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Minnesota United was pretty pleased with its first-half performance Wednesday night against the LA Galaxy and pretty frustrated with the second half in a 2-2 draw.

In the first half, not only did the Loons get a goal from Bongokuhle Hlongwane, but they gave the Galaxy's freewheeling attack zeros across the board.

Zero goals. Zero shots attempted. Zero corner kicks. Zero players left in the middle of the field. "They were just dropping to try to find space, and that's a huge testament to how we were defending," Loons defensive midfielder Wil Trapp said.

Loons first-year manager Eric Ramsay said: "I think that's the most complete performance that we've had since I've been here. Our message to the players at that point was that if you can replicate that, and play with the same level of control and intensity and discipline that we did in the first half, there's absolutely no way we're not winning that game."

Of course, that's not what happened. The Galaxy finally got an attempted shot in the 52nd minute — and from there, the visitors came to life. Los Angeles attacking midfielder Riqui Puig had no strings to pull in the first half, but two passes from Puig turned into goals seven minutes apart in the second.

"The two times we don't locate Puig, he dribbles and he makes plays," Trapp said.

The particularly galling thing for the Loons had to be that they pride themselves on shutting off the middle of the field and making other teams attack around the edges. But on the first Galaxy goal, Puig found space in the middle to slip a pass between Minnesota's left-center and center back. And on the second, Puig was able to stroll down the center of the field, dribbling at least 60 yards without a challenge, before flipping a pass to Diego Fagundez for the goal.

"We're really frustrated because it's a game you felt we had complete control of at halftime," Ramsay said. "I just felt we've taken our foot off their neck in the second half."

Zone or man-to-man?

This was the second consecutive game in which the Loons faced an attack led by a maestro wearing No. 10. Against Atlanta, it was Thiago Almada; against the Galaxy, it was Puig.

Defensively speaking, though, the Loons dealt with the two differently. With Almada, it was Trapp following No. 10 around in the middle of the field, making life difficult and trying to push Almada out of the center. But with Puig, it was a zonal approach — with everyone pitching in.

"I think the timing of when we were closing guys down, understanding which spaces and which zones were being defended by which guys, was huge — and then not over-rotating and getting stuck trying to track guys out of our zones," Trapp said. "It's like Puig comes in, he's in Bongi [Hlongwane's] space, Bongi deals with him until he comes into mine. I think we did a really good job with compactness vertically and closing passing lanes in between."

Ramsay also highlighted that denial of space as the key for the Loons — especially in terms of compressing the vertical space available to the other team, thus shrinking the size of the zones that needed to be defended, by pushing up defensively. "The basis of good performances against teams [like the Galaxy] are making sure you give them no space and manage to stay relatively high up the pitch," he said.

Set-piece success

For the fourth consecutive game, Minnesota scored a goal direct from a corner kick — and this time, it saved a draw for the Loons, with Kervin Arriaga scoring in the 80th minute to tie the match.

Up until four weeks ago, the Loons hadn't scored a goal from a set piece. Now they're among the MLS leaders.

Just don't ask Ramsay why. It's not blind luck, but he's not about to share the secret recipe. "There's a lot of detail put into it that I won't give away," he said.

He did credit another excellent delivery from Joseph Rosales, who set up fellow Honduran Arriaga for the second straight week.

"According to him, I owe him $100, since it's $50 for every goal," Arriaga said (via a translation from club public relations manager Marleine Calderon.)

Trapp said set pieces have been a big focus for the team, perhaps in a way that they haven't always been before. "When you make those things a priority, you can find ways to win games off them," he said.