HOUSTON – The sight of Christian Ramirez bursting through the defense to score is familiar to Minnesota United fans from his goal-rich time with the club. On Wednesday night, though, United was on the receiving end.
Ramirez scored in his first game against his former team in a 2-0 loss to the lowly Houston Dynamo that dents United’s playoff prospects, delivers a reality check after the euphoric win over Los Angeles FC earlier this month and heightens the importance of Sunday’s match at home with Real Salt Lake.
Minnesota is fourth in the Western Conference standings and in the thick of a seven-team scramble for six spots. RSL is tied for second in the West with Seattle at 46 points. LA Galaxy is one spot out of the playoffs, in eighth, with 42 points. And the Loons (45 points) and three other teams are wedged into that four-point window.
“Great for Christian, but I could care less who scores the goal,” said Ethan Finlay.
The winger was more preoccupied with United’s poor first-half performance. Finlay said he “came out personally flat and there’s a handful of guys that had the same thing, maybe some heavy legs.”
He added: “We’re a really good team when we play as a collective but if we have some individuals who aren’t up for it on the day we tend to struggle. … When we play as a collective, we genuinely think that we can beat anyone in the league.”
That was demonstrated on Sept. 1 when Minnesota beat LAFC, the Western Conference leaders, on the road with two goals from Mason Toye.
But with United pinned in its own half for much of the first 45 minutes at BBVA Stadium, the forward saw little of the ball and was substituted at the break as coach Adrian Heath brought on fresh legs, tweaked the 4-3-3 formation and gave the players a piece of his mind.
“We never started the first half, never got out of a jog, I thought we were second best in every aspect of the game, and for me it’s a sharp reminder we still have to get better,” Heath said.
“We have one of these 45 minutes still in us, and we can’t keep carrying on doing it. With the level of talent we have, we can’t have a 45 minutes where we basically go two down and I come in and I go crazy in [the locker room] at halftime and then we get a response and it looks like we might get something out of it.”
Mauro Manotas gave the Dynamo the lead in the 37th minute. Ramirez, who scored 21 times in 50 MLS appearances for the Loons before he was traded to LAFC 13 months ago and then offloaded to Houston last month, steered a high shot past goalkeeper Vito Mannone in the 44th minute.
United was far brighter after halftime, but Finlay was denied on a fine save from Dynamo goalkeeper Joe Willis and a clearance off the line by defender Alejandro Fuenmayor. Finlay did ripple the net in the 89th minute only to have the goal disallowed after a video review.
It seemed a fittingly frustrating end to a night to forget.
“You’ve got to wipe your hands clean of this one as quickly as possible,” Finlay said.