Tag Archives: Mason Toye

Loons Shock LAFC, Earn Shutout On the Road

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

Minnesota United FC is no stranger to playing spoiler in the waning weeks of the MLS season. However, the Loons have never gained much for themselves by doing so. On Sunday, that all changed with the upset of the season, giving the Loons – and the entire western conference – a leg up in the race for second place.

Los Angeles Football Club was undefeated at home going into Sunday evening’s meeting and had only lost one league match there since joining the league in 2018. Minnesota fans were not expecting much from the matchup, hoping for a draw at best or, barring that, as few goals conceded as possible.

When yet another roster and formation shakeup was revealed, everyone would have settled for anything above humiliation. So when Mason Toye, left to roam the final third alone in a strangely fluid 3-5-2, knocked in not one, but two (!) goals before the 30 minute mark, all hell broke loose on Twitter.

In theory, Heath’s formation seemed an odd way to handle the threat of an attacking team, but in practice it proved to be an effective weapon.

While Ike Opara, Michael Boxall, and Brent Kallman (returning to the XI after a long bench spell) set up as a center-back trio, two additional defenders tracked back each time LA approached the area, parking the bus from the first minute and effectively neutralizing a Vela-free offense.

The Black-and-Gold played a similar game, sending most of the 4-3-3 role players forward in an effort to thwart Minnesota’s traditionally leaky defense by crowding the box. More men pressing means more gaps can be exploited, but the Black-and-Blue bus did its job and, in their rare missteps, Vito Mannone came up clutch to deny many LA opportunities.

With so many players thrown forward, Mason Toye and Darwin Quintero were free to instantly turn every counterattack into a one-on-one or one-on-two. While Quintero opened up a lot of space and drew attention away from Toye, extra touches and a few weak passes resulted in more turnovers than shots. Thankfully, they didn’t need many:

With just five shots and possession of the ball for only 23 percent of the match, Minnesota managed to seal the deal. LAFC can tout Vela’s absence as an issue, but without the star striker they still managed 23 shots, 8 on target. Adama Diomande tallied 4 shots, 1 on target, and Adrien Perez tallied 2, both through traffic and on target. Toye’s 2 shots for 2 goals made the difference, thanks to this man:

Whether the win is a result of the performance of Toye and/or Mannone, Heath’s roster/formation change, the absence of Vela, a healthy dose of luck, or any combination of such factors, when it comes down to season stats and the conference table, just two things matter: the W and the scoreline. But surprises are nice:

“I thought our discipline was absolutely magnificent and we knew they were going man for man at the back when they were attacking and Mason’s quick, people don’t realize how quick he is, and we realized we would get opportunities on the break and, I have to say, I didn’t expect the two goals and certainly not the second one. I thought the first one was a magnificent finish but I think the second took everybody by surprise, even the keeper.”

– Head coach Adrian Heath

Actually, not everybody was surprised.

“It didn’t surprise me at all,” said Toye. “I work really hard every day in training and I’ve been doing it for as long as I’ve been here. So, I think that I’ve put in the work and I think that it’s just showing the fruits of my labor here. […] I’ve been working really hard to get myself into these opportunites.”

The Loons still have a lot of work to do to keep themselves above the red line, not least of which is their turn to host LAFC at Allianz Field at the end of the month. That match, however, is not on Minnesota’s radar yet. “We’re looking at each game and not going too [far] ahead,” Toye explained. “Houston is next. It’s one game at a time and we’ll get to LAFC and adjust.”

With international call-ups spelling absences for the 9/11 meeting with Dynamo in Houston, and possibly for the following weekend’s meeting with Real Salt Lake, the squad will be using a weekend friendly against CF Pachuca (the Liga MX side where Romario Ibarra is on loan) as a tune-up.

Toye and rookie midfielder Hassani Dotson will be with the USMNT U-23s for a September 9 friendly. Jan Gregus (Slovakia), Kevin Molino (Trinidad and Tobago), Robin Lod and Rasmus Schuller (Finland) have all been called up as well, as FIFA gears up for World Cup qualifiers.

Never a boring day in the West. Or in the North, for that matter.

COYL

Featured image: @MNUFC

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MNUFC Climb Their Way To US Open Cup FInal

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

Minnesota United hosted the Portland Timbers for not one, but two matches this week. The schedule could not have worked out better for the Oregonians who’ve always wanted to be temporary citizens of the Twin Cities. Sunday’s MLS action will be discussed at length in another article. For now the spotlight is on the Loons’ first US Open Cup semifinal appearance as an upper-tier club.

