Minnesota United long ago made clear that they feel overlooked and underappreciated. That’s been a recurring theme of their deep run at the MLS is Back Tournament and head coach Adrian Heath returned to that well after Saturday’s dominant 4-1 quarterfinal win over the San Jose Earthquakes.
“I’ve probably got more faith in this group than anybody else, certainly more than you press people everywhere else, who continually seem to think that we struggle to get through,” Heath told reporters on his postgame press conference. “It'll be interesting to read the narrative tomorrow.
“Maybe I like them more than most because I work with them every single day. But I'm not the expert, you guys are the experts. I've only been doing it for 44 years.”
But what seems to be an even more powerful force in the Loons camp is their genuine appreciation of one another.
“We have a lot of selfless players,” said Hassani Dotson, the versatile 22-year-old who shifted from central midfield to right back with distinction against the Quakes. “We're just trying to work hard for the person next to us. We’re all fighting for the common goal to win games, and we've done a good job of building good relationships and building team chemistry, so that always helps.
“For me the biggest difference is the team's cohesion,” he added when asked to compare this Minnesota side to the one that made the MLS Cup Playoffs for the first time ever last season. “I think it's been a lot closer, in my opinion, compared to last year. Everyone gets along very well. Last year we did too, but it's just like a big family feel — we all love spending time with each other, hanging out. And I think that bleeds onto the field. We can work that much harder for the next guy.”
That mutual respect appears to run all the way down the roster. On Saturday Dotson’s previous spot in the center of the park was filled by Jacori Hayes, his first start and only his second appearance for MNUFC since arriving in a trade with FC Dallas over the winter – and he seized the opportunity with a game-winning goal and plenty of intelligence and graft over 67 minutes on the pitch.
Highlights: Minnesota vs. San Jose
Describing his delirious celebrations after scoring — “just complete ecstasy,” he said with a laugh — Hayes alluded to the Loons’ collective spirit.
“I just ran over to the corner to celebrate with the [reserve] guys. They gave me a lot of support with my transitioning here and during the quarantine and preparing for the tournament,” he said. “They're my new brothers, they supported me and kept me motivated. I’m just very happy to score and wanted to celebrate with the guys.”
Heath noted approvingly how the entire team and staff reacted exuberantly at the sight of Hayes and Marlon Hairston, “incredible teammates” despite limited minutes this season, scoring key goals in the win.
“Jacori was frustrated that he hadn’t much playing time. But the one thing about the kid, he trains so hard every single day, is incredibly supportive to his teammates, And you saw the reaction of the rest of the group,” said the Englishman.
“We're still a few numbers short and we're hoping to do something about that when we get back. But I'm so happy with the group that I have, because I think Hassani touched on it: This is the best group of people we've had in the club, in terms of actually doing what the staff want of them, doing what is expected of them, and being a really good teammate, even when it's not going great for yourself. And that's what football is all about.”