Tag Archives: Vito Mannone

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

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

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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

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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

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

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Loons Reveal Secondary Kit, Primary Keeper

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

In the middle of the messiest snowstorm of the year (so far), MNUFC took over the Mall of America rotunda for what is often the most exciting part of the preseason: the kit reveal.

I had planned to be there to hear the fan reactions to the new design, but had to turn around after just five sketchy miles of freeway driving. While I waited in a checkout line with 100 pounds of tube sand to balance my car on my Monday morning commute, a quick peek at Twitter replaced the sound bytes I had hoped for: Meh.

The 2019 away kit is appropriately called the Drift Kit:

*For those of you who don’t follow winter sports, the Xcel Energy Center is home to the Minnesota Wild hockey team.*

Fans seem to be fed up with the Adidas templates that are sweeping the league and Minnesota United fans, still accustomed to the individualistic lower league designs of yore, are certainly no different. But, I’m going to put a positive spin on these icy whites.

The Loons are poised for an improved away performance this year that will put the design in perspective: The shirt is simply a template in which the Loons will build a road team identity. And if they don’t…

Maybe Clorox Bleach will replace Target as shirt sponsor.

The keeper kits are a tad more interesting, even more so given who walked out in one.

Italian keeper Vito Mannone has joined MNUFC on a one year loan from English Championship side Reading FC. He comes to MLS with Premier League experience, including seven seasons at Arsenal. Mannone is set to take the top spot between the sticks, demoting Bobby Shuttleworth (who, to my knowledge, was not seen at the kit reveal) to the bench.

When the Mannone rumors first started, I was not convinced he was the upgrade that Adrian Heath & Co were so openly shopping for. After some comparison between Mannone and Shuttleworth’s stats though, I’m a little more comfortable with this game plan. Based on numbers reported by Transfermarkt, Mannone averaged 62.5 minutes between goals conceded over the 2017/18 season, while Shuttleworth averaged 47.3 minutes in 2017 and 44.1 in 2018.

These certainly aren’t the definitive stats to go by, but Mannone, combined with the D-line upgrades made in January, indeed appears to be an improvement.

New looks abound in the North. Come. On. You. Loons.

Featured image: @MNUFC

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

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