Injury-plagued Minnesota United kept up their hot streak as they headed to Space City this weekend to take on Western Conference opponents Houston Dynamo FC. Despite not seeing much of the ball, the Loons were able to defeat third-best Texas MLS team 2-1. Although they started slowly, MNUFC weathered the storm and took their chances when they came.
Houston looked primed and ready for this game immediately after kick-off. They came out with an energy and composure on the ball that certainly encouraged Dynamoe supporters, limiting the Loons to just about 30% possession for the first 45 minutes.
The energetic Dynamo examined and nudged the Minnesota United backline and found that while the Loons allowed themselves to bend, they refused to break. Any counter-attempt by MNUFC was quickly stifled as Houston seemed to be everywhere at once. The absences of Wil Trapp and Emanuel Reynoso were glaring as their team struggled to maintain possession and build meaningful momentum.
For much of the half, the Dynamo was calm and controlled. They isolated opposing attackers and stretched the loons to great effect, leaving them with nowhere to go and no help.
Despite overwhelming possession, the home side struggled for a breakthrough, missing a single shot on goal. Hector Herrera’s class was evident throughout, but his build-up play only went so far that players kept coming up against a strong MNUFC defense at the end of his passes.
The lethargic visitors found their way again in the 30th minute as they started to press and win the ball in the attacking third. Houston’s early dominance waned, leaving a more contested match.
It looked like a tie at half-time, but Bongokuhle Hlongwane had other ideas. After picking up the ball past midfield, Hlongwane charged forward and quickly weaved through Houston defenders before delivering a through ball to Franco Fragapane in the 18. The MNUFC winger’s perfect run sent him ghosting past the Dynamo defense, sending Steve Clark lashing out and ending up in an open net in added time. The Loons went into the break with an improbable 1-0 lead after scoring just one shot on goal at half-time.
When play resumed, Houston found a spark through substitute Sebastian Ferreira. The Paraguayan striker immediately put pressure on MNUFC, but all-star keeper Dayne St. Clair came out big in the 49th minute to prevent the move. With that save, Houston’s attack slowed as the game settled into a rhythm similar to the end of the first half.
Over the next 20 minutes, the most notable occurrences were a Carrasquilla shot that appeared to go into orbit and the pitch seemingly turned into a slip as players from both teams fell repeatedly.
In the 72nd minute, lightning finally struck for our favorite South African international.
After Bongokuhle Hlongwane received the ball on the right side of the penalty area, he faked his defender and cut into his left foot. From there he unleashed a beautiful shot, hitting the bottom left corner of the net for his long-awaited, well-earned first MLS goal.
With less than 20 minutes remaining and a visibly exhausted opponent, MNUFC seemed poised to drive to victory. But alas, the fat lady had not yet started to sing.
In the 85th minute, Fafa Picault gave his best Bongi impression when he blasted a laser into the right side netting of the Minnesota United goal to make it 2-1. When the crowd got back on its feet, the dynamo seemed to have a pulse after all.
Despite the late drama, the hosts couldn’t find any more answers. Picault’s goal turned out to be only a consolation prize, but gave his team a brief glimmer of hope.
When you’re away with a laundry list of injured first-team players, sometimes you just have to take the pressure off at times. Defensive discipline is the key to success in these situations and that was evident to the Loons tonight. In a wonderful game by Michael Boxall and Bakaye Dibassy, they seemed to win every ball in the air and made the six an impregnable fortress.
With this win, the Loons extended their unbeaten streak to six games, scoring 16 out of 18 points in that span. They continue to cement their place in the playoffs and don’t seem to be losing momentum. Hopefully a week off will give the squad time to rest and see some players return from injury for next Saturday’s game against Portland at Allianz Field.
