Minnesota United added another incomplete report card to its growing pile on Sunday. The Loons have been neither passing nor failing, and they’re not really improving the club’s spot in a tight Western Conference playoff race.
After Ethan Finlay’s two goals produced a 2-0 halftime lead, the Loons gave up two goals and settled for a 2-2 draw with the Houston Dynamo at a cold Allianz Field.
This was the same gut-punch scoreline as when Houston rallied from the same deficit in a 2-2 draw in Texas on Sept. 19. On Sunday, the Dynamo nearly killed off Minnesota, but Darwin Ceren’s header banged off the crossbar in the 89th minute.
“We expect to win these games,” Finlay said. “Any time you are up two-nothing at home, the expectation is to win and this group has a mentality that we hold ourselves accountable and we hold ourselves to a higher standard. That is why we are extremely disappointed.”
Yet United continued to be unable to keep down a team below themselves in the West standings, and now Minnesota has only one win in its past seven matches. That was against FC Cincinnati, its next opponent on Saturday.
Heath said the cold weather, which registered at 35 degrees and a wind chill in the mid-20s at kickoff, didn’t play a factor. “I don’t think the cold makes a problem for people making poor choices,” he said.
“I thought we were going to get away with it,” Heath said. “We had a couple of moments of quality in the first half. Great run from Ethan, great finish. Couple of quality balls, but even in their first half we looked at as what we were: a team that hasn’t done an awful lot in two weeks, and didn’t look sharp, didn’t look focused.”
Finlay had missed seven games with a knee injury before his return against Nashville on Oct. 6, but the top memory in that game was him on a breakaway failing to chip the goalkeeper in a scoreless draw.
Then with two COVID-19 scares, the Duluth-born player had sat on that memory during a 12-day layoff without a game. He was able to score his first goal with his weaker left foot, a shot he worked on in training Saturday, but without as much success.
The Loons had scored two goals in their previous three games, so early goals Sunday helped diminish a lack of crisp play after full training sessions missed and two games postponed due to two positive cases and a third false-positive test since Oct. 17.
The conspicuous absence in the Loons starting lineup Sunday was central attacking midfielder Emanuel Reynoso; reserves Jose Aja and Thomas Chacon also were absent.
MLS and the Loons’ policy is to not share identities of those who have contracted COVID-19; Heath said Reynoso has a “medical condition and hopefully he will be OK and maybe for next week.”
Former Loons legend Christian Ramirez, Minnesota’s all-time leading scorer from 2014-18, was left out of Houston’s game-day lineup due to his own positive COVID-19 test that was followed by negative tests, so he stayed in Texas.
Darwin Quintero, another former United standout, started on the left wing, got into a slight skirmish with Ozzie Alonso and nearly had the equalizer in the 79th minute, but goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair’s knee redirected it.
The Loons’ club-record shutout streak was built up to 349 minutes into Sunday but was erased after Houston dispossessed Jacori Hayes in midfield in the 59th minute. Dynamo started a breakaway, and Memo Rodriguez cut the Loons’ lead to 2-1; Niko Hansen’s equalizer came in the 83rd.
St. Clair helped keep the shutout streak alive in the 33rd minute when his fingertips got just enough of Maurao Manotas’s long-range strike to redirect it off the crossbar.
The Loons were forced into an early substitution when Hassani Dotson was taken out in a tackle by Adam Lundkvist in the ninth minute. Finlay and Heath said it deserved a card, potentially red, but it drew nothing from the referee.
“I expect the league to look at it,” Finlay said. “I haven’t seen every angle, but I saw Hassani’s leg. I saw how late the challenge was and it was enough for me that I question why hasn’t VAR stepped in.”
Dotson had a swollen lower leg after the game, and Heath said it “doesn’t look good.” Alonso stepped in earlier than expected after he missed the past seven games with a hamstring injury, took the captain’s armband and went 75 minutes.
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