Minnesota United coach Adrian Heath threw everything he could Saturday night at his club's staggering season start and still couldn't find enough to prevent a 1-0 loss to expansion Austin FC.
He tried substitutions early and often after halftime. He turned to youth looking for some kind of spark. He turned goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair into an attacker in the opponent's 18-yard box late in second-half stoppage time.
None of it stopped the Loons from their first 0-3 start in a franchise history that included some dark days early in their existence.
None of it stopped them from being shut out twice in three games and outscored 7-1 in those games.
None of it, as well, kept them from losing another game while their best player, star midfielder Emanuel Reynoso, exited limping in the 58th minute because of tight calf muscles Heath said bothered him all week in training.
"We know we need to start to turn results around, but it's a long season," said Loons midfielder Hassani Dotson, who started alongside Reynoso and Ethan Finlay but dropped back often to play as a third defensive midfielder with starters Wil Trapp and Ozzie Alonso. "We've got, what, 31 games left? So I mean, it's a long season ahead of us. But we know that we need to start getting results soon."
Austin FC midfielder Diego Fagundez's goal in the 17th minute stood all night as the winner — on a crossing ball played into the Loons' 6-yard box and sent into an open goal. Fagundez slipped behind Loons defender Romain Metanire to redirect the pass with both players on a full run.
"It has not been a great night," Heath said simply.
Heath called his team "passive" and suffering from a lack of confidence — not a lack of trying — on a night when attacking midfielder Robin Lod didn't play because of a chest injury and Reynoso left early after a mostly quiet night.
"When you're not playing with a lot of confidence, it's difficult," Heath said. "I can't fault the guys for their efforts. They're trying. They want to do well. At the moment, we're going to catch a break somewhere. We have to play better. That's the bottom line. They have to play better."
Reynoso had his team's best scoring chance on a beautiful summer's night to start May. He worked a little connection of give-and-go with former Boca Juniors teammate Ramon Abila, who started at striker for the Loons for the first time.
But Reynoso's natural left-foot strike from the middle of the 18-yard box hit the left post squarely in the 30th minute. He played little more than another 30 minutes before he came out off the field hurting at the same time Abila exited as well after a limited debut as a starter.
"Rey has been struggling again all week with his calf muscle," Heath said. "All that showed again today. When you're playing with your best players not 100 percent, you need them to give you that little bit of quality, that little bit of spark."
Heath looked for some of that everywhere he could Saturday.
He called upon rookies Justin McMaster and Patrick Weah in his professional debut in the second half, looking for anything he could find. McMaster entered in the 58th minute. Weah came on in the 81st and almost immediately tied the score with a contested header that Austin goalkeeper Brad Stuver blocked.
"Putting the kids on at the end today, trying to do something different," Heath said. "Sometimes you put the kids on and they do something out of instinct and actually come on and nearly nicked us a goal. It's pretty evident we've got a few people not playing with a lot of confidence at the moment."