Young Loons fullback D.J. Taylor hungry to keep spot among veteran competition
Even with Minnesota dealing with injuries, trades and mid-year arrivals at its fullback spots, Taylor didn’t play in league play for more than a month
On Wednesday, Minnesota United opened its locker-room doors to reporters at Allianz Field for the first time since the pandemic shut down MLS in 2020 and then restricted access out of precaution into the first three months of this season.
Spotted amid the bustle of the anteroom/cafe was manager Adrian Heath speaking Spanish with Emanuel Reynoso’s young daughter. Inside the egg-shaped dressing room, new Loons fullback Oniel Fisher sat in his stall near the doors. While the Jamaican had been benched for the 1-1 draw with Los Angeles Galaxy that night, he wasn’t storming out.
Instead, Fisher suggested the player who usurped him in the starting XI receive the spotlight’s shine. “Make sure you get D.J.” Taylor, he said.
Taylor was the guy behind the guy in the Loons’ comeback. Trailing 1-0 in the 87th minute, Taylor outhustled four Galaxy defenders, and just before reaching the end line, provided the pass to set up Robin Lod’s equalizing goal.
“It was amazing effort,” Lod said of Taylor. “Making the push into the box and then making the right decision on the final pass, all the credit for him.”
Taylor has had to make do with infrequent playing time in MLS games this season. Even with Minnesota dealing with injuries, trades and mid-year arrivals at its fullback spots, Taylor didn’t play in league play for more than a month.
He played two games for the club’s new developmental team, MNUFC2, in MLS NEXT Pro and two games for the Loons in the U.S. Open Cup. The Galaxy game was only his third MLS start of the season and the second time he went a full 90 minutes. He has played in only six of 12 MLS games this season.
“(Heath) has given me more confidence and I have to take advantage of it and secure the spot,” Taylor told the Pioneer Press. “Although he doesn’t really say it to you, ‘I’m giving you confidence,’ he does it in his own way. Whether it’s tough love, whatever you want to call it.”
After three years with North Carolina FC in the lower-level USL from 2018-20, Taylor nearly had his first MLS goal Wednesday. But his diving header off a Franco Frapapane cross was saved. The 24-year-old had to settle for his first MLS assist, a nice parting gift worth celebrating.
“I might have a Coke and some chocolate cake or something,” Taylor said. “ I think internally it’s very good for me. I’ve been working hard since I got here with the club, and it feels good to be a part of that. The work doesn’t stop here.”
Taylor wants to keep his spot in the starting XI for Sunday’s game at FC Dallas. Taylor’s passing will go a long way toward that aim; he had five progressive passes and two completed crosses into the 18-yard box, per fbref.com. It’s the type of attacking contribution the Loons have lacked with Romain Metanire on the shelf.
After Sunday, the clock will be ticking louder on Taylor being able to keep his spot. Metanire, a former MLS All-Star right back, is in his sixth week of rehab from an aggravated hamstring injury. The injury cost him the start of the season, then he played 22 minutes of an April 10 game and hurt himself again.
Heath said the club with be cautious with Metanire, but the 32-year-old could return to game action after the U.S. Open Cup round of 16 match against Union Omaha on Wednesday.
Taylor said Fisher, 30, has been a good veteran to have in the locker room, just a few stalls away from his. “We have a really good friendship on and off the field,” Taylor said. “… When you are competing for a spot, guys can be fighting each other off the field and trying to get in each other’s way, but we have a really good relationship, so whether he is playing or I’m playing, we love to push each other, and that is going to be better for the team.”
Whether he enjoyed that soda and dessert or not, Taylor remains hungry. “I think any time I get more than one game consistently that is when my confidence is highest,” Taylor said. “Now I want that second, third, fourth game.”
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