Minnesota United XI: GK Dayne St Clair; D Kemar Lawrence, Bakaye Dibassy, Michael Boxall (c), DJ Taylor; M. Joseph Rosales, Robin Lod, Nabilai Kobunguchy; F Franco Fragapane, Luis Amarilla, Bongokuhle Hlongwane
Bench: GK Eric Dick, Tyler Miller; D Alan Benitez, Oniel Fisher, Brent Kallman, Callum Montgomery; M. Niko Hansen, Justin McMaster; F. Abu Danladi
Houston Dynamo XI: GK Steve Clark; D Adam Lundkvist, Tim Parker, Teenager Hadebe, Griffin Dorsey; M Hector Herrera (c), Adalberto Carrasquilla, Matias Vera; F Fafa Picoult, Darwin Quintero, Thor Ulfarsson
Bench: GK Michael Nelson; D Daniel Steres, Ethan Bartlow, Sam Junqua, Zeca; M. Darwin cerae; F.Sebastian Ferreira, Tyler Pasher
MINNESOTA UNITED FC vs. PORTLAND TIMBERS
07/30/2022 | MLS 2022 Regular Season | week 23
2:00 p.m. CT (ABC & 1500 ESPN)
MINNESOTA UNITED POST GAME QUOTE SHEET
HEAD COACH ADRIAN HEATH
On Houston’s final push at the end and the defense staying strong…
“Well, we’ve played away from home, so the initiative will always lie with the home team. Obviously as they chase the game they will push additional men forward which they did. I said to the players at half-time: ‘There are going to be huge parts of this game where you have to defend for your life.’ I don’t think people realize how difficult it is to play with the moisture. Against a team I told the players before the game, these are better than their points record and their position standings. I wasn’t surprised. I knew it was going to be really, really hard. I thought, given how many games we’ve had in the last three or four weeks and gone away to win in LA and gone away to win in Vancouver, come here and win away, maybe we’ll get one bit of appreciation for what we’ve done over the past few weeks.”
Along the way, as the game progressed, the group came together…
“We have a really good group. There is very good camaraderie and togetherness within the group. It was a great run from Bongi [Bongokuhle Hlongwane] nicely timed run by Fraga [Franco Fragapane]. Then his quality came through and I’m really happy that Bongi scored his goal because if ever a kid deserves a goal with the amount of work he puts in on both sides of the ball and if we can get him to do it , consistently scoring goals position with the energy he has to play, then like I said a few months ago when he arrived we believe there is a player and we have to give him time. I don’t think people realize what a culture shock it is to leave Africa for the first time. We’re happy for him and you could see from the reaction of the rest of the group how happy they were for him.”
On the importance of the high role of Bongokuhle Hlongwane…
“He still has a lot to learn and he knows it. When he works as hard as he does, listens to what people tell him, keeps running, always trying to get to the right spots, which is what he’s been doing… If he can start scoring goals in his game that way That means Robin Lod does when he plays there and if you get between seven and 12 goals a season from a wide area that would be huge for us as we progress.
On an update on Emanuel Reynoso’s injury…
“He’s still a bit swollen but he’s walking without the help of a boot at the moment. We are hopeful for next weekend.”
DEFENDER MICHAEL BOXALL
On Houston pushing for a goal at the end and how the team stayed resilient…
“I think we have such a dedicated group of players who want to put everything out there for each other. It’s not just the players on the pitch [who started] but even anyone who comes is willing to work their ass off and make sure we get the result. I’m proud of my boys, I thought Nabi Kibunguchy was super solid tonight [in his first MLS start]. Playing in a rather difficult place. And I’m super excited that Bongi [Bongokuhle Hlongwane] scored his first goal. We have a group of hard-working players who leave everything to each other.”
To players who step up when they get their chance…
“Obviously a lot of our attack depends on it [Emanuel] Reynoso for being such a magic player. When he’s injured or off the field we have players who are more than capable – as they showed tonight and as they showed against Everton. We’ve got players that are more than capable of leveling up and it shows the kind of characters that we have when they can go a month, two months without getting a cold and then they do it they are more than willing and able to come from a difficult place to play and help us get three points.”
To the great defensive performance at the end of the game…
“Kemar [Lawrence] I’ve landed at the bottom of this cross, and I think Dayne [St. Clair] just choked that ball. Dayne was elected [the MLS All Star] Play for a reason. He was big to us. But obviously Kemar is the way he puts his heart and soul into it every night, he’s been super solid since he got here. He’s also a great guy in the dressing room. It’s great to have him on the team and I’m glad we have him here.”
At the celebration of Bongokuhle Hlongwane…
“He’s just such a fun-loving character. From my time in South Africa you can see that these guys have a lot of rhythm. If you have some time, you can see what the South African celebrations look like. I think I was just a little late and trying to get a little more out of him so I could be a part of it. Obviously super stoked for him. He has been bright in the last few weeks and hopefully that will spur him on to keep improving.”
Courtesy: Minnesota United FC