LOS ANGELES – Minnesota United enhanced its chances for a playoff spot by frustrating Major League Soccer’s best team Sunday night.
Mason Toye scored twice within five minutes early in the first half as the Loons gave Los Angeles FC its first home loss of the year, winning 2-0 in front of an announced 22,143 at the Banc of California Stadium.
“This group was so disappointed after losing the [U.S. Open Cup] final to Atlanta,” Loons coach Adrian Heath said of Tuesday night’s defeat. “For them to pick themselves up and put in that type of performance on the road against the league leaders who haven’t lost at home all season speaks to the character of the group.”
The victory put United (13-9-6) into third place in the Western Conference with 45 points, one point behind the Seattle Sounders and one ahead of the San Jose Earthquakes. Six points separate the seven teams placed second through eighth in the conference.
“Everybody knows how tight the West is,” Toye said.
Until Sunday night, LAFC (19-4-5, 62 points) had won 11 times and tied twice at home.
Missing from action was LAFC’s Carlos Vela, MLS’ most potent offensive force. Vela, who leads MLS with 27 goals and ranks third with 15 assists, missed his second game of the season because of an injured right hamstring.
“Every time the ball comes to him, you think, ‘This is a problem,’ ” Heath said. “We were very pleased to see his name not on the team sheet before the game, to be honest.”
Meanwhile, United missed Ozzie Alonso, who stayed at home because of an injured right thigh. Darwin Quintero, however, rejoined the starting lineup.
Even without Alonso’s defensive skills, the Loons packed their half of the field from the opening minute and absorbed LAFC’s constant, penetrating offensive pressure, which enabled the club to score a league-leading 74 goals.
“We had to have been the most disciplined we’ve been all season,” said Heath, who earned his 50th career MLS coaching victory. “We knew we had to withstand a lot of pressure, but I thought our discipline was absolutely magnificent, I really do.”
Toye scored his first goal in the 25th minute. The midfielder began his own scoring sequence by passing from the left flank to Jan Gregus in the middle of the field. Gregus then freed Toye for a solo run with a pass that beat the hosts’ defense.
After receiving the pass, Toye dribbled to the right side of the penalty area and converted a 13-yard diagonal shot that settled inside the left post from an extreme angle.
“Jan played a perfect ball to me,” Toye said.
Moments earlier, Vito Mannone kept LAFC from taking the lead. The goalkeeper used his right hand as he dived to deflect Eduard Atuesta’s 14-yard shot.
Toye expanded the lead to 2-0 in the 30th minute. Quintero intercepted Eddie Segura’s attempted clearance and quickly passed to Toye, who launched a 23-yard line drive past leaping goalkeeper Pablo Sisniega for his sixth goal this season.
“People don’t realize how quick Mason is,” Heath said. “We knew we would get opportunities on the break, but I didn’t expect the two goals. The first one was a magnificent finish but the second one took everybody by surprise, even the ’keeper.”
Mannone preserved the shutout in the 59th minute with a leaping, two-handed parry of Lee Nguyen’s 19-yard free kick, and a leaning deflection of Adrien Perez’s 22-yard diagonal shot away from the far post in the 77th minute. Mannone finished with a career-high eight saves for his 10th shutout, as the Loons won despite getting outshot by LAFC 23-5.
“Massive performance. An unbelievable win. It’s a very difficult place to come. They score lots of goals,” he said. “... Keeping a clean sheet with a massive three points is nothing short of incredible for the team.”