Bongokuhle Hlongwane scored his first MLS goal and injury-plagued Minnesota United extended their unbeaten streak to six games with Saturday night's 2-1 victory in hot, humid Houston.
Hlongwane assisted with a deft pass on Franco Fragapane's goal in first-half stoppage and finally scored in the 71st minute after coming so close to getting that first goal all season.
His left-foot strike gave the Loons a two-goal lead. Houston's Fafa Picault scored an 86th-minute goal for Houston that wasn't enough.
"I'm so pleased for Bongi to get his goal because if ever a kid's deserved a goal with the amount of work he does on both sides of the ball, it's him," Loons coach Adrian Heath said. "If we can get him to consistently score goals from that position with the energy levels he has, we think there is a player there and we've got to give him time."
The Loons won despite missing injured star midfielder Emanuel Reynoso, starting midfielders Wil Trapp and Kervin Arriaga and defensive midfielder Jacori Hayes as well.
Reynoso rolled an ankle during Wednesday's 4-0 exhibition victory over Everton at Allianz Field. Reynoso was last week's MLS player of the week for scoring twice against D.C. United, the third brace he had recorded over the Loons' past five games. He had been listed as questionable and made the trip to Houston.
To compensate for his absence, Heath changed formations to a 4-3-3 that included Nabi Kibunguchy getting his first MLS start in the three-man midfield.
Late in the game, the Loons went to a five-man backline to protect their two-goal lead.
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Hlongwane scored by moving the ball from his right foot to his left to shield it from a defender and then sent a left-footed shot that scored just inside the far back post.
He celebrated across the field as teammates gathered around him.
"He's just such a fun-loving character," teammate Michael Boxall said. "I think I got there just a little bit late trying to get bit more out of him so I could be a part of it. Obviously, super stoked for him. He has been bright the last few weeks and hopefully that pushes him to keep improving."
Staff writer Jerry Zgoda contributed to this report.