Minnesota United has lived by a “better late than never” approach this season.
While the Loons have scratched out only 17 goals in 15 games, nine of those goals have come after the 68th minute, serving as a major catalyst for their season’s turnaround.
MNUFC is 4-1-3 when they tally those late goals, including Hassani Dotson’s half-volley smashed into the back of the net in the 95th minute of a 2-2 road draw with LAFC on Wednesday.
During the three-game stretch against Seattle, Portland and L.A. — three of MLS’ marquee teams — Minnesota has left it even later, with three goals in the 81st minute or beyond. Fueled by those finishes, the Loons netted seven out of nine total points.
“The honesty of the players; they don’t give in,” Heath said. “We’ve got a really good bunch, and they kept going. I thought we got what we deserved. … It shows a great level of commitment, and I was so pleased for the players because I thought that the desire to actually do the game plan and do what we asked of them was magnificent.”
Here are four takeaways from Wednesday’s game:
Loons goalkeeper Tyler Miller made his first return to Banc of California Stadium after calling it home in 2018-19. He was awarded a ring for his contribution to LAFC winning the Supporters Shield in 2019. They had waited until he returned in 2021 to make it a “special moment,” he said.
There were other moments, too. One supporter reached out to Miller pregame and gave him his two tickets to Wednesday’s match, a move that touched Miller because he was able to bring in two more family members.
During the second minute, LAFC superstar Carlos Vela tried to send in one of his patented left-footed curlers, but it went just wide.
“I just had to laugh,” Miller said. “Carlos and I looked at each other and we just start smiling because I’ve seen that play so many times in training. Sometimes I’d save it, a lot of times he would score. It was just a very iconic play.”
In the 14th minute, Miller made a kick-save on a Vela shot. In the 40th, Vela beat Miller with a chip from his less-favored right foot. “I didn’t know Carlos had a right foot,” Miller joked.
Traded to Minnesota for a low sum of $200,000 in allocation money before the 2020 season, Miller called it a “good feeling” to be back after the Loons didn’t make a trip to SoCal last season.
“I have a lot of really special moments in this stadium with these supporters,” he said. “Overall, the majority of them were friendly. There were a few hostile ones, but that’s to be expected when you come to this facility.”
Miller made three saves Wednesday, and was quick to credit his teammates. “There is just a lot of dirty work,” he said. “A lot of running, a lot of fighting, a lot of little duels that were won around the field.”
On the defensive end, substitute defensive midfielder Ozzie Alonso made a lunging block to deny an otherwise open look from Jose Cinfuentes late in the second half. It provided a route to the equalizer.
On the offensive end, center back Brent Kallman joined the attack on the last-ditch effort to scratch out the tying goal. His positioning and attempt for a header created more space for Jan Gregus’ pass to go to Dotson.
“I thought Brent Kallman probably had his best game he’s had for the club. Really outstanding,” Heath said.
Dotson’s July started with bad news: he was left off the 23-man U.S. men’s national team roster for the CONCACAF Gold Cup. It has turned around since then: He proposed to his girlfriend after the July 3 game at Allianz Field; the engaged couple announced a baby is on the way last week; and Dotson provided an emphatic equalizer Wednesday.
Dotson has made a name for himself with bangers, or long-distance shots searing the back of nets. He has seven career MLS goals, with five worthy of this jaw-dropping category.
As for missing out on USMNT, Dotson, who was on the Under-23 team for the Olympic qualifying, said he isn’t fretting about being passed over.
“That’s something I can’t control,” Dotson said. “I’m just focused on where I’m at now and playing the best I can and trying to help my team win and do the best that we can. I think that mentality is what’s got me here.”
Reason for subs
When Heath subbed out attackers Robin Lod and Emanuel Reynoso for striker Juan Agudelo and defensive mid Alonso on Wednesday, it appeared the manager was playing for a draw with 20 minutes left. There were other factors.
“Robin has had a really bad swollen leg since the weekend, and Rey has had a little problem as well,” Heath said. “We didn’t want to get them in that situation where they were so fatigued that something serious might happen. It was precaution as much as anything.”
With a tight turnaround to Saturday’s game versus Vancouver in Utah, those two players’ statuses will be something to monitor. Chase Gasper’s exit due to injury in the first half Wednesday puts doubt on a quick turnaround against the Whitecaps. Also, center back Michael Boxall might be ready to return after the Kiwi exited the July 3 game with a groin/thigh injury.
“I’m pleased for the group, but we go again now,” Heath said. “We’ve got to dust ourselves down, see how everybody is (Thursday). Vancouver have had a nice little run of late. They look as though they’ve turned the corner themselves.”