Minnesota United didn’t approach its annual international friendly with an affable outlook. And that’s not just because tempers seemed to flare between the Loons and Deportivo Saprissa toward the end of the match.
No, the players who started this match for United were looking to prove coach Adrian Heath wrong.
“Especially me and some other guys coming in, it was a statement game for us,” rookie forward Mason Toye said. “Trying to prove a point to our coach that we deserve to get on the field. So it wasn’t a friendly for any of us. We were trying to go out and win.”
United couldn’t quite manage that, as a late goal doomed it in a 2-1 loss to the Costa Rican top-flight team on Wednesday at TCF Bank Stadium. But it was still an opportunity for several of United’s bench players to show their stuff.
The club did not announce attendance, but a club spokesman said there were 14,564 tickets sold and distributed, though the crowd did look a bit more sparse than that for this midweek exhibition that has no bearing on the Loons’ MLS exploits. The Loons start up again in the league 7 p.m. Saturday against Real Salt Lake.
Coach Adrian Heath said he was “really pleased” with his team and thought, considering the lack of playing time for many of the starters, there were some good performances.
“Plenty to work with. Learning lessons for some of the younger guys, especially the defenders,” Heath said. “But overall, I was pleased because we got out of it what we wanted to get out of it. Got some really good minutes for some guys who needed it.”
Heath specifically called out Toye and his partner in attack Frantz Pangop for their combination play. The pair would combine for the Loons’ only goal.
Saprissa scored first in the 19th minute off David Ramirez. Center back Bertrand Owundi Eko’o, in his first game for the Loons, misplayed a back-pass that Ramirez intercepted. Ramirez then maneuvered around United goalkeeper Matt Lampson to score.
But Owundi’s fellow Cameroonian made up for his mistake. Pangop took a pass from Toye and displayed some nice skill to aim the ball past two Saprissa defenders and the goalkeeper to level the score in the 24th minute. It was Pangop’s first goal for the team.
The score stayed level until the 85th minute, when second-half substitute forward Carlos Villegas chipped the ball over Lampson, who had come off his line.
The Loons now face three home games in the next nine days, which will test the Loons’ depth.
“The most important thing in the club, who makes strong the team, is the bench,” team captain Francisco Calvo said. “If the guys on the bench are in good shape, they are fighting for the spot, the guys who are playing, they’re going to be aware. And I think some of the guys today showed [Heath] some problems [for choosing a team].”