The most recent time Minnesota United stomached a 3-0 loss — June 3 at Sporting Kansas City — coach Adrian Heath called his squad “second-best,” “poor” and “as bad” as the first weeks of the season when the Loons were losing by five-goal margins.
But on this occasion, Heath said he was “pleased with” and “proud” of his team and coming out of the match with a lot of “positives.”
High praise for a big shutout.
The Loons fell 3-0 to the New York Red Bulls on Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium in front of an announced 20,022, the largest crowd since the 35,000-strong home opener March 12. United (5-12-4) has gone more than three Major League Soccer matches — 351 minutes — without scoring. New York (10-8-2) took advantage of United’s yet again cobbled-together lineup and short bench because of injuries and various absences.
“I’m more pleased with the group today than I was Wednesday evening,” Heath said, referencing the 0-0 draw with the Houston Dynamo. “I thought we showed a lot of character today. … I can’t fault the guys today. We played against a really good team and not a lot’s gone our way. But we’ve been competitive today, and I’m more proud of the players today than when we took something from the game Wednesday night.”
New York took the lead in the 16th minute off midfielder Daniel Royer’s goal from long range. But United responded to the deficit pretty much immediately, controlling the majority of possession and posting seven shots to New York’s six in the first half. The squad endured several close chances, including a missed volley from winger Sam Nicholson and an off-target diving header by winger Miguel Ibarra.
Heath said he told his players before the match that it would be “crucial” to score when opportunities presented themselves because United wasn’t going to generate many against a tough New York team. But the Loons couldn’t follow through.
“We’re all talking about it, the ball is just not bouncing our way,” Ibarra said. “It doesn’t go in. Everything is getting cleared off. And then they come and just score on us, and we’re just like, ‘Again.’ I mean it’s just … a mental thing.”
United argued for a penalty kick three times in the match, first on back-to-back possible hand-ball violations in the first half and then when Ibarra went down in New York’s box. But while fans and players still were lamenting that non-call, Bradley Wright-Phillips, New York’s two-time golden boot winner, slipped a goal past United goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth in the 67th minute.
Forward Alex Muyl added the final score in the 90th minute, going top shelf.
“Every time we had a bit of momentum in the game, we created chances. We didn’t take them, and they did,” Heath said. “As long as we keep creating them, we’ll get opportunities, and we’ll score.”
Midfielder Collin Martin, who made his first start for United against New York, took that last sentiment from his coach one step farther.
“We’ll score next game,” Martin said. “Yeah, I can promise that.”