One of the early surprises in the 2021 MLS season was the poor start by Minnesota United, which came within minutes of winning the 2020 Western Conference title.
The Loons opened with four straight defeats. But just as quickly, they have rediscovered their form, running their unbeaten streak to six games with a 1-0 win at the Portland Timbers and climbing into fifth place in the Western Conference.
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Saturday's victory is the most impressive result, given the opponent -- the Timbers are the only team in the Western Conference's top seven Minnesota United has beaten -- and the weather -- the temperature in Portland hit 106°F and forced the game at Providence Park to start an hour later than originally planned.
The Loons' resurgence coincided with the arrival of a pair of new signings, French DP Adrien Hunou and Argentine Franco Fragapane. Both were involved in the game's only goal.
In the 2nd minute, Argentine playmaker Emanuel Reynoso fed Fragapane on the left side with a perfect through ball, and Fragapane found Hunou, who put away the fastest goal in Minnesota’s MLS history.
"It’s easy for Franco to go and have a shot from the angle he’s at," said Loons head coach Adrian Heath, "but he sees Adrien in a great spot. But as I said to you, one thing that we’ve managed to do in the last couple of weeks is start to get some work in and around the penalty area again and a little combination plays."
The goals have still been hard to come by for Minnesota United, expected to have one of the best offenses in MLS with Reynoso available for his first full season. Only once in the six-game unbeaten streak have the Loons scored as many as two goals, getting goals from both Fragapane and Hunou in Wednesday's 2-0 win over Austin FC. On Saturday night, keeper Steve Clark kept Portland in the game with several outstanding saves.
"Niko [Hansen], [Reynoso] and Adrien were really disappointed because they haven’t scored," Heath said. "And obviously [Clark has] come up with big saves because that’s his job. But if we keep creating the type of chances that we’ve done in the last few games, we’ll score goals.”
It was the hottest day on record in Portland and only expected to get hotter.
“It was warm," said Heath. "Really, really warm. As I said to the players, we can’t use that as an excuse. They aren’t used to 100 degree heat here either. I didn’t want it to be one of them where we’re talking about the weather after the game and that’s what I said to the players before the game. There’s a famous expression, ‘Heat makes cowards of us all,’ and I said we’re not going to use that, guys.”