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MNUFC's Mender Garcia Scores Lone Goal in Season Opening Victory Against FC Dallas

February 25, 2023 - Major League Soccer (MLS)
Minnesota United FC News Release


FRISCO, Texas -- Minnesota United earned all three points on Saturday night during the club's 2023 Season Opener by defeating FC Dallas on the road 1-0, with forward Mender Garcia's 48th-minute game-winning goal as the difference.

The first 45 minutes of the Season Opener ended with MNUFC and FC Dallas both scoreless. Dallas controlled much of the ball, holding 58 percent of possession while winning seven corner kicks compared to the Loons' zero. Of Dallas' six first-half shots, Minnesota goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair was forced just once to make a save, pushing Sebastian Lletget's 42nd-minute shot over the crossbar. Minnesota's best chance during the first 45 minutes came in the 37th minute when midfielder Franco Fragapane won the Loons a free kick 30 yards from the goal. Fellow midfielder Kervin Arriaga took the attempt, firing a strong shot that hit the Dallas crossbar.

Though Dallas controlled the first 45-minutes, Minnesota United opened the scoring just three minutes into the new half. Franco Fragapane got the ball atop of Dallas' box from a forward Mender Garcia pass and took the shot that was ultimately saved - but Garcia was in perfect position and scored off the rebound, giving the Loons the 1-0 lead in the 48th minute. The goal was notably Garcia's second-ever MLS goal and is the first goal scored for Minnesota United in their 2023 regular-season campaign. Garcia was replaced by midfielder Hassani Dotson as a 63rd-minute substitution, marking Dotson's first regular-season minutes played since April 16, 2022, following torn ACL surgery. Both defender Miguel Tapias and forward Tani Oluwaseyi made their Major League Soccer debut appearances in the match against FC Dallas on Saturday night.

Minnesota held firm throughout the remainder of the match, earning the road win on the back of Mender Garcia's game-winning goal. With the win, MNUFC improves to a 3-3-1 (W-L-D) record in Season Opener contests. The Loons have also now won or earned a draw in four of the last five regular-season matches against FC Dallas dating back to the 2021 season. In addition to the victory, MNUFC goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair earned his first clean sheet of the regular-season and his 12th-career regular-season MLS shutout.

BELL BANK MAN OF THE MATCH: Mender Garcia

LINEUPS:

Minnesota United XI: GK Dayne St. Clair; D Kemar Lawrence, Miguel Tapias, Michael Boxall, Zarek Valentin; M Kervin Arriaga, Wil Trapp (c), Franco Fragapane, Robin Lod, Bongokuhle Hlongwane; F Mender Garcia

Bench: GK Eric Dick, Fred Emmings; D DJ Taylor; M Joseph Rosales, Hassani Dotson, Cameron Dunbar; F Patrick Weah, Tani Oluwaseyi

FC Dallas XI: GK Maarten Paes; D Jose MArinez, Marco Farfan, Ema Twumasi, Sebastian Ibeagha; M Facundo Quignon, Sebastian Lleget, Paxton Pomykal; F Paul Arriola (c), Jesus Ferreia, Alan Velasco

Bench: GK Jimmy Maurer; D Geovane de Jesus rocha, Isaiash Parker, Nkosi Tafari, Nolan Norris; M Edwin Cerrillo, Katlego Ntsabeleng; F Jose Mulato, Bernard Kamungo

UP NEXT:

MINNESOTA UNITED FC vs. NEW YORK RED BULLS

Allianz Field | Saint Paul, Minnesota

03.11.2023 | MLS 2023 Regular Season | Matchday 2

7:30 pm CT (MLS Season Pass; MNUFC Radio on 1500 ESPN)

MINNESOTA UNITED POST GAME QUOTE SHEET

HEAD COACH ADRIAN HEATH

On the win... (MLS Season Pass)

"I was just so pleased with the effort from the boys, we've had a difficult off season with a lot of things that have gone on. We had three players who haven't trained, Kervin [Arriaga] and Joseph [Rosales]. And obviously, Luis [Amarilla] is not back. Obviously, we've had the disappointment of the [Emanuel] Reynoso situation. So to come here and put on a defensive display. I thought the shape and the structure was outstanding. I can't really think of Dayne [St. Clair] having much to do, made a big save, I thought it was a magnificent display from the guys, and I can't fault him for their effort and desire and enthusiasm, everything that we asked for."

On the effort from his team... (MLS Season Pass)

"Well, we worked hard, obviously, I always knew the game was going to be tight either way. And I thought that if we don't beat ourselves by giving anything away, I thought we'd have a chance on the counterattack and that's how it played out. And I thought [Miguel] Tapias was outstanding for his first game. The actual back four were magnificent. And the understanding that we've been working on because this is a difficult place to play. They've got good attacking pieces. And we knew at times, we'd have to weather the storm, which we did in the second half. I thought we looked dangerous on the second break. It's a big win for us."

