Minnesota United FC carried a four-match unbeaten streak into Saturday’s match but won just once during that span.
Draws aren’t enough for a team clinging to the North American Soccer League’s final playoff spot. Minnesota played a more direct, tougher brand of soccer vs. Rayo OKC and earned a 1-0 victory.
Christian Ramirez scored his league-leading 14th goal. Saturday’s victory, Minnesota’s first since Aug. 17, came before an announced crowd of 8,601 fans at National Sports Center Stadium in Blaine.
“Carl [Craig] talked about going the extra mile,” Ramirez said. “He said we were too nice at times the last couple games. He wanted that grit back from us, and I think we showed it.”
Ramirez drew praise for being around the ball in dangerous areas. Lance Laing made aggressive runs at the Rayo OKC defense. Jamie Watson brought energy to the attack. And the defense kept closing the door, not allowing a shot on goal throughout the game.
Minnesota (5-3-5) solved expansion team Rayo OKC (3-5-4) after a loss and a draw in previous meetings this season. Rayo OKC’s losing streak increased to four matches.
A heads-up play by Watson led to the Ramirez goal just before halftime. Laing started the sequence crossing a ball just over the hands of Rayo OKC goalkeeper Daniel Fernandes. Watson headed the ball down and back across goal for Ramirez to put away.
“Jaime, the past three or four games, has gotten himself in good spots and we just haven’t capitalized,” Ramirez said. “Today on the assist he was patient. Before I could turn around he was already saying my name. So I knew it was coming right back to me.”
The offense, which mustered just three goals the past four matches, wasn’t exactly prolific Saturday. But defender Jeb Brovsky saw encouraging signs.
“They showed some creativity that we haven’t seen the past few games,” Brovsky said. “The extra pass and the unselfishness were there.”
Craig applauded the efforts of Ramirez, who missed a hat trick as officials ruled him offside on two apparent header goals.
“He looked hungry for it,” Craig said. “He might have been offside but the fact is, he’s there. He’s a threat.”
Brovsky, playing right outside defender as Kevin Venegas gets prepared for game action, helped goalkeeper Sammy Ndjock earn his ninth shutout this season.
“If we stay behind the ball and stay tight, we’re tough to break down,” Brovsky said. “And with [Aaron] Pitchkolan in front of us doing a tremendous job cutting out the little slip balls through the middle … we’re tough to play against.”