After toppling the Timbers 1-0 on a last minute penalty kick on Sunday, the only thing certain about Wednesday’s bout was that it would be a nail biter. These two clubs are pretty evenly matched in terms of lineup and formation. Sunday’s match was an end-to-end battle start to finish and just minutes into Wednesday’s action, there was a clear repeat ahead, despite a much changed attack.

While Portland held a slight edge on Sunday in terms of possession and forays into the final third, Minnesota took over that role on Wednesday. The Loons had made 4 runs into the Timbers’ 18 inside of 4 minutes and were able to shut down every counterattack before it could get dangerous. Of course, the deadlock was broken by a penalty kick. How else?

Darwin Quintero converted the penalty, called after his own free kick found a hand in Portland’s wall. Captain Ozzie Alonso was seen running 70 yards down the field to say something to Quintero before his attempt. When asked what the instruction was, head coach Adrian Heath quipped, “Probably, ‘score.'”

Fair enough.

Minnesota nearly made it into halftime with the lead, but Portland knocked in a stoppage time goal that left Heath wondering, “Where’s VAR when you need it, eh?” Brian Fernandez was potentially offside when he struck the ball from Jeremy Ebobisse, but it was not reviewed as VAR is not used in USOC play. One viewer captured this still frame which makes it doubtful a review would have been in Minnesota’s favor:

The second half was much the same as the first. The team’s traded shots, blocks, tackles, and fouls; Minnesota’s attacking players continued to struggle with their first touch; and the Wonderwall grew louder. Then, in the 64th minute, Mason Toye finally connected.

Toye and Kevin Molino have displayed great chemistry recently, often combining for great scoring chances. Molino dropped a beautiful ball right in front of Toye who beat Claude Dieina and Steven Clark to knock in the tiebreaker.

“Whenever Kevin gets the ball and has space and time, I’m just going to run and try to get myself into a good spot,” Toye said. He also said they did finishing drills together after practice this week: “That might have helped.”

Toye’s father was in attendance for what the striker called the most important goal of his career, his second match-winner scored in USOC play. Dad was probably biting his nails through the final 30 minutes while the Loons held off the Timbers who worked tirelessly for tying and winning goals. Despite their efforts, which ran well into the 5 minutes of added time, the Loons held on.

They will face fellow expansion side Atlanta United at Mercedes Benz Stadium on August 27. How does Heath feel about playing his club’s measuring stick?

“It’s nice for us, yeah,” he said, before adding another jab at ‘MLS dot com’: “The flags will be at half-mast in that building tonight, with Minnesota in the final.”

Jokes aside, Heath plows ahead. His squad faces two Western Conference foes over the next week (Dallas on Saturday, Colorado on Wednesday), important matches if Minnesota is to stay on top of the table.

By the time Minnesota lands in Atlanta, Lod will be more fit and the club’s first Young Designated Player, Thomas Chacon, should have his visa paperwork squared away. Whether Chacon will factor into the attack in Atlanta remains to be seen. That may depend on how the rest of the squad handles training and the intervening matches and on the Uraguayan’s fitness level.

The one thing fans can be sure of: This is a big year for Minnesota United. Year Three was billed as ‘THE’ Year and is shaping up as hoped. Playoff contention and the club’s first-ever US Open Cup final.

Over the next month, the Loons will definitively answer the question, “Who runs the North?”

COYL

Featured image: @MNUFC

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

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Minnesota Rises Above After 95 Minute Battle For the Ages

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

Minnesota United FC v FC Dallas: 1-0 win

After a come-from-behind victory in Montreal and a thorough trouncing of USL’s New Mexico United in a US Open Cup quarterfinal, Minnesota United returned to conference play on Saturday on home grass against FC Dallas. Their third match in seven days was a big one: Minnesota sat 4th in the West, Dallas 5th entering the weekend. It was everything you’d expect from two evenly matched teams.

Chippy. Cheeky. Scoreless for 90 minutes.

Through the first half, Minnesota struggled to get into the final third with the ball, continuing the trend of easy turnovers and poor passing. For their part, Dallas struggled there, as well, losing many an opportunity to a well-timed tackle or screen play inside of United’s 18. With 43% possession through the first half, Minnesota was level with Dallas on shots taken, 7, but Dallas was more efficient in that area and it felt as if they held the upper hand. That may simply have been due to the visitors’ decision making. By contrast, poor choices and touches abounded for the Loons.