On Kervin Arriaga... (MLS Season Pass)

"I thought Kervin [Arriaga] was at his best tonight. Last year, he started the season the first eight or nine games he was outstanding. And then he had a high ankle sprain. And he never really got himself going but tonight was like the proper curve, covering loads of loads of ground, getting in good spots. Obviously he's back. So he wins. Good. But I thought he was composed and used the ball very, very well. He has the ability to be one of the better players in the league for sure."

On getting a result after player absences during the week...

"I can't speak highly enough of the guys. We've had a difficult offseason, as everybody knows, and I know what would've come if we hadn't put in a performance like this in today. Joseph [Rosales], Kervin [Arriaga] had been away, they arrived late last night, so unbelievable shift from Kervin. I thought Joe [Joseph Rosales] did great when he come on. With the [Emanuel] Reynoso situation and everything that's gone on, this press conference would have been a lot different I feel as if the result would've gone against us, but it speaks volumes of the attitude and the fortitude of the group. I thought their discipline was outstanding at times, and I couldn't be more pleased with them."

On Mender Garcia and his performance...

"You have to keep going, don't you? That's the life of a forward. On the road, at times, you have to do a really defensive, it's like a rear-guard action. We wanted to take away the six, and that was the responsibility of Robin Lod and Mender [Garcia], and at times, it's a selfless task. Being a center-forward, you'll get the headlines quite rightly. He kept working and working away. He's worked really hard in preseason that will do his confidence no harm. It's a great start for us, great start for the kid, so we're pleased."

On a successful defensive effort against a strong Dallas attacking side...

"I just thought we had a really, really good defensive structure from the front two on. The way the modern game is you defend with 10 outfield players, you attack with 10 outfield players, and I thought the two front men actually gave us a great base to work from. We made them play into the pockets where we wanted them to play. As I say, it's one of those games that when the game is finished, you look at it and you go 'well that's why you do the work in the week.' We've worked really hard about taking their pockets of space behind our midfield and in front of our back-four, and I thought we did it excellently. I can't really think of a really big save that Dayne's [St. Clair] made. He made a save, I think, for one of the headers, but I expect him to make that. Overall, couldn't be more pleased with the group, couldn't be more pleased with the defensive shape that we had. In England we call it a 'coupon buster,' when you play and everybody expects you to get beat and then you come away and get a result. The most important thing is, the only people that matter are me and the coaching staff and the players, and they believed that we could get a result today, and that's what we've gone and done, so hats off to them."

On winning at Dallas after breaking their home opener unbeaten streak...

"It's always, it's a difficult place to come. You look at their home record over the years, it's always been excellent. Obviously playing today in 50 degrees rather than 100 degree temperature was a nice bonus for everybody, but we did well here in the playoffs. We took a really good team, and it's one of the people's favorites to go all the way last year, and we ended up taking it to penalties. The last couple of times we've been here we've had a good shape, and we worked hard on what we think are their main strengths, and I think we've taken them away again tonight. I couldn't be more pleased for the players because we've had a difficult offseason, you can't deny that with what's gone on. This week even, two of the starting players are not here. Then on Thursday we had the snow. Nobody trains on Thursday. It's been a really difficult mental week to cope with, but as I say, the players have been absolutely unbelievable and I'm so pleased for them."

On Miguel Tapias and his first MLS game...

"He will be a top, top MLS player. Everything we thought, composure, competitive, good decision making. I thought considering he's played probably two-and-a-half games with Michael Boxall, I thought the pair of them were outstanding tonight, and "Micky" [Miguel Tapias] will be a really big player for us over the next few years."

On if Luis Amarilla was in Dallas and if Mender Garcia would have started...

"Mender [Garcia] would have probably started because obviously Luis [Amarilla] has been away all week, and as much as you want to train and you do a bit on your own, it's not the same as training with the group. We did all the tactics on Wednesday because we knew the weather was coming on Thursday, so Mender probably would have started anyway. I'm pleased for Mender. He's a lovely kid and he comes in everyday with a smile on his face, works really, really hard, and he's got a little bit of reward for all the hard work he's put in since he's been here. We knew on Friday so there was no point in flying him [Luis Amarilla] here. He'll fly back probably on Monday or over the weekend actually."

On the meaning of 'coupon buster'...

"You know when you have the fixed odds and you have a bet, there's normally one that makes people go 'oh my god if I only had that result, I'd have gotten six right, and I'd have made a lot of money,' but there's always one, and we were the one today. I don't think, I didn't see anybody who had said that they're fancying Minnesota today as they normally do. I take a lot of satisfaction from that. You know what I'm like. You know I like being in a position to stick it up to people sometimes."

On Hassani Dotson's return from injury...

"Great to get him back, feels good. As typical Hassani, he nearly got in it again, didn't he? I thought it was a foul on him, but he beat the guy on the edge of the box. I've said this before, but it's like having a new player. I just said in the press conference that everybody knows my feelings about it. I think he's a U.S. international footballer. Now he has to hopefully make up for a little bit of lost time. He's fit and healthy, and everybody benefits from having a fit and healthy Hassani Dotson for sure."

On the lack of VAR on the Mender Garcia breakaway...

