A second-half substitute for the second consecutive week in his very young MLS career, Minnesota United rookie Justin McMaster delivered his first assist in a 2-1 loss to Real Salt Lake on Saturday night at Allianz Field.
McMaster returned Robin Lod's touch from a Hassani Dotson crossing pass with a one-touch return of his own and Lod's turning left-footed strike gave the Loons their only goal, in the 86th minute of their home opener.
It came too late after Real Salt Lake midfielder Anderson Julio scored two first-half goals, but it affirmed the club's decision to trade up in this year's MLS SuperDraft to take McMaster 17th overall out of Wake Forest.
Minnesota United coach Adrian Heath has suggested McMaster would have been in consideration for a No. 1 overall pick if not for a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee and groin injuries in college. Early in his MLS career, he is earning first-team minutes.
Heath praised the poised touch McMaster showed in setting up Lod and how the former Philadelphia Union Academy prospect played in the game's open pockets at the right times.
"A couple of nice moments," Heath said. "We like him. That's why we drafted him. We think he's got a future. He's got to get fit. He's got to get up to speed, trying to play 90 minutes of MLS football. He's not played a lot of football in the last year or so. He has had a really good start and we've been pleased with him."
Dotson was one of the first Loons to confront Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Daniel Ochoa in a skirmish after he punted the ball into the "Wonderwall" supporters section after the game. Dotson and Ochoa were teammates on the U.S. U-23 team that came one victory short in Mexico last month of qualifying for this summer's Tokyo Olympics.
Loons veteran defender Michael Boxall called the gesture "pretty disrespectful" and termed Ochoa "a bit of a clown" for his actions all game.
Said Heath: "They won the game. He doesn't need to be blasted the ball into our supporters. Everybody knows that's a no-no."
The teams meet next May29 in Utah.
Not his fault
Dayne St. Clair got the second consecutive start this season at goalkeeper instead of veteran Tyler Miller. He has given up six goals in those two games, but Heath has blamed very few, if any, on his keeper.
"I can't really think of one that maybe I could look at Dayne and think 'Could he have done better?'" Heath said. "We've sort of not helped him out much on that. Disappointed, obviously with the results. Disappointed with the goals we've conceded."
Heath lamented his team's defensive mistakes, particularly the ball defender Chase Gasper played back to no one in particular. Salt Lake attacker Rubio Rubin swept in and turned the misplaced ball into his second assist and Julio's second goal in 10 minutes.
Sliding right in
A week after Brent Kallman started for injured Bakaye Dibassy on the back line, veteran MLS defender Jukka Raitala started in Dibassy's spot on Saturday.
Michael Boxall played beside Raitala at the other center-back position.
"He's composed on the ball," Boxall said. "I'm really comfortable beside him. For the most part, I'm not too sure if Dayne was really troubled, aside from the goals. I think we kept everything in front. We got a little bit stretched in that second half when we were trying to chase goals, but I think he put in a good shift."
From Abila to Agudelo
Veteran MLS striker Juan Agudelo started his first game with the Loons on a night Heath moved Lod back to his right-side attacking midfielder position. Newly acquired Ramon Abila was neither starter nor sub because of some back pain after he played on Seattle's artificial turf the week before.
"I thought he started the game really well," Heath said. "We needed something to break for him in the box. Unfortunately, it didn't. He's had a couple weeks without training with a niggling injury, so he'll be better for that."
With his team off to an unexpected 0-2 start, Heath after the game mentioned the "reinforcements" coming soon to help. That'd be a fully healthy Abila, newly signed French first-division striker Adrien Honou and quite possibly Argentine left-side attacker Franco Fragapane.
"You always want a full complement of players," Heath said. "The sooner we get them in, the better. We think we should have them in the next couple weeks, so I think we will be better for that as well."