It was bound to happen at some point: St. Louis CITY SC's first loss in MLS. That moment arrived Saturday night courtesy of Minnesota United FC, who extended their own season-opening unbeaten stretch (3W-0L-2D) via a 1-0 win at CITYPARK.
Minnesota's Matchday 6 victory came a week after a bitter home draw at Allianz Field against Vancouver Whitecaps FC that saw the Loons – missing Dayne St. Clair, Michael Boxall, Robin Lod, Bongokuhle Hlongwane and four others to international duty – concede deep into stoppage time while trying to hold a 1-0 lead.
The mood was much better Saturday, as, despite only generating one shot on target the entire night – a successful 78th-minute penalty kick by Luis Amarilla – and without Lod in the lineup again (illness), the Loons held serve in the Gateway City. They even kept their nerve through a lengthy second-half stoppage time period (seven minutes this time).
While Lod was missing in action, Hlongwane, who returned from international duty with South Africa to the Twin Cities at "nearly midnight on Thursday," per head coach Adrian Heath, played all 90 minutes. Boxall went the full 90 as well, despite an illness of his own. All of that rotation comes on top of the continued absence of Emanuel Reynoso, with the DP midfielder suspended prior to the 2023 MLS season for failing to report to training camp.
"I was so pleased with my group tonight. We've got so much adversity this year through one thing or another. It's been like something every week," Heath said. "Where I look at the shift that some of the guys put in, I'm so pleased for them because they've got a reward for everything that they've done."
The positive press surrounding St. Louis and their perfect start heading into Matchday 6 wasn't lost on Heath, who admitted to using it as a motivating factor for his own players.
"I always say there's nothing better as a player than proving people wrong, and we've gone and done it again today," Heath said. "Nobody gave us a chance, which I quite liked, because I knew that gave me a little bit of ammunition to stir the guys up before, and we've gone and done it again."
That's not to say he felt Bradley Carnell's STL group wasn't deserving of the praise they've received.
"You come into the lion's den a little bit...the place was on fire before the game. Great atmosphere, brilliant stadium. Hats off to the people that put it all together," Heath said. "Bradley's done a great job putting a really good group together. I think they've probably shown the blueprint of being an expansion team."
But in the end, the Loons prevailed in the Midwest, even without the likes of Lod and Reynoso in the lineup.
"The rest of the guys have stepped up incredibly well. The atmosphere within the group in the dressing room now is as good as we've ever had it," Heath said. "They're very together. They want to do well for each other, and they're a great group to be around at the moment."