"I was told on the sidelines that they had a look on VAR and they didn't think it was a foul. I would like to see it again, it looked a foul at the time, but at the end of the day they didn't give it and there's not an awful lot we can do about it. It did look a foul at the time. It would have been great for the kid to maybe get two goals. But at the end of the day we got the result we came here for and we are all very pleased we have a really happy dressing room. I'm so pleased for the players because most of these guys have been being asked questions about guys who aren't here. So it's nice to concentrate on the players who are here and give them the praise and kudos they deserve"

On Mender Garcia's health status after briefly exiting the pitch in the second half...

"He had a kick and he was limping and said he was a bit sore, and it was that stage in the game where I thought they [Dallas] were going to start pressuring and I just felt that we needed a little fresh legs up there. Obviously, Hassani [Dotson] came in and he's very smart. He knows what we're trying to do in terms of our defensive shape from the front. He'll [Mender Garcia] be fine. He'll be a bit battered and bruised, but he'll be okay."

On Bongokuhle Hlongwane's performance against Dallas on Saturday night...

"I thought he was outstanding. We talked about it at half time, I expected a little bit more from him with the ball in the final third or in their half of the field; he had overrun a couple of them. In terms of working hard for the team and doing everything that we asked of him on both sides of the ball, we couldn't get a kid who was more honest than him. Now, we've got to get him a little bit of composure in the final third and start to get him between seven and 12 goals a season. If he does that, he'll be one hell of a player for us because in terms of working for the group selflessly, there's not many people who can do what he does"

On Tani Oluwaseyi's MLS debut and what he can bring to the team...

"It's a big year for Tani [Oluwaseyi]. When we drafted him, we knew he had a history, within the last year, of knee injuries; he's over that now. The kid's got a good goal record when he plays football. But, we've got to get him on the field more. He's had a really good offseason. He's incredibly quick, athletic, he's good in the air. He needs to stay injury free and we'll keep working with him because he has some tools that would make it very difficult for him to play against."

On the progress with potential U22 Initiative signings...

"Yeah, we're hopeful. Mark Watson's away and out of the country at this moment in time, trying to get one or two things wrapped up. I'm hoping that we have some nice news for you guys and for us early next week. Then, we'll keep moving on with the other one as well."

DEFENDER MICHAEL BOXALL

On defending with new Loon teammate Miquel Tapias...

"All over the park defensively everyone did their jobs really well. The little bit of time I've had with "Micky" [Miguel Tapias] beside me this preseason and then tonight - obviously it's a work in progress - but from where we started at in Palm Springs; I like the way he plays. As long as we keep communicating and keep things tight then we can be a fairly solid partnership this season. It's a nice start, but it is just the start."

On taking away pockets of space and the gameplan against Dallas...

"Obviously their front three and their two eights have good movement so as long as we read the passes and read their movement and we weren't reacting to when the ball was going then we found ourselves in good spots and cut it off like that. They were firing a few balls from out wide later on but for the most part the whole back four really did their jobs. Zarek [Valentin] and Kemar [Lawrence] did great shifts and tried to shut them down. Everyone across the back four was solid tonight."

On the resilience of the hectic week...

"Anytime you start the season on the road in Dallas it's going to be tough, you know you have to show up. It was a pretty disruptive week. One of the days we maybe had only a dozen guys, we had a lot of snow the other day so we couldn't train. It's a great group, a professional performance and everyone put in a great shift. We know we have to be good all across the park. Eleven guys need to put in a shift to get the result and get points on the board. I'm proud of our guys tonight. It's going to be a fun flight home."

On preseason predictions and how the team reacts to them...

"Maybe some of the guys do read into it, but for me I don't think you need any extra motivation for us to do our job. For me, there is no better job in the world than what we do and to not show up and give full effort would be such a shame considering what we get paid to do. There's a lot of experts out there. How many are right? Not many. Everyone has their own opinions and as long as we focus on ourselves and what we are capable of then at the end of the season we will be where we deserve to be."

On wearing black tops and white shorts...

"I mean if we are going to win like that then lets keep the socks and the shorts and play with the black jersey."

On what he saw in preseason from Mender Garcia...

"He had limited opportunities, especially when Luis [Amarilla] was starting most of the games for us. He's such an honest player, he works his ass off. There's times his positioning is pretty good and then when we launch hopeful balls up to him now he is able to bring them down. I can't remember the exact play, but it led to a dangerous kick in the first half. The way he took that strike as well, his anticipation off of "Fraga's" [Franco Fragapane] rebound, to do all the defensive work we ask of the front guys as well, to keep himself honest and stay on top of that is massive for us."

On how good it was to see Hassani Dotson on the field again after returning from injury...

"It was great. Honestly for all the work he has had to put in. He's such a great kid. So happy for him to see the pitch again. Being cleared for training a couple weeks ago was the first step and now getting back out there where he deserves to be. Couple weeks to get his fitness up and he's going to be pushing guys to be the starting eleven. So stoked for him and his work ethic is outstanding and he has such a good future ahead of him."


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