They left it late, but a stunning comeback from Minnesota United saw them steal a point against Los Angeles FC Wednesday evening at Banc Of California Stadium in Los Angeles.
The teams traded goals throughout the match, but a 77th minute go-ahead goal from Tristan Blackmon saw the hosts go up 2-1 with what they thought was a winner. However, Loons midfielder Hassani Dotson played spoiler when the 23-year-old midfielder hit home a volley in 90+4 to bring Minnesota level.
Fast forward two days and Loons head coach Adrian Heath said the squad is still buzzing over the point on the road, despite the tired legs and exhaustion from playing two out of three matches over a seven day period. The excitement can only last so long though, as the Loons now have to prepare for a clash against the Vancouver Whitecaps Saturday evening at Rio Tinto Stadium in Utah.
“We know it’s going to be a difficult game (Vancouver), having three games in a week, especially with having the highs of the other night. You know, we had a very sort of exciting dressing room after the game and everybody was, you know, so pleased with getting out of that with the last minute equalizer,” Heath said Friday afternoon on a Zoom conference with media.
Heath said that despite the fact that the match is being played at a neutral venue, he sees no advantage for either side, with the gaffer explaining that it will probably be a near empty stadium as a result.
The gaffer went on to say that a consequence of their current condensed schedule is that players have picked up knocks and injuries, noting that defender Chase Gasper had to leave Wednesday’s match with a hip flexor injury, and club captain Michael Boxall is still questionable to return to the pitch after a lengthy layoff.
But despite the injuries and knocks, the squad’s depth has been put to the test and they’ve been resilient.
“You know, one of the things after a game is people always caring little knocks and bruises, and it takes them, you know, (time) to get back out onto the grass and start working with the group to see how they feel,” Heath said. When asked about rotation and the starting XI going into Saturday, he said, “I don’t think it will change too much, and if Chase can’t go, we’ll bring (D.J. Taylor) in at left back.”
The Loons coach mentioned that subs will play a key role going into Saturday, noting that the altitude plays a factor into certain individuals’ ability to go 90 minutes.
“I would think that we would use most of our subs at some stage, depending how we go,” he said, “but playing at altitude — I know some of the players do get tired, so we’ll have to see how they go and how they cope.”
Going into Saturday, the one looming question for the Loons is where the goals will come from. Newly acquired Designated Player Adrien Hunou is still returning to match form, with Heath saying that his lack of games this past Spring with his former club are factoring into his current form. Heath expects that there will be a lot more to see from Hunou, who was benched this past Wednesday in favor of Finnish attacker Robin Lod.
The Loons coach said it “hasn’t been easy” to get the front four of the Loons all on the same page (Fragapane, Reynoso, Lod, and Hunou), but that they’ve really been working on it and that the progress is starting to show. The choice between Lod and Hunou at striker now seems to be the marquee decision with Fragapane out injured. With Fragapane’s injury comes a change in personnel, too, because Heath wants to ensure that they’re playing to every player’s strengths.
“You know, every time one of them seems to get fit,” he said, “one of them seems to drop out, so you know, I felt that the other night, it was so important to have somebody who’s really good with their back to the goal and that’s what Robin is — he’s very very strong at receiving the ball.”
Despite the trend of late goals and late surges of energy, Heath doesn’t seem to be worried, with the gaffer mentioning that when a goal comes, it should still be celebrated, especially if it’s a late goal that earns you points on the road. The timing of goals hasn’t been great for the Loons lately, with the squad finding the back of the net in the final 10 minutes over their past three matches. But for Heath, a goal is a goal; it doesn’t matter when it happens.
Now, for Minnesota, it’s going to be a big test to take their heavy legs into the altitude of Salt Lake City and face off against the Whitecaps. If they manage to find points on the road, it will see them go 11 unbeaten in their past 12 matches and it will then set them up nicely for a slate of home matches at Allianz Field come August.