also had some feelings about the Loons’ attack when questioned on their shot total:

“We got to be better going to goal. I mean, when you have enough quality, you know where the defenders are, you know where they’re going to put their legs. You miss that on purpose, so we [defenders] push for it. Those point guys were flying around, but we just have to finish our chances.”

Hassani’s goal was a byproduct of the attackers quitting on the play. The body language before Dotson strikes is telling:

While their coach looked at the big picture, for once, the players are stuck thinking of moments. Wishing they had reacted a little differently here or could have done more to make a play matter there. So many numbers that should have added up to something – a gutsy draw, a gritty win – fluttered away and left Minnesota with zero points earned on a two-match week.

Improvements to be made

Defense: Clean and tough. Minnesota has become a defensive team rather than a ‘let’s score one more than we concede’ team. Communication among the back three/four has dramatically improved thanks to veteran additions and their 90 minute stamina is bolstered by the youthful legs and workhorses, but conceding free kicks in dangerous areas and giving up unnecessary penalty kicks have proven costly.

Midfield: Passing and possession. These are the Loons’ Achilles heel. Philadelphia turned into a turnover battle more than once and there was no strength there in Atlanta on Wednesday. Minnesota needs to find a way to connect their improving defense with the floundering attack to see any overall improvement.

Attack: Finishing. Even when the Loons do finally get the ball into the final third where the strikers can take a shot, those same strikers who saved many a match over the last couple seasons are having trouble finishing the job now. Rodriguez is often slow on the final touch; Abu Danladi isn’t strong enough to muscle past defenders and maintain the ball; and Quintero seems to have lost his confidence, missing simple shots and quitting on the play.

Playing roles in both losses were: Officials, solid opposing defense and Minnesota defensive mishaps. What’s the best way to counter those factors?

An attack capable of scoring goals with – shall we say – consistency? Perhaps with the same consistency with which MNUFC recognizes and celebrates Pride – but that’s, again, another story.

COYL

Featured image: @MNUFC

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

MN United follow Road Loss with Six Points and New Identity at Home

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

May 11 at Chicago Fire: 2-0 loss, May 18 v Columbus Crew: 1-0 win, May 22 v Hertha Berlin (friendly): 0-1 loss, May 25 v Houston Dynamo: 1-0 win

Minnesota United FC put up a pathetic showing in Bridgeview on Saturday, May 11, just days after offloading their left back and perennial captain on the Fire. If they had hoped to prove that night that they could live without Francisco Calvo, they failed to do so.

One moment encapsulates those dismal 95 minutes – and the two seasons of road woes the Loons thought were in the past – and it involves two big names in the United story: Darwin Quintero, the Loons’ best hope for goal opportunities, and the ousted captain, Calvo.

Quintero, making a lonely run toward goal, dribbled the ball right into Calvo who hardly had to move his feet to dispossess his former teammate and direct the ball out of Fire’s third. That was about as close as the Loons got to a goal. Even Callum Williams, whose optimism lightens most matches, had nothing to say about this one:

Thankfully, the next three matches, including a poorly timed friendly against Hertha Berlin, would be played in front of the Wonderwall. Admittedly, I haven’t watched the Crew match in its entirety: I caught the condensed version after following the live scores from Minnesota’s North Shore.

The fact that the Loons’ scored first after trading shots with the Crew for 70 minutes was not a surprise – with 19 shots to Crew’s 4, it was bound to happen for the home side. However, the play which created it was.

Jan Gregus‘ short corner found Quintero who passed it to Romain Metanire at the top of the third. The right back appeared to be looking for a lurking striker. Instead, his ball to the far post was met by centerback Brent Kallman whose diving header found Ethan Finlay. The former Crew midfielder buried the ball and remained subdued while Loons jumped on top of him in celebration. His strike and a clean sheet from the Loons’ defense secured three points at home.

Hosting a Wednesday night friendly between two Saturday matches was not an ideal situation, but it was an opportunity for Minnesota to let some rookies shine in a match with no conference table consequences. Hertha Berlin of the Bundesliga opened their first US tour with a win at the newest member of their Allianz stadium family.

Though it was his error which led to Hertha’s lone goal, when he knocked an attempted ball right into the path of Peter Pekarik for the rebound, keeper Dayne St Claire, MNUFC’s 2019 Super Draft pick, made some huge saves and proved that he is worthy of some MLS minutes.

St Clair’s fellow loanee, forward Mason Toye, showed growth and composure Wednesday night despite failing to find the back of the net. (If the Dark Clouds had a Charity Over-the-Crossbar Club in addition to the Charity Card Club, I would have gone broke this week.) The 2018 draftee showed he’s capable of finding open space and taking up positions that are most likely to move the ball forward.

The best rookie performance came from midfielder Hassani Dotson. He so impressed the coaching staff that they selected him to make his MLS debut in the Starting XI on Saturday’s match against Houston Dynamo, out of position no less.

With winger Kevin Molino forced to rest ahead of international duty after taking a knock in the friendly, Miguel Ibarra was moved up from the left back role he’d taken after Calvo’s departure. Dotson filled that spot with a confidence that reassured even the most cynical Loons fans.

After some opening-minutes jitters, Dotson made some ice-cold stops against a stout Houston side, partnering well with Brent Kallman, who himself displayed an almost indifferent composure for the full 90 minutes. With those two on the left and Metanire and Michael Boxall on the right, the United defense controlled this game. Previously the Achilles’ heel of a club struggling to find an identity, the defense was stalwart in its own third while also leading the attack.

Metanire, whose 5 assists include 2 game winners, got the lone goal of the night on what was intended to be another assist. Cal Williams may be the only person more surprised than Metanire himself. Listen here:

For a team whose midfield and defensive troubles have dominated headlines since entering MLS, this shift to midfield and defensive dominance is refreshing. Constant communication, accountability, and teamwork has created much-needed chemistry both on and off the pitch. When the veterans are dialed in and happy, the rookies thrive. If Minnesota’s forwards can just start sending the ball into the net instead of over the crossbar, United could be a fearsome foe both home and away.

The Loons face a huge challenge on Wednesday in Atlanta without assist-leader/defender Metanire (yellow card accumulation). Who gets the next chance to shine?

COYL

Featured image: @MNUFC

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale