See more of the story

Whatever you can say about new Minnesota United manager Eric Ramsay, he's a quick study.

Ramsay's first MLS road game was a disappointing 2-0 loss to Philadelphia, one in which the manager admitted that he'd made the mistake of thinking he could go without changing his team much from the previous victory.

Facing his second road game, Sunday night in Charlotte, the manager changed his starting striker and changed the formation his team played — and it all led to a convincing 3-0 win.

"It's a big learning curve, and me having learned my lesson has paid dividends today," Ramsay said.

Tani Oluwaseyi, making his first MLS start, scored in the 31st minute. Robin Lod and Hassani Dotson added to the tally in the first ten minutes of the second half, and the Loons smothered Charlotte's attack, allowing just a single shot on target — and just two unblocked shots in the entire second half.

It was Charlotte's first home loss since May 20 of last year.

The start for Oluwaseyi came as the 23-year-old has become a fan favorite for his appearances as a substitute this season, including a pair of late goals that earned draws instead of losses for the Loons (4-2-2). "Tani Time" has already come to represent Oluwaseyi's endless running on the field, always working hard to create scoring opportunities rather than just waiting for the ball come to him.

That same energy provided the game's first goal. The Loons, playing with five defenders instead of their usual four, were working to limit Charlotte's ability to get into the middle of the field and trusting their three forward players — Oluwaseyi, Franco Fragapane, and Lod — to counter.

"It's about keeping a compact shape, and closing off entry balls through our middle," said midfielder Dotson.

BOXSCORE: Minnesota United 3, Charlotte 0

MLS standings

Fragapane picked up a loose ball on the edge of his penalty area and got the ball to Robin Lod, who carried the ball over the halfway line with only Oluwaseyi — and five Charlotte defenders — in front of him.

The striker, though, split the center backs with an intelligent run, and Lod lofted a pass over the top of the defense to find him. Oluwaseyi let the ball bounce once off the turf, then volleyed a shot from the edge of the penalty area, back across the goalkeeper, off the post and in.

Minnesota's second goal, in contrast, came not from a counter-attack, but from a specific direct buildup that the team had identified. Kervin Arriaga, playing as a center back rather than in his usual midfield role, hit a long cross-field pass to a wide-open Joseph Rosales, who was playing as a left wing-back rather than his normal spot at left back.

Rosales slid the ball to Fragapane, who found Lod's late run into the penalty area with a cross, and Lod side-footed a shot past Charlotte goalkeeper Kristijan Kahlina in the 49th minute.

Dotson noted that they'd seen the possibility of the first pass on film. "We saw how direct they were, and we found some ways we could capitalize, like the big ball from Kervin to Joe [Rosales]," he said.

Lod, too, was playing as a right wing rather than in his typical spot this season in central midfield — meaning that it was a goal worked by four players, three of whom were playing in a different role than usual.

By then, Charlotte (3-4-2) seemed almost shell-shocked, so when Dotson scored with a header from a corner kick in the 54th minute — Minnesota's first set-piece goal of the year — it was nothing more than the final nail in the coffin.

Hybrid role for Rosales the key

If you had to nail down the team to one formation, you'd say that the Loons lined up in a 5-2-3, with Arriaga playing center back alongside Michael Boxall and Devin Padelford, DJ Taylor as the right back, and Rosales as left back.

One formation can't tell the whole story, though. When the Loons had the ball, Rosales functioned more as a left midfielder: when MNUFC was defending, he would press as if a midfielder, but fall back into the back line if Charlotte had the ball in Minnesota's half.

"He pretty much ended up defending as if he was a fullback and attacking as if he was a winger," said Ramsay. "I think that suits his qualities really well. He's a player that offers a lot in a load of different ways, and we've got to make sure that we find a system and way of using him that gets the best of his qualities."

In general, Rosales plays more as a winger than Taylor, even when the Loons play four defenders and not five. But it was Rosales's versatility, and ability to play a dual role, that allowed Ramsay to spring the surprise of three center backs on Charlotte — something the home team didn't find a way to cope with.

Loons strikers offer "different sets of qualities"

Oluwaseyi's goal gives him three for the year, tied with Lod for the team lead — and kept up his rate of scoring more than one goal per 90 minutes this year.

It's enough to make you wonder if it's time for a striker controversy with MNUFC, with Teemu Pukki having gone four starts without a goal coming into Sunday. Ramsay, though, says it's just a matter of having two players that bring different skill sets.

"He does what he does really well, Tani, which is play on the back line [and] really stretch the opposition," Ramsay said. "He's more of a 'reference point' number nine than Teemu, who is more of a link. [Pukki has] really intelligent movement, but is more inclined to play off the back line as opposed to on the back line, which of course is a real quality in itself."

As the season wears on, we could see more of Oluwaseyi starting in road games, especially games in which Minnesota chooses to play more directly. His movement and running create a different type of problem for opposing defenses than do Pukki's, and it's a problem that might be more suited to a road-game, counter-attacking style.

Ramsay still even-keeled in victory

After a 3-0 road win, one in which his tactical changes made a huge difference in the outcome, you might expect a young manager like Ramsay to be ready for a little bit of a victory lap.

Even a triumphant Ramsay, though, still comes across as entirely levelheaded.

"It's nice that it panned out as it has, but from a rational, logical perspective, all you can do is construct the game plan as you see it, communicate to the players as best as you can, get their buy-in, and then what happens beyond that is fate to some extent," said Ramsay, who claimed to be "at peace with the outcome either way."

"So, yes, I'm pleased, but also I'm pretty constructive about the whole thing."

It's an attitude that speaks to Ramsay's demeanor as a coach — steady, never too high, never too low. He may never have been a top-level manager before, but he certainly seems to understand how to smooth out the peaks and valleys of the season.

The Star Tribune did not send the writer of this article to the game. This was written using a broadcast, interviews and other material.