Minnesota United manager Adrian Heath immediately tried to sand down the blunt edges of the eye-popping 4-0 score in the Loons’ season-opening loss to the Seattle Sounders on Friday night.
“I’m sure that if everybody sees the scoreline, they think that was a one-sided game, but it was far from that,” Heath said.
Possession was nearly 50-50, and Seattle had a 9-5 lead in shots on goal. The Loons’ aggressive high press helped control the game in the first half, but they couldn’t capitalize on their scoring chances, and in the second half, Seattle ran away with the first game of the 2021 season for both teams.
“The nature of players is when you are behind, you want to go forward, and as I said to the staff, when it goes to (2-0) and you are chasing, you leave yourself open,” Heath said. “The one thing about (Seattle) is they’ve got really intelligent front men — (Raul) Ruidiaz, Fredy Montero. You leave yourself exposed, and then that’s the danger and you can concede two or three goals.”
The biggest breakdown came in the 70th minute when Loons backup center back Brent Kallman couldn’t win a duel against Sounders forward Will Bruin.
“Brent tries to pinch one on the edge of the box and the guy turns him,” Heath said. With Kallman falling to the turf, fellow center back Michael Boxall had to try to cover, leaving Ruidiaz with space right in front of the goal.
Loons goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair has “been left a bit exposed and not an awful lot he could have done,” Heath said.
Less than three minutes later, Montero lofted a ball over Kallman to Cristian Roldan, who had slipped in behind. The Sounders break was on, with Kallman and Boxall scrambling to make up ground. Roldan then laid off a pass for another easy finish for Ruidiaz.
“Cristian Roldan ran out of midfield and overloaded our center backs,” defensive midfielder Will Trapp explained. “When they had an extra number in the midfield, it makes it difficult. They were smart about their tactics in that regard, but ultimately if we are a little bit more compact, immediately losing the ball and then getting into a good shape, we can counteract a lot of that.”
One big question going into the Loons home opener against Real Salt Lake on Saturday is whether Bakaye Dibassy (thigh) will be able to reassume his starting spot for Kallman.
The game looked like it would pivot in the first half after Trapp was called for a handball in the box and Ruidiaz stepped to the penalty spot.
Ruidiaz’s shot went to St. Clair’s right, but the 6-foot-3 goalkeeper stretched out and got his left hand on the ball for the save. It was the 23-year-old’s second career MLS save on a PK, following his stop of former Loon and current Houston midfielder Darwin Quintero in a game last September.
“He’s a big kid, fills the goal,” Heath said. “Doesn’t go too early, makes people beat him. Obviously (goalkeeping coach) Stewart Kerr has probably showed him every penalty Ruidiaz has taken. That is why we pick him, and we know we have a good goalkeeper.”
ABILA FIRST IMPRESSION
One minute and 17 seconds into new striker Ramon Abila’s debut for the Loons in the second half, his former Boca Juniors teammate, Emanuel Reynoso, served a great pass to Abila’s right foot. It was his first touch as a United player, but he scuffed the shot wide right.
He rubbed his forehead in frustration after the play. As FS1’s John Strong pointed out during the game, the veteran 31-year-old striker is used to scoring early and often when he joins a new club.
“He probably had a bit more time on the first one when he hit it first time,” Heath said.
A few minutes later, Abila ripped a hard-hit, long-range shot, but Stefan Frei stuffed it. Moments later, Ruidiaz doubled the Sounders lead.
Abila’s 25-minute stint included those two shots, and he also completed all six of his passes.
“He has had a couple of good efforts,” Heath said. “Keeper had to make a little save from him. He will be better for the minutes. I know it’s been a long time without playing 90 minutes of competitive football. He will be better for the game and we will work hard with him again this week and we’ll see where we are with his fitness for the game next week.”