When rookie Mason Toye elbowed Kendall Waston in the ribs in the 50th minute of Saturday's match against Vancouver Whitecaps FC, with the game knotted at 0-0, Minnesota United FC looked to be in danger of dropping points at home against a Western Conference opponent.
“I thought it was a monumental effort," said head coach Adrian Heath, "considering how long we played with a man down.”
Without a striker due to injury and facing one of the more physical, bigger rosters in the league, Minnesota switched to a 5-3-1 from their typical 4-2-3-1, packing players in the box to defend against the imposing size of the visitors.
It proved effective.
The Loons logged their first clean sheet of the season, a notable milestone for a team that has given up a number of early goals and have played behind for much of this season.
“If we keep conceding two quick goals we aren't going to win too many games,” Heath said.
“I did say to the team at halftime I felt that if we could keep a clean sheet, we would win the game.”
Heath spoke highly of captain Francisco Calvo after the match, pointing out his improved play along with central defense partner Michael Boxall after miscues earlier in the season had cost Minnesota points.
“I thought our center backs were magnificent,” Heath said. “They put in an incredible display of defending the goal and being in the right spots to defend the goal.”
For a team that had been letting in more than two goals a match entering today’s contest, the improved play of the center backs proved crucial.
Calvo and Boxall pointed to the play of goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth as the key to preserving the result, particularly highlighting a spectacular, one-handed diving save of Brek Shea’s curling shot in the 83rd minute.
“He's come up massive with two big saves in the last two weeks,” Heath said,. “You need a goalkeeper that either saves you a couple of points or wins you the game. And that saved us two points today.”
For Calvo, the man of the match was obvious. “[Shuttleworth] was the best player on the field. He was there every time we needed him.”