FRISCO, TEXAS – Minnesota United opened its 2023 Major League Soccer season with a 1-0 road win at FC Dallas on Saturday night, but another big positive to come out of this victory was the return of midfielder Hassani Dotson after a nearly 11-month absence.
Dotson tore the ACL in his right knee in an April 16, 2022 match against Colorado. He was originally expected to return in March but in the 63rd minute of Saturday's match, he came on for Mender Garcia, who scored the game's only goal right after halftime.
"It felt great to get back on the field. Obviously, still need to work on my fitness level and get a little bit more comfortable, but it felt good to be back after so long," Dotson said. "I have to give credit to the support staff and the plan they had for me. [I was] just working hard and trying to get back as soon as possible and as safe as possible. Everyone wants to get back a day early or a couple weeks early. You just got to take it day-by-day and hope you can get back as soon as possible."
Other than Dotson himself, no one was happier to see the young midfielder return than Loons head coach Adrian Heath. "It's like having a new player because anybody who knows me knows what I think about him," Heath said. "I think he has the talent to be a US International. To get him back and get him through, we felt really, really good."
Dotson said he'd come through fitness drills with his teammates well but the lingering question about when he could return was how game fit he was. However, after playing the final 20 minutes of the preseason finale against Vancouver with no issue, the medical staff felt comfortable enough with his fitness level to give him minutes in the season opener.
And considering that Toyota Stadium is where the Loons' season ended last fall in the MLS Cup Playoffs, coming away with three points in the same game where Dotson made his happy return only made this win even sweeter. "Yeah, it's big, especially since how they ended our season last year. It's good to start the season off fresh with three points," Dotson said.
Dotson was relatively pleased with his performance, but realizes that as he was knocking off some rust, there are several areas he can focus on improving before receiving his next game action.
"There were little awkward moments out there, but it was nice to get those first minutes out of the way. I'll go back to the film room and look at what areas I can do better in and just keep building that confidence," he said.
Stephen Hunt is a freelance writer based in Frisco, Texas.