Minnesota United head coach Adrian Heath’s decided to leave Darwin Quintero and Mason Toye on the bench against the LA Galaxy on Sunday. It backfired, badly. He must now learn this harsh lesson.
Here we were with Minnesota United lining up for their first-ever MLS Cup play-off match, against none other than Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Cristian Pavon and their unpredictable Los Angeles Galaxy teammates. It was always going to be a night of individual quality and decisive moments.
The big problem for the Loons was that head coach Adrian Heath had decided to leave their one true match-winner sat on the bench, alongside their up-and-coming, eager centre-forward. He robbed his own team of that one spark they needed to decide a tight playoff match. Minnesota needed Darwin Quintero and Mason Toye, but instead, they sat on the bench.
Even more sickening was the fact that Ibrahimovic was actually terrible, completing just 59% of his passes, the lowest of any player to last the full 90 minutes, and taking until the 81st minute to register a shot on target. Minnesota United were playing against an underperforming opponent with the chance to make history.
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And yet, they couldn’t. While Minnesota created a number of big opportunities and dominated in front of a boisterous Allianz Field, they ultimately fell short of glory. The likes of Angelo Rodriguez, Robin Lod and Kevin Molino — all players Quintero and Toye would likely replace in the starting line-up — missed great chances to put Minnesota ahead throughout a match they dominated. As sweetly-struck as Jan Gregus’ goal was, it came far too late for the hosts after the damage had already been done.
One thing needs to be made clear at this point: Heath has done a fantastic job in 2019. If you offered any Minnesota fan a U.S. Open Cup final and MLS playoff appearance at the start of the season, they would have ripped your arm off for it. Heath deserves immense credit for finally making this side click after an offseason overhaul.
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He assembled one of the most resolute defences in MLS this season, led by Ike Opara and brilliantly complemented by Michael Boxall and the dynamic Romain Metanire, — they all turned up and did their part on Sunday — the new-look midfield was strong and stable throughout the season, while the attack was dangerous on the break. But against the Galaxy, when it mattered most, the Loons were left without answers, and the absences of Quintero and Toye were a major reason why.
The pair was introduced in the second half and Minnesota did look much better for it, but it was all far too late and neither had enough time to really start stretching the Galaxy defence. The time to experiment with your starting line-up, or make bold, controversial selection choices certainly isn’t in your club’s first-ever playoff match. Heath has learned the lesson in a harsh way here.
You get the feeling, given the quality that Minnesota now have at their disposal, that they will be back again next year. But it is up to Heath to learn from this defining mistake and put his biggest players on the pitch for his team’s biggest matches.
If he does, they might just have a chance of turning the near misses of 2019 into glory next season.