When Minnesota United attacking midfielder Kevin Molino injured his hamstring and couldn’t play consecutive games in the MLS is Back Tournament, Loons coach Adrian Heath adjusted his formation and called upon second-year player Hassani Dotson to start in Molino’s place.
When starting right back Romain Metanire suffered a hamstring injury himself that sidelined him for Saturday’s tournament quarterfinal game against San Jose, Heath moved Dotson to Metanire’s spot and started Jacori Hayes for Molino.
And the Loons played on.
They did so all the way to a Thursday semifinal game against Heath’s former team, Orlando City, after Saturday’s 4-1 victory over San Jose.
The Loons now have outscored the Earthquakes 15-4 and won the past four meetings between the teams.
“I’m just excited I got the opportunity to play again,” Dotson said afterward by video conference call from Orlando. “I’ve been watching Romain. He sets a great example, and the coaching staff laid out a good plan. We played San Jose three times over the last year, so I just watched a few games back of them and tried to play the best I could.”
Metanire earned All-Star status in 2019 and a contract extension this season because of his relentless runs with the ball down the right side and his ability to deliver crossing passes into the 18-yard box.
Dotson came in Saturday playing that right-back position for the first time this season and contributed on two goals within 90 seconds of each other in the first 21 minutes. It gave the Loons the fast start that Heath had called so important and a lead they’d never give up.
“He just took over from where Romain plays,” Heath said in another video call, referring to Dotson. “He’s got a good feel for the game. You can play him in two or three positions. And I had no qualms in putting him at right back today.”
Heath has praised Dotson’s intellect and versatility since he arrived last season as a second-round draft pick out of Oregon State. On Saturday, he plugged Dotson into Metanire’s position for at least one game and Dotson responded.
“It helps that we have a lot of selfless players,” Dotson said. “We are just trying to work hard for the person next to us, and we all are fighting for common goal to win games.”
Dotson created the game’s first goal by saving a set piece. A San Jose defender attempted to head Jan Gregus’ corner kick out of danger, but Dotson ran into space to contain the ball before he sent a long, curving pass toward the far left post that defender Jose Aja headed back across the goal. Robin Lod finished it off with a volley goal — his second in as many games — into an open net.
Shortly thereafter, San Jose goalkeeper Daniel Vega stopped Dotson’s left-footed shot through traffic, but he couldn’t control the rebound and Hayes directed it into the open goal.
Heath praised Dotson’s play at the other end as well, noting after Saturday’s game how Dotson neutralized San Jose’s Vako on the wing.
“Hassani did what we expect of him,” said Heath, who also praised young Chase Gasper’s play on the other side at left back. “The kid is a good player, very difficult to play against. He’s very stubborn. He’s quick. He’s athletic. And he doesn’t give people the time. He takes that individual battle personally. Tonight, as I said to him, he has completely dominated a really good player.
“I knew he would get tight to Vako and then go and play. Not only defensively, then he started to give us something going forward as well. The kid has got a good future. He can play a few positions, so, no, it doesn’t surprise me. And I thought he was outstanding.”