ST. PAUL -- Jan Gregus owes Vito Mannone.
Minnesota United’s midfielder bet its goalkeeper that Loons’ defender Romain Metanire wouldn’t score against the Houston Dynamo at Allianz Field on Saturday night.
But with a strike of luck, Metanire was credited with a pass that deflected off a Dynamo defender, hit the far goalpost and trickled across the goal line in a 1-0 win. A bet’s a bet.
“He needs to pay now,” Mannone said with a smile.
If a bettor had foresight that United’s recent winning formula would be shutdown defense and a scraped-together offense, they would receive buckets of cash. With Minnesota’s track record for an ability to score inability to stop opponents in its first two MLS seasons, the odds of this run happening probably would’ve come with a pretty good payout.
In the last six games, Minnesota has scored only four goals, but has 11 points in the stretch (3-1-2). Two of those goals came from defenders, and star attacker Darwin Quintero’s slump runs through this stretch. Quintero nearly scored a beautiful goal in the fifth minute Saturday, but it hit the crossbar and his goalless drought now runs 382 minutes.
But Minnesota’s defense has carried them into fifth place in the Western Conference. In late April, they produced the club’s first consecutive shutouts in its MLS era, and then repeated it in late May.
The Loons held the Columbus Crew without a shot on goal in their 1-0 win May 18 — the first time Minnesota had done that in 80 MLS games.
Plus, Saturday’s clean sheet was the club’s fifth this season, matching the most in either of the two previous MLS seasons, and they have 21 games left to play into October.
United coach Adrian Heath was impressed with “the collective mentality to defend the goal, do what’s asked of them. People doing what the coaching staff wants them to do. Defending properly, putting the group before individuals.”
After United took the lead Saturday, and Heath brought on defensive-minded substitutions in the second half, the Dynamo didn’t gather much momentum to threaten an equalizer. In years past, the Loons often would be fighting for their lives to eek out some victories.
“We ground out the last five to 10 minutes, and just did what we had to do,” center back Michael Boxall said.
Boxall pointed to a first-half stretch when rookie left back Hassani Dotson needed treatment on the sideline, and the Loons were down to 10 men. They bided their time until Dotson was back on the field.
Boxall credited the “older heads” coming into the club in captain Ozzie Alonso and Gregus. Their calming influence, Boxall said, has meant a massive improvement in a calmer demeanor of the team compared to the first two seasons in MLS.
United’s offseason additions were primarily veterans, showing the club is in win-now mode. But with injuries, the Loons had to start rookie Dotson for the first time in his career. Their experienced players made sure he felt comfortable.
“Talking with my other friends, you don’t see this in every locker room,” Dotson said. “So, I think it’s great for my teammates and the coaching staff and everyone in Minnesota for bringing together such a great group of guys.”