With the spotlight on his back, goal scorers can sprint off erratically for a solo parade or stop to do a pre-planned celebration; he can seek a group hug from teammates on the field; or he can beeline off the stage to share the moment with other squad members relegated to wearing pennies on the sidelines.
When Jacori Hayes scored the winning goal in Minnesota United’s 4-1 thumping of San Jose on Saturday, Aug. 1, the midfielder chose the latter because he was one of those benchwarmers to start the MLS is Back Tournament in mid-July in Kissimmee, Fla.
“It was complete ecstasy,” Hayes said. “As soon as it went in, I ran over to the corner to celebrate with the guys. They gave me a lot of support in transitioning here and during the quarantine and preparing for the tournament. They are my new brothers. They supported me and kept me motivated.”
Minnesota United has advanced to the semifinals against Orlando City on Thursday with help outside of its first-choice starting XI, including a late insurance goal from sub Marlon Hairston.
“We spoke about the strength in depth and them guys, especially Marlon and Jacori, you could see the reaction of not only the players on the pitch, but the people off the field,” United coach Adrian Heath said. “They have been incredible teammates all the way through this.”
Hayes, who hadn’t played in the Loons’ first five games of 2020, made his Minnesota debut as a sub in the shootout win over Columbus on Tuesday and made his first start against the Earthquakes on Saturday. Hairston had only four minutes played until being thrust into bigger roles in the tournament’s knockout stages.
Hairston came over in the trade that unloaded disgruntled star Darwin Quintero to Houston last November. United got Hayes from Dallas by giving up a little-upside third-round draft pick in 2021.
Loons coach Adrian Heath acknowledged Hayes was frustrated that he hadn’t had much playing time, “but the one thing about the kid is he trains so hard every single day. He is incredibly supportive to his teammates. And you saw the reaction of the rest of the group.”
With Loons all-star Romain Metanire out with a hamstring injury, Hassani Dotson moved from midfield to right back. He said he has been training in both spots in Florida, and even from a spot further back on the field. He contributed to both of United’s first two goals.
Dotson, a rookie last year, was asked in a video conference call to compare the 2019 Loons to this year’s bunch.
“I think both sides, both years, we’ve been pretty good,” Dotson said. “I think, for me, the biggest difference is the team’s cohesion. I think it’s been a lot closer, in my opinion, compared to last year. Everyone gets along very well. Last year we did, too, but it’s just a big family feel. We all love spending time with each other and hanging out, and I think that leads onto the field. We work that much harder for the next guy.”
The Loons continue to pursue additions, primarily central attacking midfielder Emanuel “Bebelo” Reynoso from Boca Juniors in Buenos Aires and French/Mali defender Bakaye Dibassy from Amiens in France’s Ligue 1.
“We are still a few numbers short, and we hope to do something about that when we get back. But I’m so happy with the group that I have because I think Hassani touched on it, this is the best group that we’ve had in the club,” Heath said. “In terms of doing what the staff what of them, doing what is expected of them and being a really good teammate, even when it’s not going great for yourself.”
Another example of this is Mason Toye, who will bring out his celebration of shaking maracas when he scores a goal. Toye, who has shown promise, has been relegated to third-string striker this season behind Amarilla and Aaron Schoenfeld.
But in the dressing room after Minnesota’s win Saturday, Toye looked as ecstatic as the players who contributed on the field.