Minnesota United striker Mason Toye shed his jersey during the celebration after the Loons’ 2-0 victory Sunday at Los Angeles FC, but stayed in his shoes.
Saying he had “tried to work my socks off” all night, Toye scored two first-half goals in an upset over an opponent that, at 11-0-2, hadn’t lost at home this season.
Five days after it lost a U.S. Open Cup final 2-1 at Atlanta, Minnesota United altered its formation and delivered its biggest victory this season. It also was coach Adrian Heath’s 50th MLS victory.
“Couldn’t come in a better place, could it?” he asked.
The victory moved United from fifth place into third, one point behind second-place Seattle with six MLS games left to play. After a 10-day FIFA international break in which six players will join their national teams, United will play its next MLS game Sept. 11 at Houston. The season ends on Oct. 6 when United plays its finale at Seattle.
“It was a magnificent night for the players,” Heath said in a postgame FSN interview. “The result might have, should we say, changed people’s opinion of us going forward … There was a lot of doom and gloom. People say we’d be this, that and the other. Guess what? We’re going to keep going and the playoffs are going to be there for us.”
The West’s top seven teams reach the playoffs. No. 1 LAFC will get a first-round bye. Teams in second through fourth place will host a first-round game against the seven’s final three teams.
LAFC played Sunday without league-leading scorer Carlos Vela, but it simply swapped Brian Fernandez for him in a lineup that had scored 74 goals in its first 27 games.
The United clean sheet Sunday was due in part to a new 3-5-2 formation in which Heath inserted defensive midfielders Lawrence Olum and Wilfried Moimbe-Tahrat into his lineup. Veteran defender Brent Kallman played alongside Ike Opara and Michael Boxall on a three-man back line, with left back Chase Gasper dropped for the night.
United defensive midfielder Ozzie Alonso did not play because of a troublesome thigh injury.
It was also due to veteran goalkeeper Vito Mannone, who stopped everything needed on a night when United packed its defense tight and allowed LAFC to win in time of possession (77 percent to 23), total shots (23-5) and shots on target (8-4).
Mannone called the team’s 10th MLS shutout this season “massive,” “unbelievable” and “incredible.”
“Keeping a clean sheet along with a massive three points is nothing short of incredible for this team, the club and the fans,” Mannone said.
Heath praised his players for executing the coaches’ game plan to perfection, particularly his back three defenders for knowing when to close out on the ball and when to defend the 18-yard penalty box.
“It could not have been any better than we planned,” Heath said. “Kallman with Ike and Boxy, unbelievable. You could make a video of it; that’s how good they were picking their moments.”
Up front, Toye and Darwin Quintero worked together on counterattacks when LAFC made itself susceptible.
Toye’s first goal came from his run with the ball from the left side across the field. He gave the ball up to teammate Jan Gregus, then got it back as he continued his run, finally finishing it with a sharp-angled, left-foot shot near the right goal line that found the far left corner in the 25th minute.
Four minutes later, he hit the goal’s other corner with a deft 30-yard strike, again with his left foot.
“I’ve put in the work and it’s just showing the fruits of my labor to be scoring these goals and the way I’m doing them,” said Toye, a second-year player who has scored 10 goals in all competitions this season and now six in MLS play. “It doesn’t really surprise me. I’ve been working really hard to get myself into these opportunities … I just tried to hold the ball for us and do my best.”