MINNEAPOLIS-In a showcase for little-used Loons to audition for more playing time, Frantz Pangop had one of the most impressive outings during Minnesota United's international friendly with Deportivo Saprissa on Wednesday at TCF Bank Stadium.
The Cameroonian midfielder, who has only 74 minutes across six Major League Soccer games in 2018, scored in the first half of the exhibition against the Costa Rican champions. The performance, which included nifty footwork to beat multiple defenders on the goal, could help him break through more often in MLS play.
"He showed little flashes of real quality," United head coach Adrian Heath said.
But fellow Cameroonian Bertrand Owundi Eko'o made a critical mistake in his debut for the Loons. On a back-pass, the center back gave up the ball up to Saprissa forward David Ramirez, who then beat goalkeeper Matt Lampson for the game's first goal in the 19th minute.
In the 85th minute, Carlos Villegas sliced between Carter Manley and Eko'o for the game-winning goal in Saprissa's 2-1 win. Late United subs Miguel Ibarra and Christian Ramirez failed to connect on a chance to equalize in stoppage time.
The Loons want to see if Maximiano can still contend for the defensive midfielder spot, but the Brazilian played in a confounding position higher up the pitch as an attacking midfielder against Saprissa.
"We wanted to get him in and around the game, rather than sitting behind the game," Heath explained. "I wanted to get some more energy into the game, and I think he did some good stuff."
Sporting Director Manny Lagos said Tuesday that the Loons continue to look for a defensive midfielder as the summer transfer window stays open through Aug. 9. One reason for the search is the jury remains out on Maximiano, who has rehabbed from an ACL injury while on a one-year loan from Brazilian club Fluminenese.
With a sizable $330,000 salary, he has played in only three MLS games, including one start against Los Angeles FC on May 9, when he exited after 64 minutes with a red card. He played 99 minutes in the extra-time win over FC Cincinnati in the U.S. Open Cup.
"Maxi is coming into his own, but he hasn't gotten healthy yet," Lagos said. "... Ultimately we will have another couple of months to really see if he can fill the role."
The void at the No. 6 position was vacated when Sam Cronin was sidelined with reoccurring concussion symptoms in preseason. "It doesn't look he's going to be healthy for the foreseeable future," Lagos said.
Forward Mason Toye, the seventh overall pick in the 2018 SuperDraft, said physicality has been the biggest adjustment he's had to make in the MLS. The 19-year-old said his best learning experience was from the red card he received for elbowing Vancouver's Kendall Waston on May 5.
"That made me learn to use my body in different ways and not throwing elbows, but I can still be physical with guys," Toye said Tuesday. "And make sure they can't bully me. ... It's imposing your will physically but not in a forceful or harmful way."
Toye assisted on Pangop's goal Wednesday, and he said the friendly was the first time this season where the game has really slowed down for him. He had an assist in his Loons debut within MLS on March 10 against Orlando but has played only 254 minutes across his 12 MLS appearances this year.
The Loons' attendance Wednesday was substantially below its season average of 21,054 across nine home games this year. In MLS games, Minnesota ranks 11th in home attendance among the 23 teams. The league's average home attendance is 21,201. ... United has played friendlies against Mexican teams Atlas, Club Leon and their under-21 national team, as well as England's Bournemouth and Wales' Swansea City in recent years.