Minnesota United's early-season struggles were well-documented, as the Loons stumbled out of the gate with four straight losses. Slowly but surely, however, Minnesota are starting to look more like the squad that came just minutes away from an MLS Cup berth a season ago, with a pair of new additions acting as the catalysts.
On Wednesday, it was recent signees Franco Fragapane and Adrien Hunou who accounted for all the scoring in a 2-0 win over Austin FC at Allianz Field, extending a streak for Minnesota of five straight games in which they've managed positive results. That leaves the Loons at 3W-4L-2D, with plenty of work to be done to keep climbing from their current place of ninth on the Western Conference table, but with positive momentum to build on after the slow start.
Fragapane has been particularly impressive through his first two games, scoring his second goal in two games to start his MLS career while also assisting on Hunou's debut tally in the 18th minute against Austin.
“Well, we've followed them for a long time," Minnesota head coach Adrian Heath said of his new signings after Wednesday's match. "They were both really attractive transfer deals. We thought they would do really well for us. What we've seen in training and what we've seen in games, you know, nothing changes our mind, in fact, makes us all more pleased that we've stayed the course with these two because a couple of times we thought, I’m not sure this is going to happen. I still think there's a lot more to come.
"They're still not 100 percent with their fitness, as you can see. As they get sharper, and they start to get a better understanding with the people they’re playing with, starting to understand what people can and can’t do. Yeah, they’ll get better for sure.”
It's a sentiment that Heath said he's hoping applies not just to Fragapane and Hunou, but the team as a whole, with the coach answering in the affirmative when asked if he felt as though Wednesday's match represented his team's most complete performance of the season.
“I thought it was most important as well," Heath said. "And I told the players that before the game. I wanted to keep this run going. And I know, playing [Austin] because of the way they play, they stretch you out, they're a good footballing team and you have to stay disciplined because that's what they work on. Getting you out of your shape. And they’re good on the ball. They’re a good possession team. And I thought, the first half, especially, we really picked our moments to press, turn the ball over and then I thought some of our play in the first half was outstanding.
"And, to be honest, maybe the best half we've had all season in terms of stuff we've been looking at. I think it’s a sign of things to come."
Goalkeeper Tyler Miller also noted the change in vibes surrounding the team over the course of the five-game unbeaten run, with the backstop saying the group is feeling more cohesion and primed to make good on the preseason expectations that had many pegging the Loons as a potential force in the West.
"Yeah, I think that we've been figuring out, kind of, as the season has gone on, obviously, we get off to a difficult start," Miller said. "In the last five games now, I think we've done tremendously. As we've continued to improve, I think we've seen a complete performance now from the defense to the offense, to the midfield and how everybody can contribute, and how we can get back to being that team that everybody had those expectations for. Not that we're anywhere near where we should be or where we need to be but we're exactly where we have to be right now in this moment and I think that everybody is doing a tremendous job to continue to push, week in, week out to get results every game.”