The second, a curling effort to the far post, drew a tip of the cap from head coach Adrian Heath. But the gaffer lamented the first, which came directly from a Robin Jansson long ball during the 3-1 win for Orlando City in Thursday night's semifinal.
“The second goal was a quality goal, we know that,” Heath said afterwards. “But I thought that Hassani [Dotson] at times handled [Nani] quite well and the first goal is our fault. You can't get beat with a 75-yard ball over the back four and Nani just controls it and puts it in the net. That's poor from our point of view.”
As Heath mentioned, Dotson again deputized at right back in place of the injured Romain Metanire. The 2019 SuperDraft pick had bright moments, but the 33-year-old Portuguese winger’s experience and quality surfaced to book a spot in the Final presented by Wells Fargo.
Reflecting on Minnesota’s month-long stay at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, center back Michael Boxall naturally wished it were longer. The Loons, who shipped 70-plus goals in their first two MLS seasons, have truly turned their club around and boast standards that continue to grow.
“Anytime you leave the tournament without taking away any silverware, it's disappointing,” Boxall said. “I think everybody outside this group might have had different expectations of us, but I think we've gone into every game knowing we can win it and I think that was surely the case tonight. It's very disappointing to lose, whether it's an MLS Playoff game or some [other] Cup. Yeah, it hurts pretty bad.”
Winger Ethan Finlay struck a slightly different tone, hailing how the Loons banded together when faced with key absences and injuries. Center back Ike Opara withdrew from the event altogether, while Metanire, influential midfielder Kevin Molino and new ace striker Luis Amarilla all dealt with various injuries.
That leads to an overwhelming sense of optimism from Finlay, even as Minnesota were held without a shot on goal until the 75th minute of the Orlando contest.
“I come out of this tournament of course disappointed tonight, but I'm deeply excited about where we can go in this regular season,” Finlay said. “I think we've set ourselves up in a good spot.”
Heath sung a similar tune as Minnesota heads home before resuming the 2020 regular season. They sit second in the Western Conference standings and remain committed to bringing in Boca Juniors midfielder Emanuel “Bebelo” Reynoso. They’ve already been busy this transfer window, landing French defender Bakaye Dibassy from Ligue 1's Amiens SC earlier this week.
For a club that’s only trending up – Boxall said their expectation is making a deep Audi MLS Cup Playoff run – Heath departs Orlando with confidence.
“I'm optimistic with this group,” Heath said. “We've brought one player in, we're trying to bring one or two more in, and if we can we will. If we can supplement this group with one or two bits of quality then I'm very optimistic with what the season ahead looks like for us."