On a wet evening at Providence Park in downtown Portland, Minnesota United FC and Vancouver Whitecaps FC opened up the MLS preseason tournament hosted by the Portland Timbers with a 1-1 draw.
"We've got better every single game, put another layer on top of what we've done every single game tonight,” said Minnesota United Head Coach Adrian Heath. “Our fitness level and our combination play at the middle of the park was a lot better, so very encouraged with where we are at this moment in time."
The first good chance of the game came early for Vancouver when Eric Hurtado took a shot that went high over the goal in the sixth minute. Vancouver pressed the attack as the rain got heavier, winning a corner kick in the 11th minute before another Hurtado shot went over the bar in the 12th minute.
But past the 15-minute mark, Minnesota United settled down and started stringing together passes, mostly working through Jermaine Taylor on the right side of the pitch and relying on Taylor’s considerable MLS experience (21 starts with the Portland Timbers last year, five years with the Houston Dynamo before that).
"We want to keep possession, we want to be a possession-oriented team, but the bottom line is if you want to win games, you want to score goals, you've got to get the ball in the box,” Heath said. “One thing we've said to the guys, let's play football getting up to the final third and once we get into the final third we've got to work the penalty area, we've got to get people into the box and we've got to get crosses in there because that's where you score goals and some of that has been encouraging, whether it be fullbacks that have been doing it or whether it be wide guys they've been doing their bit to get a goal."
Despite dominating possession for much of the first half, Minnesota United’s only chance came on a Miguel Ibarra header that sailed high. Vancouver won several corner kicks but couldn’t do much with them. Alvbage confidently punched balls away from danger, utilizing a wealth of professional experience in Europe and with the Swedish national team.
One of the other notable takeaways from the first half was Kevin Molino’s craftiness with the ball. His poise on the ball from the edges of the pitch aided in multiple attacks for MNUFC. It’s plain to see why he was coveted by Heath after playing under his tutelage in Orlando.
The second half heated up early as MNUFC won a corner. Molino stood over the corner and delivered an in-swinging ball that glanced off Hurtado and into the net giving the Loons a 1-0 lead in the 49th minute. Molino was credited with the goal, technically making it an Olimpico.
Once Minnesota went up 1-0, Vancouver collected itself and began pressing the ball and harrying MNUFC’s backline as they passed the ball back and forth, content to maintain possession.
In the 71st minute, Heath made a wholesale substitution, bringing in K. Venegas, Martin, Kallman, Greenspan, Gonzalez, de Villardi, Ibson, Ramirez, Kadrii, and Starikov in one fell swoop. It was the freshly-signed Kadrii’s first appearance with the club.
On the other side, one of Vancouver’s subs, Russell Teibert, made a huge impact in the 82nd minute, finding the back of the net after a clearance with an strike that snuck inside the right post.
"Considering we've been together something like 15 days, I think that the back four looked very solid this evening – well covered, and the three central midfielders worked really hard in front and I don't think we really gave them much of a chance late in the evening,” Heath said. “I was disappointed with the goal late on, I thought we should have done better with that, but overall with the first group on the field, I can't remember a clear good chance for them, and the chances that they did have were from poor play by us, so a lot of stuff I'm delighted with."
Despite a flurry of chances and activity following the equalizer — including yellow cards for Kevin Venegas for Minnesota and Teibert for Vancouver — the game ended in a 1-1 draw, continuing what’s becoming a bit of a trend for the Loons in this preseason. Minnesota United will face Vancouver again in the regular season on Saturday, June 24 at TCF Bank Stadium.
Next up, MNUFC faces off with the tournament host Portland Timbers Sunday February 12. The match is set to kick off at 7 p.m. CT. The match will be streamed live on MNUFC.COM.
MNU Starting XI: GK John Alvbage; D Justin Davis, Francisco Calvo, Vadim Demidov, Jermaine Taylor; M Collen Warner, Mohammed Saeid, Miguel Ibarra, Rasmus Schuller, Kevin Molino; F Abu Danladi
MNU Second Half XI: GK John Alvbage; D Kevin Venegas, John Greenspan, Brent Kallman; M Collin Martin, Raul Gonzalez, Thomas De Villardi, Ibson, Bashkim Kadrii, Gene Starikov; F Christian Ramirez
VAN Starting XI: GK David Ousted; D Jake Nerwinski (Sheanon Williams 45'), Kendall Waston, Tim Parker, Jordan Harvey; M Andrew Jacobson (Russell Teibert 65’), Matias Laba, Alphonso Davies, Kekuta Manneh (Yordy Reyna 65’), Cristian Techera (Giles Barnes 65’); F Erik Hurtado (Marcel de Jong 71’)
VAN Unused Subs: GK Paolo Tornaghi; D Christian Dean, Matthew Baldisimo; M Marco Bustos; F Kyle Greig
49' - Molino (Unassisted) - MNU
82' - Teibert (Unassisted) - VAN
24’ - Jacobson (YC) - VAN
86’ - K. Venegas (YC) - MNU
86’ - Teibert (YC) - VAN
88’ - Gonzalez (YC) - MNU