After the 6-1 win over New Mexico, Adrian Heath praised his players for their selfless decisions. “My favorite saying, give it to people when they want it, not when you finish with it and that’s what we did,” he told the press. For the first half against Dallas, and much of the second, the Loons were not living that motto.

But each player held the other accountable in a very much one-v-one match. Most notably, captain Ozzie Alonso was furious with Chase Gasper when the rookie, in a scramble to avoid having to use his less-favored right foot, sent the ball over the touchline rather than allowing it to go out for a goal kick. Gasper wasted no time in making up for the gaff; he went right back to his mark at over 100% effort.

Gasper was one player singled out by Heath after Saturday’s win: “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.”

That other fullback, Hassani Dotson, has made himself known in Romain Metanaire’s absence. He may be supplanted on Metanaire’s return, but he will, at the very least, be a known quantity off the bench.

It was a contentious 90 minutes, but the 5 minutes of added time were downright stressful. And euphoric. And then very stressful. And euphoric.

Sophomore forward Mason Toye has been on a tear recently, scoring 3 goals in his last 4 appearances (after going scoreless across 17 appearances in 2018). He added to that tally on Saturday, scoring on the rebound just as the 4th official raised his board announcing 5 minutes of added time.

As 19,906 fans celebrated the goal heard around the Midway, Dallas mounted a comeback. Fresh off the bench, Dallas’ Bryan Reynolds charged toward a loose ball in the Minnesota box and there was little Mannone could do:

“I’m calling for this ball to kill the game and Chase [Gasper] didn’t hear me. I was coming, I was screaming and obviously the crowd was loud. He had the touch, and once I’m there, I’m trying to stand still. And he’s going away from the goal, he’s going wide, he’s not even going through the ball and I thought, with his run he came into me, but. Anyway, he gave it.”

Video review rewarded a penalty to Dallas after Mannone’s collision with Reynolds. Defender Reto Ziegler lined up for the shot as Minnesota fans held their breath. Fortunately, for Mannone, two days of study paid off: “His run up was telling me something different from what I saw in the video[…] It was quite long and on an angle. When he approached the ball, I thought he couldn’t put it on this side anymore, and I thought, let me try and guess over there.”

He guessed correctly. If Toye’s shot was the goal heard around the Midway, Mannone’s stop was the save heard around St Paul.

The locker room celebration was a subdued affair. Joyous, certainly, but quiet. Most of the guys cleaned up, dressed and headed home. They’d moved up to third in the west, the job was done for the night. While the reserves take a swing at Aston Villa in a friendly on Wednesday, most of the starters will have a long rest ahead of next Saturday’s trip to Salt Lake.

Other notes:

  • Ozzie Alonso exited in the second half after taking a heavy shot to the shoulder and another to the gut. He’ll have an MRI on Sunday, but the medical staff is confident his clavicle is only bruised.
  • Romain Metanire landed in Minnesota on Friday after Madagascar’s exit from the African Cup of Nations. Heath said he will get an emotional and physical rest this week before being re-activated for league play.

Featured image: Bridget McDowell

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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

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MNUFC’s Ten-Man Wonderwall

Bridget McDowell - Minnesota United FC/mlsfemale
Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

Saturday, May 5: 1-0 Win

The Loons have had their share of ups and downs in 2018, just two months into the season, and Saturday’s match was no different. The early afternoon matchup against the Vancouver Whitecaps saw three players make their first starts for the club, a superhero get his first goal, a rookie get his first career red card and a 2017 stalwart get his (and the club’s) first clean sheet of the year.

It was a thriller of a game between a blue sky and baking turf. Minnesota United FC led in first-half possession but had little to show for it, managing just a couple shots to the Whitecaps’ eight. That said, the new-look front four led by rookie forward Mason Toye (first start, seventh appearance) and anchored by Miguel Ibarra, Darwin Quintero and Alexi Gomez (first start, second appearance) gave the fans plenty to cheer for.

There were some changes on the other side of the ball, too. Eric Miller, a Minnesota native acquired from Colorado earlier this week, got his first start in the back four. He left the match late with cramps (“I forgot how hot it gets here in the summer,” he said in the locker room), but made a solid impression when the Loons transitioned from the 4-2-3-1 to a 5-3-1 bunker.

