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With so many Minnesota United players away from the team, Saturday was a night for Loons firsts.

Victor Eriksson made his first MLS start. Backup goalkeeper Clint Irwin made his first MLS start this season. And all three subs were appearing for the first time, or returning after a long absence: Defender Morris Duggan and midfielder Kage Romanshyn made their first-team debuts, and striker Patrick Weah played his first minutes in MLS since August 2021.

A few weeks ago, the Loons introduced a new display at Allianz Field, the Minnesota Soccer Spotlight. It was meant to highlight Minnesotan players in the squad, to honor those that have come from the local soccer scene and made it all the way to MNUFC and MNUFC2.

They might want to add a tape of part of the second half of the 1-1 draw with FC Dallas to the display. For a few minutes, the Loons had four Minnesotans (Romanshyn, Weah, Padelford and Caden Clark) and two homegrown players (Padelford and Weah) on the field — both of which have to be team records.

Romanshyn, an Apple Valley native who will turn 19 on June 19, looked assured on the field in his 11-minute debut — and nervous afterward, talking to the media in the locker room. "Honestly, it was a surreal experience," Romanshyn said. "I had so much fun. It kind of felt like a bit of hard work paid off, which was really fun. [I'm] just thankful for the coaches for believing in me."

He did keep the media in the proper perspective, too. Asked whether it was worse making his MLS debut or having to talk to the media after the game, he said, "Unfortunately, probably having to sit here and talk to you guys. Sorry about that, though."

It's a sign of how much the club has changed this year that an 18-year-old academy product — one who had signed his first professional contract only this year — was trusted to come on and close out a 1-1 draw at home. Romanshyn has joined first-team training a number of times this year, and so he was ready to be part of the squad, instead of being thrown to the wolves — a big difference to past years with Minnesota United.

"Anyone that has been around us in preseason knows that he's shown a lot of quality at times," veteran Hassani Dotson said. "[He's] in that professional mindset. And he has a bright future ahead."

Shorthanded defense holds up

Since Eric Ramsay arrived in Minnesota, the Loons' defensive strategy has been pretty consistent: Whatever happens, don't let the other team into the middle of the field. Saturday, we found out that adding a desperately struggling offensive team to the mix can make that plan look even better.

Minnesota played without half its squad, including two of its three starting center backs. The Loons had to start Eriksson, who had looked entirely overmatched in his first appearance in MLS, and played him for the entire 90 minutes ... solely because they didn't have anybody else.

Even so, Dallas — which had scored only 17 goals in 15 games coming into the evening — appeared to not be able to think of a way to break down the Loons. From the very beginning, their preferred option was to attempt to bypass the Loons defense entirely, and have a defender airmail a hopeful long ball over the top for striker Petar Musa.

There's a reason this plan is referred to as "route one" in soccer circles: It's the most basic attacking plan there is.

The Loons dealt with it reasonably comfortably, with Eriksson being the one to make a big recovery clearance, after Michael Boxall had misjudged one of the many long balls.

Boxall was quick to dole out credit afterward. "They got in behind a couple of times, but nothing really came of that," he said. "Victor was solid, Devin obviously is doing really well this season, he's coming into his own. He's been fantastic."

Ramsay concurred. "I thought we defended the space in behind our line really well," the Loons coach said, noting that his team had been set up to deny the space in the middle. "It was a game where we had to be very compact. We had to make sure that we were completely on point in terms of organization and discipline — and I would say even the players that came into the game that haven't been a big part of what we've done this year, I think they worked within that framework really well. So we were really pleased with that."

Especially in the last 30 minutes of the game, when Dallas had the ball, the game practically slowed to a crawl.

Ramsay, who said he was really happy to come away with a draw given the circumstances, had nothing but praise for his team's defensive performance — at least from open play. "For the large portion of the game, we kept the game where we wanted to keep it," he said. "And that was arguably the biggest factor behind the point."