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Loons suffer ‘kick in the teeth’ with late collapse to FC Cincinnati

Minnesota (4-4-2) has now dropped points in half of its home games this season

MLS: FC Cincinnati at Minnesota United FC
Minnesota United forward Bongokuhle Hlongwane (21) advances the ball against FC Cincinnati in the second half on Saturday at Allianz Field in St. Paul.
Matt Blewett/USA Today Sports
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Minnesota United manager Adrian Heath insisted a few weeks ago little-used attacker Adrien Hunou would get his chance this season. That opportunity came Saturday, and the French forward did not make the most of it.

With forwards Robin Lod and Luis Amarilla out ill, Hunou made his first MLS start of the season, but was subbed out after a mostly ineffectual 57-minute shift.

FC Cincinnati’s top goal scorer Brandon Vasquez did his part, scoring a tap-in the third minutes of stoppage time for a 1-0 win at night at Allianz Field. It’s believed to be the latest goal Minnesota has conceded in the three-plus years of Allianz Field.

“When it’s as late as that, its obviously a kick in the teeth,” Heath said postgame.

Minnesota (4-4-2) has now dropped points in half of its home games this season. Wins over Chicago, Colorado and San Jose are offset by a losses to Seattle, Cincinnati and a draw with Nashville.

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Cincinnati (5-5-1) played a back-five defense, and Minnesota tried to play wide and pepper the box with crosses, some of which turned into corner kicks, but didn’t break through.

The Loons were 3-0-0 vs. Cincinnati in MLS games since 2019, but with two wins over struggling Toronto FC in the last week, Cincy has now won three MLS games in a row for the first time since joining the league in 2019.

Hunou, Minnesota’s most expensive player at $2.5 million in 2021, had played 20 total minutes in four games before Saturday and didn’t play in five other games. During the lull with the first team, he played for MNUFC2, the club’s developmental team, starting, score in a 45-minute tuneup against Colorado Rapids 2 on April 17.

Four days later in the U.S. Open Cup, Hunou started, scored a goal on a set piece and had four shots on target in his 86-minute shift in the 2-0 win over USL League One club Forward Madison.

In his first start, Hunou had one scoring chance in the first half, but his first touch let him down on Abu Danladi’s cross, which allowed Cincinnati’s Nick Hagglund time to scurry over and block the shot. In the first half, Hunou had an expected goals of 0.15.

Cincinnati was without Brenner Souza da Silva due to a back injury. The Brazilian striker, who was acquired on a $13 million transfer fee and was paid $1.76 million in 2021, has not scored in 362 minutes this season.

So combined, a lack of goals from expensive attackers left a gaping hole for most of Saturday.

“I was trying to get a goal,” Heath said about subbing out Hunou and moving Danladi to No. 9. “I thought maybe bringing Abu’s pace through the middle might cause them a little bit more (problems) than Adrien’s movements and general play.”

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Winger Franco Fragapane replaced Hunou and had a great chance to distribute in the 88th minute, but with teammates in the box, his cross sailed over the end line. It was one of 28 crosses sent in by the Loons on Saturday.

While five games have been interrupted by a hamstring injury, Fragapane has yet to score in 431 minutes this season.

Fragapane had five and nine assists last season; Hunou scored seven and added an assist a year ago. They have only two combined assists this season.

Bongi Hlongwane made his second straight start and benefited from a nice through ball from Emanuel Reynoso in the first half, but didn’t shoot quick enough and the attack fizzled. He had an xG of 0.16 in the first half and a team high 0.25 in the game.

“I don’t think anybody is blaming anybody; I think everybody is looking inward,” said Niko Hansen, who made his first MLS appearance when he subbed on for Hlongwane in the 63rd minute. “I think that is part of our team, our strength, everybody takes responsibility.”

There was plenty to be spread around Saturday.

BRIEFLY

Loons goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair made five saves to keep Minnesota in Saturday’s game. St. Clair had an expectedgoals against of 1.93. … Amarilla and his wife Silvi gave birth to their first child, a son named Luca, on Saturday. Luis started to feel sick before he left Friday’s training session to be with Silvi, who had gone into labor by midday. … … MNUFC CEO Shari Ballard spent part of the game standing with the diehard supporters in he Wonderwall on Saturday.

MLS: FC Cincinnati at Minnesota United FC
Minnesota United midfielder Emanuel Reynoso (10) kicks a corner kick against FC Cincinnati in the second half on Saturday at Allianz Field in St. Paul.
Matt Blewett/USA Today Sports

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