Austin FC walked away from Saint Paul with their second win on the season, a gritty 1-0 result against a slumping Minnesota United FC.
The Black and Verde opened up their third-ever game dominant in possession and on the wings, causing problems for an often-disorganized Minnesota defense in the wide channels. Jared Stroud earned a starting spot on the right wing of Head Coach Josh Wolff’s starting XI by causing problems for Minnesota with Tomás Pochettino, who returned from a one-game administrative absence from the side during the club’s first-ever win against the Colorado Rapids.
Cecilio Domínguez shone when drifting centrally from the left and linking with Diego Fagúndez, the club’s first-ever goalscorer. Minnesota would prove dangerous when allowed space into crossing areas — especially on the right-hand side.
The breakthrough would come early for Austin, as Stroud’s sweeping pass from the right wing found Fagúndez, one-on-one with a Minnesota defender in the left-center of the box, who struck it past Dayne St. Clair and into the Loon goal for the definitive 1-0 lead.
From then on, the game slowly shifted in favor of Minnesota, who began to whip in crosses and adding more and more bodies into the box. A deflection caused Brad Stuver to stretch out but ended up on the roof of the net in the 22nd minute. Stuver would later tip a deflected shot from Emanuel Reynoso onto the post to keep the game clean, but the looming threat of an equalizer remained for the rest of the match.
Clattering tackles and long periods of recovery on the ground proved to be an ugly hallmark of the game, with Stuver, Domínguez (several times), Žan Kolmanič and Jhohan Romaña all spending time on the ground after tackles or placing a wrong foot during play. Minnesota fans would boo Domínguez while he possessed the ball for what they viewed as time-wasting and exaggerated pain, but the Verde joint-top scorer no doubt found himself on the wrong end of some nasty challenges.
Danny Hoesen missed a clear chance to double the lead, characterizing his time on the pitch so far; Hoesen’s been able to contribute to build-up and chance creation, but has yet to shine in the final third. Regardless, Minnesota kept knocking and were assisted in their efforts by the occasional wayward backpass from Austin. Both Romaña and a returning Matt Besler kept out most of the danger, while Stroud’s tracking back covered many of Kolmanič offensive efforts.
The second half began much like the first, with Domínguez and Fagúndez linking up again on the left side behind the attacking Minnesota fullbacks, eventually finding Hoesen, who ran out of pitch.
Minnesota started much slower than their pace at the end of the first half, especially after Reynoso exited the game with a knock. Rodney Redes, Jon Gallagher and Daniel Pereira entered in the 68th minute and livened up the pressing and counterattack — Gallagher especially. Gallagher found himself alone in the box on one opportunity, skipping past the keeper and laying the ball off to Stroud, who couldn’t convert on the almost open net with a defender at his heels.
Minnesota simplified their game, lobbing in crosses on a consistent basis in the last dozen or so minutes of the game — again from the right side. Patrick Weah’s entrance for the Loons in the 81st minute added an aerial threat, immediately proven when the teenager headed a whipped cross from the right-hand side toward the goal, stopped only by the upper torso of an outstretched Stuver.
Gallagher continued to make his case for a spot in the staring line up after blazing past a defender on the left and sending a cutback to Ring’s feet, who perhaps took one too many touches near the edge of the box and saw his attempt deflected and settling atop the net. Ring more than asserted his worth to the team with his constant ball-winning interventions and ability to win fouls while pressed by opposition players in his own half. The Verde captain looks to be one of the smartest acquisitions in the league after only a few games into the season.
Minnesota kept the pressure on the remainder of the game, even counterattacking off an Austin chance on the break from Redes, who hit the post after getting his shot past the keeper. A corner for Minnesota with their keeper in the box failed to equalize, ending the game and sealing a deserved, albeit less than spectacular win for ATXFC.
The Black and Verde continues the road trip to face Sporting Kansas City on May 9 at 6:30 p.m.
Austin FC: Brad Stuver, Jhohan Romaña, Nick Lima, Žan Kolmanič, Matt Besler, Diego Fagundez (64’ Daniel Pereira), Tomás Pochettino (78’ Sebastian Berhalter), Alex Ring, Jared Stroud (82’ Hector Jimenez), Cecilio Domínguez (64’ Rodney Redes), Danny Hoesen (63’ Jon Gallagher)
ATX (1-0) Diego Fagundez, 17th minute (assisted by Jared Stroud, Danny Hoesen)
MIN – Osvaldo Alonso (caution) 41’
MIN – Michael Boxall (caution) 60’
ATX – Jhohan Romaña (caution) 74’
ATX – Sebastian Berhalter (caution) 81’