HOUSTON – Seeking a third successive victory, Adrian Heath picked the same starting lineup for the third time in a row. But key ingredients were missing from the winning formula on Saturday night.
"I didn't think we were very good this evening. I thought we had a lack of energy all over the field, lack of desire to win the game," the head coach said.
Back-to-back wins over the Montreal Impact and FC Dallas fed the narrative that Minnesota United FC is stabilizing and improving after a sometimes chastening first season in MLS.
Yet this 2-1 loss to the Houston Dynamo was far less tight than the score implies. The result and performance were poor enough to have Heath eyeing a winter overhaul.
"It's another timely reminder for me that we're not good enough and we need to get better and the offseason can't come quickly enough for me in terms of trying to shake this roster up, because that wasn't acceptable for me tonight," he said.
The Loons did not muster a shot on target until the 51st minute.
"Our front four, who were excellent last week and had a lot of praise given to them, didn't do enough. I didn't feel as though we wanted it badly enough from the very first whistle," Heath said.
The defeat came a week after a 4-1 win over FC Dallas. While Houston's victory moved the Dynamo into the top six and its home form is formidable, it had played on Wednesday and not won in the previous six matches.
"I was confident coming here today that if we played well we could get something from the game. And we started reasonably well, a lot of possession, but once we got past the middle third of the field, didn't have a threat all evening," Heath said.
The Loons (9-16-5, ninth in the West) next travel to face Atlanta United FC on Tuesday. If their postseason prospects were minuscule before this defeat, now they are microscopic.
"It's difficult for us, and we know that," defender Francisco Calvo said. "We know that if we'd won tonight probably we had some chance, but I think we don't have any chances any more."
Poor marking helped Alberth Elis score from a header after 69 minutes, and another header from Romell Quioto doubled the lead with 85 minutes gone. Game over? Not quite. Loons substitute Sam Nicholson, the Scottish winger signed in July, scored his first goal for the club with a handsome run and shot from distance in stoppage time.
"I'm obviously happy getting the goal, but the more important thing is we got beat, and that's a hard one to take," he said.
There was still time for the 22-year-old to try his luck again, and he did. The shot went over but briefly fooled the scoreboard operator into thinking the score was 2-2 — as it was when these sides met here in April. The Loons are a more capable side now than they were then, but they showed Heath no evidence of that Saturday.