The sun broke out of the clouds over Minneapolis on a late Wednesday afternoon, allaying fears that a derecho, dangerous straight line winds, could hit the Twin Cities right before kickoff. The stands were still slow to fill on the surprisingly pleasant Wednesday night, mirroring the inability of the team to have the allowed seven players on the bench.
Minnesota was significantly hamstrung with injuries, visa issues, and international duty. Bernardo Ańor, Thomas de Villardi, Rasmus Schüller, Marc Burch, Abu Danladi, John Alvbĺge, and Vadim Demidov were all out with various injuries. New signings Mark Boxall and Sam Nicholson had had visa issues and had been out of the country earlier in the week. Finally, Johan Venegas (Costa Rica), Francisco Calvo (Costa Rica), and Jermaine Taylor (Jamaica) were all on international duty, playing for their country’s teams in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
The remaining players numbered a paltry 16. Starting in goal, stalwart Bobby Shuttleworth. In front of him a defensive line featuring Justin Davis on the left, Jérôme Theisson on the right, and Big Joe Greenspan and Brent Kallman (fresh off his poker success), in the middle of the defense. Sam Cronin and Ibson roamed the center midfield, with Kevin Molino playing the attacking mid, or second striker role. Bashkim Kadrii started on the right, while a bearded Miguel Ibarra was on the left. Leading scorer Christian Ramirez was up top.
On the bench were Ismaila Jome, Collin Martin, Collen Warner, and newcomer Brandon Allen.
Houston was without a number of their starters as well, with Boniek García (Honduras), Alberth Elis (Honduras), Romell Quioto (Honduras), and Erick Torres (Mexico) all out on international duty. Still, Houston was able to put out a starting XI that included former USMNT internationals DaMarcus Beasley and Ricardo Clark.
Houston came out with a clear game plan. They would press in a tight 4-2-4 formation as soon as Cronin or Ibson got the ball in the midfield. This forced the two midfielders into either a poor pass out wide where they would double-team Minnesota’s wide players, or to play the ball square to the center backs who would try to to cycle the ball to the other side of the field to try and find a hole in the visitor’s press.
“It was very much a game of two halves. First half was poor.”
-Coach Adrian Heath
Minnesota was forced into turnovers often against the press. It was only through a combination of Shuttleworth making a save or Houston’s inability to put the ball on net that kept the Dynamo off the score sheet.
Minnesota’s best chance early in the half was on a quickly taken free kick that Ibarra passed to Molino, whose shot was easily grabbed by Houston keeper Tyler Deric.
For a team already short on players, Greenspan had to leave in the 28th minute with a likely broken nose and possible concussion. That brought Jome into the game to play left back. Davis, who had struggled in left back in the early going, moved to center back.
“[Davis] did better when he went to center back. I think he did well.”
Davis performed admirably out of position, and his calm play and careful distribution ensured that Houston wasn’t able to capitalize on any more counters in the first half. In the 31st minute, Dynamo’s Alex beat Kallman on a counter, but Davis did well to slow him and knock him off his rhythm, although he was unable to dispossess him of the ball. Shuttleworth bailed out both center backs, waiting until the last minute to go to ground, denying Houston the goal.
Davis’ success at center back was a welcome sign for Minnesota, who will only have one healthy center back against the New York Red Bulls this Saturday. Davis might see more playing time at center back if Michael Boxall is unavailable for the game.
The Loons were happy to hear the halftime whistle blow, letting them go to the locker room and regroup.
As Heath said after the game, it was a game of two halves. Minnesota came out a different team, ready to break down Houston’s press and respond to its forays into Minnesota’s third. Cronin was consistently sniffing out danger, stepping into passing lanes, while Ibson finally found some space to work. Heath’s halftime conversation must have worked.
“We changed the shape to more of a 4-3-3 in the second half. I thought it helped us. We got a bit more composed in their half of the field.”
Minnesota was careful in possession, finally finding breaking points in Houston’s defense, but nothing seemed to work. Minnesota’s first great chance started with Ramirez knocked to the ground, but the ref played advantage. Molino dribbled the ball in on goal. The cross had to be saved off the line or Ibarra would have put it away with a sliding kick.
Houston wasn’t out. It finally put together a decent string of possession in the 73rd minute, but Minnesota was up to the task with at times desperate defending. When the shot finally came, Shuttleworth was there to grab it.
Later, in the 83rd minute, Mauro Manotas could have had the winning goal, but somehow slid around the cross.
Finally, in the 90th minute, Minnesota earned a corner off a blocked cross. Ramirez almost put the second ball in into the back of the net, but instead collided with Houston goalkeeper Deric, who spent about five minutes on the ground.
Minnesota kept kicking the ball back into the box during the three minutes of added time after Deric was back on his feet, but Houston was able to diffuse any danger and the game ended with a point for each team.
Some good news did come after the game ended. Brent Kallman, who had earned his fifth yellow card while Deric was on the ground receiving treatment, would not miss the New York Red Bull game after all.
— Jeff Rueter (@jeffrueter) July 20, 2017
— FiftyFiveOne (@FiftyFiveOne) July 20, 2017
— FiftyFiveOne (@FiftyFiveOne) July 20, 2017
Minnesota United FC 0 – Houston Dynamo 0
Stadium: TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis
Kickoff: 7:00 p.m. (CDT)
Weather: 77°, Partly Cloudy and Windy
Ismaila Jome (36′, Unsporting Behavior)
Ricardo Clark (45′, Unsporting Behavior)
Adolfo Machado (63′, Unsporting Behavior)
Brent Kallman (90’+2′, Unsporting Behavior)
Collin Martin (90’+6, Unsporting Behavior)
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