FRISCO, TEXAS – Saturday night was a long one for Minnesota United — in more ways than one.
The Loons were forced to wait just to get onto the field, as a thunderstorm rolled in during warmups and the resulting lightning caused the kickoff to be delayed 2 hours, 42 minutes from the scheduled 7 p.m. start.
It was a long night once the game got started, too.
FC Dallas took control early and never let it go, rolling past a depleted United side 2-0 at Toyota Stadium.
Minnesota (9-14-2, 29 points) played without its leader in goals, assists and shots, midfielder Darwin Quintero, who was sidelined with a strained calf. Starters Collen Warner and Francisco Calvo missed the game with suspensions, Calvo for a red card in last week’s draw with the Los Angeles Galaxy and Warner because of accumulated yellows.
Without its midfield star, United went back to a 4-2-3-1 formation, hoping to generate more of an attack, but never got anything going offensively.
“The unfortunate thing for us at this moment is we have no Calvo, we’ve got no Quintero, we have no [Kevin] Molino, no Ethan Finley, no Sam Cronin,” United coach Adrian Heath said, referring three players whose injuries have limited them to nine games between them this season.
“We aren’t strong enough and deep enough to cope with so many of our best players not being on the field. … It’s another reminder how far we have to go. We’re not we’re we need to be or where we want to be at this moment. … Are we a little bit better, maybe? I think we are. But the gap is still too big.”
Minnesota certainly wasn’t up to the challenge of facing MLS Western Conference leader Dallas (13-5-6, 45 points), which dominated the entire night, holding possession 60 percent of the time to United’s 40 percent and outshooting the Loons 16-7, including 8-1 in shots on goal.
FC Dallas kept United’s defense under pressure throughout the game, using its speed to keep the Loons defense on its heels.
Midfielder Pablo Aranguiz consistently slithered through the Minnesota back line to create dangerous scoring chances, including a point-blank opportunity for right back Reggie Cannon that keeper Bobby Shuttleworth thwarted by coming off his line for a gutsy save.
Still, United held up against those chances and kept the game even until the 44th minute, when a disputed play gave FC Dallas a 1-0 lead.
A free kick from Dallas’ Michael Barrios on the right wing into the crowded box just in front of Shuttleworth was headed on goal, and teammates Carlos Gruezo and Victor Ulloa raced toward the net to meet it with Minnesota’s Michael Boxall defending. The ball was headed on goal, forcing Shuttleworth to make a save.
The rebound bounced off the keeper to Dallas’ Maynor Figueroa, stationed at the doorstep, who put it away — except, after some hesitation, the linesman raised his flag to signal Figueroa was offside.
Dallas immediately argued that call, and eventually referee Ismail Elfath went to a video review. When the replay showed it was Boxall who got his head on the ball instead of a Dallas player, he ruled Figueroa was not offside because he was onside the last time a Dallas player touched the ball, and counted the goal.
Heath said he didn’t understand why the offside call was overturned on review.
“The kid’s obviously offside, and then it seems like they tried to come up with a reason to give [the goal],” he said. “I thought it’s supposed to be clear and obvious. It certainly wasn’t clear and obvious to me, and it certainly wasn’t to them because we watched the same video they watched.”
Up to that point, Heath said, United defense was “frustrating” Dallas. From then on, it was a different story.
“I thought our shape stifled them and made it difficult for them,” he explained. “The problem is, the minute we have to open the game up and try to force the issue and push men forward because we’re a goal down, we leave ourselves exposed. They’re very dangerous on the break and they’ve got a lot of quick players, and we couldn’t cope with that.
“The bottom line is, we’ve a long way to go to be able to come to places like Dallas and take them on toe-to-toe.”
Dallas removed any doubt about the outcome in the 57th minute as Barrios, given acres of space by United’s dragging defense, fired a bending missile of a shot from the left side that eluded a leaping Shuttleworth and curled inside the far post.
Boxall said that shot clearly illustrated the Loons’ second-half defensive issues — and it was all about their mind-set, not Dallas’ speed.
“The way we defended and had our shape and discipline in the first half was the way we were going to approach the game,” he said. “Then in the second half we had a few people reading off of different scripts.
“I don’t think their pace really hurt us tonight. It doesn’t matter how quick you are if you don’t close them down in the final third. No offense,” he dsaid, turning to a reporter, “but I think you probably could have dribbled into that space and got something to go in. … At least you’d get a shot off.”
The loss dropped ninth-place Minnesota to 1-10-1 away from home — the worst road record in MLS.
What do the Loons need to change that?
“The discipline to stick with the game plan,” Boxall said. “We’re more than capable of scoring goals with the quality we have. It just doesn’t happen on the road, so we’ve got to adopt a different way.
“We need full buy-in from every single player for 90 minutes. For the first 40 or so tonight, it was good. Once people started straying from that in the second half, it was rough.”
FC Dallas 2, MINNESOTA UNITED 0 Saturday: 7:30 p.m. at Sporting Kansas City (FSN Plus)