Four days after his team came undone late in a 4-3 loss at Toronto, Minnesota United coach Adrian Heath addressed his players Tuesday with a real pep talk.
“I don’t know why, I sensed after the game a little bit of despondency,” he said. “I’ve got none.”
A United team that added five new starters this season to improve a leaky defense surrendered goals within three minutes of each other three times in the past two games. Included were Toronto’s second-half sub Jordan Hamilton’s goals in the 77th and 79th minutes that turned a 3-2 United lead into a loss.
Frustration spilled out in the final minutes. Midfielder Jan Gregus and Francisco Calvo were each ejected for tackles that took out opponents’ legs, resulting in both being suspended for Wednesday’s home game against L.A. Galaxy.
It carried over into the locker room afterward, where feelings and opinions were expressed freely.
“The dressing room was a bit lively after the game, which was one of the first times this group got after each other a little bit,” Heath said. “We do have a little bit different type of mentality within the dressing room. People hold each other more accountable than we probably have done in the past.”
United takes on Galaxy and star Zlatan Ibrahimovic without Gregus and Calvo, but center back Ike Opara and midfielder Miguel Ibarra are back from injuries and available to play. Opara missed the last game and Ibarra missed the past two games.
While Heath praised his team’s defensive shape and collective play Friday, United scored six goals in games against New York City FC and Toronto FC and came away with only one point. He attributed that to making too many individual mistakes.
Hamilton slipped behind defenders Calvo and Michael Boxall to score the tying goal. He then headed in the winner when Boxall let a ball bounce in front of him just outside the goal line and Hamilton lunged in and scored.
United has scored 17 goals — third-best in MLS — but allowed 15. Only San Jose, Portland and Colorado have allowed more.
“It’s just individual error and it’s fine margins,” Heath said. “It’s changing games for us. You can probably point to three or four of the last goals have been individual errors. We have to cut that out. … We watch the games. It’s not like we’re getting pulled apart by teams. We know what happens. If we don’t eradicate them, then we’ll make changes.”
United defender Brent Kallman called for better discipline and a willingness to play a game through to its completion.
“It’s just mental toughness, individually and as a group, too,” Kallman said. “Especially when you get tired, you’ve got to try to tune in even further. We’ve got to hold each other accountable and make sure everyone’s doing their job. And if they’re not, you’ve got to get on them and get them on the same page. We’ve got to learn from it, especially in a situation like that.”
Heath called for some perspective within his team and without concerning a season that started with six of its first seven games on the road. With 10 points, United is tied for the Western Conference’s final playoff spot. It plays six of its next seven games at new Allianz Field.
“I’m not just talking about the players, I’m talking a little bit around the place,” Heath said. “You’d think we had played seven games and we were like six or seven other teams around the league at the moment. But we’re not. We’ve had a good start. I’m not going to allow that sort of outside nonsense affect the group.
“That’s one thing we spoke about this morning. We’ve started well and we’ll try to build on that this next month or so.”