That ten-man bunker was forced by the ejection of Mason Toye, who drew a red card when he elbowed his defender in the gut, forcing him to the ground in the box. After a pre-interview pep talk from Francisco Calvo, Toye called his first career red a “rookie mistake” and thanked his teammates for taking and maintaining a lead after his departure.

The Loons were left without a forward in Toye’s absence (Ramirez and Danladi still on the DL), but just minutes after the ejection, a cross in from Gomez found Ibarra, who has emulated the “next man up” mantra all season, lurking near the far post. After ‘Caps keeper Marinovic tipped the high-angle shot away, ‘Batman’ followed the ball and knocked in his own rebound for his first (onside) goal of the season.

Batman’s game-winner was heavily insured by United keeper Bobby Shuttleworth. The “Clean Sheet Shuttleworth” chant of late 2017 was revived for a stellar performance which saw Shuttleworth go, full-on acrobat, multiple times.

One of those blocks led to a rare display of MLS ingenuity when officials delayed the start of the second half so that a hole in the side netting of the west goal could be mended by a crew armed with white tape. Having punched a hole in the net in the first half, Shuttleworth kept up the trend in the second, punching his ticket to the Save of the Week highlight reel with a leaping save that drew roars from the crowd.

There were still eight minutes to play, plus stoppage time, but after that save, fans were already hearing ‘Wonderwall.’ For the second week in a row, the roller coaster came to a stop pointed uphill.

Here’s hoping a forward-free lineup stays the course against LAFC on Wednesday.

Featured image of the team walk out courtesy: Bridget McDowell

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A cry of loons bests the pride of lions

Bridget McDowell - Minnesota United FC/mlsfemale
Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

Saturday, March 10: 1-2 Win

Despite an identical lineup, the cry of Loons who appeared in Orlando Saturday was a different animal from last weekend. And this group announced their presence loud and clear.

I choose the collective noun ‘cry’ here over a handful of others for Minnesota’s state bird because the performance of this squad – their grit, heart, and perseverance – against Orlando City SC put a hopeful and enlightened tone on the season, much like the cry of our beloved loon does on a summer day.

Head coach Adrian Heath faced his former club with the same 4-2-3-1 he tried against San Jose Earthquakes last week, but with Christian Ramirez at forward in lieu of Danladi.

Center back Francisco Calvo anchored a backline that communicated well from the first whistle, closing gaps effectively and holding down the box. Ibson, who was not even a shadow of himself in the asylum against San Jose, pressed forward with each possession, pecking away at weaknesses in the Lions’ midfield, but did not take any unnecessary risks.

Mid Sam Nicholson worked the wide open left wing in his best showing to date, creating some hopeful chances of his own. And Kevin Molino was aggressive against his former club, assisting Ethan Finlay on a beautiful 12th-minute goal which spurred an even greater hunger to move forward.

But in the latter part of the first half, despite leading a depleted Lions squad, play went stale. It would pick up a bit after Orlando forward Stefano Pinho (a veteran of the NASL-era Loons) was stretchered off and the countdown to halftime began, only to devolve when an Orlando free kick was rescinded and replaced by a PK, thanks (or no thanks) to VAR, allowing Yoshimar Yotun to level the game for the Lions.

The second half began similarly, with play wallowing like a raft in waves. Molino had to be replaced by Collen Warner after a non-contact left knee injury. Also, Nicholson’s hamstring, a minor issue through the first half, finally saw him replaced by Miguel Ibarra. Ramirez was also pulled in favor of the fresh legs of rookie draft pick Mason Toye.

Toye and Ibarra were immediate factors, laying on the pressure up front and finding wide open shooting lanes. Their efforts were rewarded in the 79th minute when Ibarra received the ball from Toye and fired a cross toward the near post. It was met by a well-timed boot from Finlay for a stunning brace. From there, the Loons went into overdrive with a dopping of defense, dispossessing Lions in the box and forcing shots wide.

With Molino and others uncertain, Heath will undoubtedly have to go back to the ‘loonery’ to shore up his squad before the home opener. The club has a lot of improvements to make, but after watching this entire squad gut out the final minutes of this match, it is obvious that these players are determined to do whatever it takes to make 2018 a successful season.

Next up: The loon will cry out over Minneapolis on St Patrick’s Day. Can a water dance tame the Chicago Fire?

Featured image courtesy: @MNUFC

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