Loons ready to unveil their youth movement at Saturday’s home opener

A Minnesota United team that too often lost late-game leads or draws last year closed out its season-opening 2-1 victory at Austin FC with fresh, young legs.

Interim coach Cameron Knowles used all five substitutes allowed him last Saturday, all but one of them 23 years old or younger entered in the 68th minute or later.

Medina's Caden Clark and Lakeville's Loic Mesanvi both are 20, loaned Costa Rican midfielder Alejandro Bran is 22 and former first-round pick Tani Oluwaseyi is 23.

Whether the Loons call on the same young subs in Saturday's home opener vs. MLS Cup champion Columbus, Knowles couldn't say for a team that could be missing Emanuel Reynoso, Bongokuhle Hlongwane, Robin Lod and Franco Fragapane.

"It depends on the opponent, depends on the players we have available," Knowles said. "We assess each game on its own merit. We'll see how it goes."

Both Mesani — signed from the Loons' second team to a short-term contract before last Saturday's game — and Bran made their MLS debuts. Clark made his Minnesota debut in his return to MLS.

Bran's 91st-minute goal provided a two-goal cushion the Loons needed when Austin scored its only goal in the 95 minute, just before the final whistle.

The Loons return to Allianz Field on Saturday with their new 4-3-3 formation but awaiting new head coach Eric Ramsay's arrival.

They were the only team on opening weekend to win on the road with a performance Clark said should have surprised no one.

"No, of course not," Clark said. "We all have the ability. It's about getting the chances and showing no matter the age, we can do the job."

All four – plus fifth sub, wily veteran Zarek Valentin – provided the steam and speed that new sporting director Khaled El-Ahmad and Ramsay expect from a team they want younger and faster to press the opponent farther up field.

"I do want to play younger," El-Ahmad said. "But sometimes you do, sometimes you don't."

Knowles will continue to lead the team until Ramsay arrives from England.

"Listen, we want to play with energy, and it's going to take the ability to make five changes that will help us keep the energy-level high," Knowles said. "We put them in the squad, and we're going to trust them to play."

Those substitutes produced the extra goal in second-half stoppage the Loons needed when Clark counterattacked a desperate Austin team with a 70-yard run with the ball down the right side. He played a beautiful ball between defenders on the run ahead to Oluwaseyi, who made the extra unselfish pass to Bran, who eluded a defender and scored at the right post.

"When I stopped the ball, the goal got smaller in the moment," said Bran, acquired before the season on loan from his Costa Rican club. "But I was able to hit it in."

Knowles calls it all about that T-word: Trust.

"We've got to trust them," Knowles said. "They earned a lot of trust the way they came in the game. It gave us a massive lift. All the young players did well. It's not easy coming into the game, whether it's your first time with this team or your first MLS appearance. It's not easy, especially with a one-goal lead. They were brave.

"They are young, but fearless in the way they played. It's really exciting. It bodes well for the future."

The subs entered just when the Loons press defense started to drop a little deeper and Austin pressured. The Loons also had young Victor Eriksson, 23, and Moses Nyeman, 20, on the bench,

"Their ability to raise the energy, get us forward a little and they scored the second goal as well," Knowles said. "To see out the victory was incredible."