After Saturday’s 2-0 home victory over FC Cincinnati, Minnesota United coach Adrian Heath called it “satisfactory,” a better result than performance.
Just three days later, his team left the Tennessee Titans’ converted Nissan Stadium on Tuesday night with a scoreless draw with Nashville SC, a singular point, its third consecutive clean sheet and its fourth all season.
“I thought it was a better performance than result tonight,” he said afterward.
Heath once again reconfigured his Loons lineup in this pandemic-condensed MLS regular season against an expansion team that has scored 11 goals all season, allowed only 14 and now, with its 4-5-6 record, would earn an Eastern Conference playoff spot if the season ended today.
This time, Heath had to account for central midfielder Jan Gregus’ absence for perhaps all of October with his national team as well as that of yellow-card-suspended left back Chase Gasper.
He welcomed veteran midfielder Ethan Finlay back from knee surgery — he last played Sept. 2 at Houston — and started him, Kevin Molino, Jacori Hayes, striker Aaron Schoenfeld and Jose Aja while also giving 36-year-old Kei Kamara and Robin Lod some rest.
Kamara for Schoenfeld, in the 71st minute, was Heath’s only substitution.
Nashville mostly controlled the run of play, particularly in the opening 10 minutes. But it went to halftime still tied after Loons rangy second-year goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair made a diving, stretching save on midfielder Randall Leal’s strike that seemed destined for the goal’s lower right corner in the 29th minute.
“Our goalkeeper came up with one great save in the first half,” Heath said. “I don’t use that word lightly. It’s an unbelievable save. Only someone of his size and length would get to it. So another great night for the kid.”
Heath’s Loons reversed course after halftime, producing any number of chances, including Finlay’s attempted chip shot on a full run from inside the 18-yard box over Joe Willis in the 65th that didn’t fool the Nashville keeper.
Finlay, who played all 90-plus minutes, went high. He called his attempt “a bit of a gamble,” betting Willis would go low to cover more ground as he came to meet Finlay 12 yards out.
“You look silly if he stands up, and you look like a genius, like Messi, if he goes down,” Finlay said. “You make a decision in that moment. That was the decision I made.”
He told Heath he was sorry for missing the opportunity as he came off the field at game’s end.
“He doesn’t need to apologize,” Heath said. “He didn’t mean to miss. That’s football. Sometimes you score. Sometimes you miss. The most important thing is don’t let it affect you.”
The fourth-place Loons’ point earned moved them within four points of Western Conference leader Seattle and one point away from second-place Portland.
They’re six points away from ninth place, which would leave them out of the playoffs at season’s end.
On Tuesday, they argued with the referee they should have played the final 23-plus minutes with a man advantage. They lobbied for a second yellow card given Tuesday to Leal in the 67th minute after he clutched Aja’s jersey as the two fell over the end line and flung him into an advertising board.
No second yellow card came.
“I talked to the ref and I say that was a clear yellow card, but he said it was just a foul,” Aja said. “I keep talking to him. If it happens to me, for sure he gives a yellow. I tried to explain to the referee, but he said it was just a foul.”
Asked if he thought Leal was spared because he received a yellow in the 44th minute, Aja said, “Yeah, maybe. For me, it was a clear yellow card. Maybe that was the reason.”
The Star Tribune did not travel for this game. This article was written using the television broadcast and video interviews.