There couldn’t have been a starker contrast between last week’s home opener and tonight’s away match in Commerce City. Instead of a snowy 19 degrees, it was a pleasant 80 degrees as Minnesota United faced the Colorado Rapids in front of 14,013 fans, playing their first match on grass. The team leaned heavily on their NASL vets by inserting Brent Kallman, Miguel Ibarra and Justin Davis into the starting lineup and each of them would play his part in fighting tooth and nail to a 2-2 draw to give MNUFC their first point in MLS history.
“I can’t praise the players enough for their attitude,” said Head Coach Adrian Heath. “They dug in and so for us to get our first MLS point, our players can be really pleased with their efforts. I actually thought the first half, until we gave them that goal, we started quite well, I thought we always looked dangerous on the break, all evening.”
Minnesota United started the game with a bang, at least in terms of opportunities. Early on, Miguel Ibarra found Christian Ramirez who dinked it ahead to a waiting Johan Venegas who had just taken a few steps offside in the fourth minute. Three minutes later, Kevin Molino sent a cross in from the right side of the field and missed Ramirez’s head by mere inches.
The defense also looked more unified, playing less zone and more man marking. Brent Kallman, who slotted in at centerback for his MLS debut, tracked back well in the 13th minute to force the ball away from a Colorado attack and Francisco Calvo cleared the ball over the bar and out of danger on a set piece a few minutes later.
“I think there were a couple plays towards the end of the first half where I was able to make good decisions and help us get up the field,” said Kallman. “It was like back-to-back plays, once I was able to get those plays under my feet, I settled in.”
The Loons kept racking up chances, but a misplayed ball just outside of Minnesota’s box bounced around before settling at Dominique Badji’s feet and he calmly fired it past Bobby Shuttleworth. After conceding 11 goals in the last two games, largely through sloppy defensive play, this goal could have easily deflated Minnesota United, but instead, they seemed to settle down in response to it.
Part of that was down to Colorado’s strong but uninspired play following the goal. They were methodical with possession, backing the ball out to midfield when they didn’t like what they saw for angles, but it also slowed the game down. The ball often bogged down near the sidelines at midfield as Minnesota looked for ways forward while Colorado closed down passing lanes over and over again.
Headed into the second half, Colorado Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni noted that they seemed too comfortable going backward. For their part, Minnesota took out Schuller and put in Ibson for his first MLS minutes to start the second half.
“I just wanted him to make his play, you know,” said Heath of Ibson. “He’s one of the most confident guys I’ve ever met in terms of his own ability, I thought we needed somebody to actually get his foot on the ball, to try and make people play, and I thought he did that. He’s got great faith in his own ability and sometimes he can give other people that. I think he did really well.”
Very early on in the half, Mekeil Williams took Collen Warner down in the box and referee pointed to the spot. Molino calmly sized it up and went left when Tim Howard went right, scooting it along the ground and into the back of the net. It was both Molino’s second goal of the season and his second goal on a penalty kick.
Less than ten minutes later, the sub paid off when Ibson drew the ball back a step deep on the right side, then found Jerome Thiesson overlapping down the sideline. Thiesson whipped it in and Ramirez redirected it from the near post into the left side of the net for his second MLS goal. Up 2-1, the momentum had shifted.
But it was not to last. A short minute later, Marlon Hairston knocked home a header after Marc Burch’s long cross from the left side found him on the far post.
“That’ll be a focus of ours,” said Ramirez when asked about giving up that goal after taking the lead. “When we score, the next five minutes are crucial. Whether it goes direct for five minutes, that’s the energy that the other team can come back and score that quick goal. That’s a learning point for us and we need to continue to learn from it and not beat ourselves. We’ll continue to work on it.”
With the score level, and the players no doubt feeling the effects of playing at altitude, MNUFC made two subs in the 68th minute: rookie Abu Danladi took the field for the first time in his MLS career when he came in for Johan Venegas while Bashkim Kadrii came in for Kevin Molino.
Minnesota’s hopes of stealing a win from a team who didn’t lose at home last season were all but dashed the very next minute when Justin Davis earned a red card and an ejection when his upturned cleat collided with Hairston’s knee as he made a play for the ball.
“We’ll have to take a closer look,” said Heath. “I thought he miscontrolled it and he just went for the ball, the referee didn’t even give a foul. So, for it to then just suddenly be a red card was disappointing. It is what it is, but the lads dug in and they can be pleased with their efforts.”
Down to ten men, MNUFC was forced to play for time. In spite of a few dangerous corner kicks and a free kick about 20 yards out by Dillon Serna that sailed high and to the left in the 85th minute, the Loons gritted it out even by falling deep and clearing the ball out. They lost the possession battle 37% to 63%, but they got their point.
With the 2-2 draw and their first MLS point in hand, the Loons head next to New England where they’ll face the Revolution at 1:00 p.m. CT on Saturday, March 25. Catch all the action on My29 and MNUFC Radio on 1500 ESPN.
Minnesota United FC Starting XI: GK Bobby Shuttleworth; D Justin Davis, Francisco Calvo, Brent Kallman, Jerome Thiesson; M Miguel Ibarra, Collen Warner, Rasmus Schuller (Ibson 46’), Kevin Molino (Bashkim Kadrii 69’), Johan Venegas (Abu Danladi 69’); F Christian Ramirez
MIN Unused Subs: GK William Heavner; D Jermaine Taylor, Vadim Demidov; M Mohammed Saeid
Colorado Rapids Starting XI: GK Tim Howard; D Marc Burch, Bobby Burling, Jared Watts, Mekeil Williams; M Michael Azira, Sam Cronin (Bismark Boateng 82’), Shkelzen Gashi (Dillon Serna 61’), Kevin Doyle, Marlon Hairston (Alan Gordon 74’); F Dominique Badji
COL Unused Subs: GK Zach MacMath; D Kortne Ford; M Dillon Powers; F Caleb Calvert
17’ – Badji – COL
50’ – Molino (PK) – MIN
58’ – Ramirez (Thiesson) – MIN
59’ – Hairston (Burch) – COL
41’ – Warner (YC) – MIN
56’ – Cronin (YC) – COL
64’ – Thiesson (YC) – MIN
70’ – Davis (RC) – MIN
89’ – Williams (YC) – COL
90+’ – Shuttleworth (YC) – MIN
90+’ – Danladi (YC) – MIN