With the addition of five veteran starters, Minnesota United’s offseason remodel made them the second-oldest club in MLS and that average age ticked up with the departures of Francisco Calvo and Romario Ibarra.
But in Minnesota’s 7-1 thumping of FC Cincinnati on Saturday, a trio of young players propelled the victory. The Loons started a pair of rookie fullbacks in Hassani Dotson and Chase Gasper, who made his first MLS start, and brought second-year forward Mason Toye off the bench in the second half.
Minnesota head coach Adrian Heath went 3 for 3 in deploying the club’s youth to help end a three-game MLS losing streak.
Dotson scored an audacious, jaw-dropping goal from outside the 18-yard box in the 23rd minute; Toye registered his first MLS goal in the 75th minute; and Heath said Gasper brought high quality across the full 90 minutes.
“Mason, excellent,” Heath said. “… Hassani’s goal was obviously unbelievable. He will rightly get a lot of headlines for that. I thought Chase Gasper was arguably our best player. I thought he was outstanding.”
Outside of Toye (age 20), Dotson (21) and Gasper (23), the Loons youngest player Saturday was 28-year-olds Ethan Finlay and Jan Gregus. Minnesota started six players north of 30 years old and also brought 34-year-old Lawrence Olum off the bench, too. These grizzled pieces are all part of the club’s push to make MLS Cup playoffs for the first time in three seasons.
The precocious Dotson quickly gave credit to Finlay for taking a defender away from him when he made a long run into Cincinnati’s defensive third as the Loons led 1-0.
“Ethan did a great job of peeling away and taking the outside back away,” Dotson explained. “So, I just thought there was an opening for me to take a strike.”
While his whipped shot was impressive, it wasn’t unprecedented. Dotson sliced a volley into the back of the net in the 3-2 loss to Philadelphia on June 2.
“I think my first goal was more difficult on the volley, but I like this one more,” Dotson said Saturday. “I had my friend, my girlfriend and her brother in the stands, so this one is a little bit more memorable. But they are both really good.”
After Dotson’s first goal, Heath revealed the rookie is one of the best finishers on the team. Dotson backed that up Saturday.
“He’s in range when he enters the building,” said 30-year-old center back Ike Opara, who had his first career two-goal game Saturday. “I’ve never seen him do it in training, but this guy’s pumping them in games, so keep shooting them, my man.”
When Dotson scored in early June, he didn’t have much of a pre-planned celebration. On Saturday, he linked his thumbs and moved his fingers like the flapping of a Loon’s wings.
Meanwhile, Toye continues to ride a wave’s crest. It started when he scored the winning goal in a 3-2 comeback over Houston Dynamo in the U.S. Open Cup on June 18 and added two more goals in a friendly with Forward Madison on Tuesday.
“I’m just being a little bit smarter and in my mind, I’ve calmed down a little bit,” Toye explained.
Toye said his goal was a byproduct of the scouting report. “I knew their center backs weren’t athletic in terms of running, so I knew I could get in and run at them,” he said. “That’s really all I needed to know.”
Toye is often one of the last players on the training field in Blaine. During one of those extra sessions, Dotson setup with a bag of balls on the other end of the indoor field at the National Sports Center.
“He struck some balls really, really well in training, so I knew he could hit a shot like that,” Toye said. “… I wasn’t surprised. I was just overjoyed that one of my teammates and one of the young guys scored a goal like that.”
When Toye scored in Houston, his celebration was acting like he was shaking maracas. It was spurred by a casual conversation with Gasper. On Saturday, Toye did it again.
Overall, the Loons youngsters are shaking up their prescribed formula for success and their MLS Cup playoff case is stronger because of it.