Minnesota United deployed a starting lineup of mostly depth players against the Premier League's Aston Villa in an international friendly for a number of reasons.
Coach Adrian Heath wanted to get his starters some rest while giving those who didn't often see the pitch much some rare action Wednesday night. But Heath expected those depth pieces to compete. After a 3-0 loss to Aston Villa, though, the coach couldn't pick out any standout players.
"Not many, if any," Heath said. "Some of them haven't played much football, but they're better than a lot of them showed this evening."
Most importantly, regardless of performance, Minnesota came out of the match healthy, with no injuries affecting any player.
Despite the Loons' starters sitting out and Aston Villa still getting its legs, a healthy crowd filled Allianz Field. An announced attendance of 18,335 fans were on hand to witness the friendly.
Jack Grealish scored in the first half and Henri Lansbury and Birkir Bjarnason followed with second-half goals.
Despite being shut out, there were some silver linings for the Loons, including 18-year-old Ally Ng'anzi, who has been on loan to USL affiliate Forward Madison for a bulk of the season. After subbing on in the 72nd minute, he turned some heads.
"He did well, I thought he showed some of the things one or two of us didn't," Heath said of the Tanzania native. "Wanted to show it was a really big opportunity for him."
Heath also dropped a nugget in terms of where Minnesota stands in the transfer window. After announcing Robin Lod's signing Tuesday, the Loons likely will add another player for the playoff push.
"We're hopefully going to announce a player [Thursday] or the day after," Heath said. "We just brought in Robin Lod and there's still time to do more work in the window."
While the Loons started many depth players, some starters and regulars did see playing time. Jan Gregus, Ethan Finlay and Kevin Molino all subbed in for roughly 20 minutes of playing time. Miguel Ibarra also started the game after coming off the bench in the 2-1 win against FC Dallas, joining Lawrence Olum and Mason Toye.
Some players were in street clothes, including Romain Metanire, Vito Mannone and Michael Boxall, watching the match as spectators.
For the most part, Heath wasn't impressed with his team's performance in the loss. While the result doesn't count, he pointed out his team's timidness as a fault.
"When you play safe, invariably you play square and backwards," Heath said. "The amount of times it ended up at Bobby Shuttleworth's feet when we could play forward and be brave to play was too much."
Toye, a forward, pointed out a lack of chemistry on the field after he miscommunicated with teammates on some chances. He also said there was a bit of the pressure of playing a Premier League team, though it didn't affect the Loons much.
"That's just the way Premier League is," Toye said. "It's the way leagues are when you go up a level."
With the friendly behind them, the Loons are on the road next to face Real Salt Lake on Saturday in another in-conference matchup.