There was everything to play for between Minnesota United and the LA Galaxy and Decision Day did not disappoint. The Loons needed a win or a tie to secure their place in the postseason while the Galaxy needed to win outright. With six goals in a game that featured Minnesota jumping out to an early lead before LA came back to level it twice, the final game of the regular season was an absolute barn burner. It ended with Minnesota holding onto the fifth seed and LA sliding all the way to eighth and on the outside looking in.
The challenge for Minnesota early was the same as it ever is on the road: control the tempo and do what you can with the possession you get. While the Galaxy dominated possession through the first 15 minutes with 62.4% of the ball, the Loons didn’t want for opportunities, including one by Robin Lod that went over the crossbar in the eighth minute after a string of good possession. Midfielder Franco Fragapane also got a clean cross from defender Romain Metanire deep on the right wing, but the Argentine couldn’t get it out from under his feet for a shot in the 12th minute.
The conservative approach that both teams appeared to be taking got a jolt in the 22nd minute as the visitors leapt out in front. Off of an LA Galaxy corner kick, the Loons sprung the counterattack as midfielder Emanuel Reynoso back heeled it to Metanire and the right back sent it forward to Adrien Hunou. Defender Julian Araujo tried to step up and catch the French forward offside and after Hunou struck the ball true for a goal, that was the initial call. Video review, though, showed that Araujo’s left foot kept Hunou onside and the goal was awarded.
Goalkeeper Tyler Miller — who ended up with seven saves, many of them massive — stoned a roundhouse strike by Kevin Cabral in the 32nd minute to preserve the lead and two minutes later, MNUFC made the most of a corner kick to double the lead. Reynoso’s corner was knocked down in front of goal by Bakaye Dibassy and towards defender Michael Boxall, who got enough of the ball to send it onto the far post and into the path of Lod for the visitors’ second goal of the game.
LA Head Coach Greg Vanney wasn’t about to let things continue like that, and he went to his bench early, bringing on the more attacking-minded Niko Hamalainen for Oniel Fisher in the 39th minute. The tactical shift unlocked something for the Galaxy because late in first half stoppage, they snatched a goal back courtesy of Sebastian Lletget. The midfielder lurked on the right side of the box as Kevin Cabral forayed down the left and forward Javier Hernandez drew the attention of the defense down the middle. Cabral’s cross skipped past Chicharito and towards Lletget, who took advantage of the opening to slot it onto the near post and cut the lead in half. The teams headed into the locker room with Minnesota up 2-1.
The home side rode their momentum heading into the second and in the 51st minute, Araujo found Chicharito on a secondary run with his cross from the right wing and the forward finished it confidently to level the game at 2-2. Minnesota suddenly found themselves in defensive disarray, scrambling to get control back. Just over 10 minutes later, they found their way back in via an LA miscue. Off another corner kick in the 62nd, Reynoso pinged the ball up the middle of the field and chased it down to send it to Fragapane on the right. Fragapane sent it back on a lofted through pass to Hunou who brought it down with his left but couldn’t strike it one time, instead opting to hold it for a beat before centering it hard. Caught off guard, Araujo tried to clear it over the crossbar but instead sent it into the back of the net, giving Minnesota their first own goal in their favor of the year and a 3-2 lead.
Vanney adjusted again, bringing on Samuel Grandsir for Lletget and Sacha Kljestan for midfielder Jonathan dos Santos in the 68th minute and then in the 75th, LA once again clawed their way back into the game. This time, Chicharito smashed a shot that was blocked by Dibassy, bringing cries for a handball call but as the ball bounced back to him, Chicharito fired again and this time beat Miller to make it 3-3.
Minnesota had a golden opportunity in the 87th minute to put the game away as defender Derrick Williams was called for a handball on a hard shot by Fragapane from the left side of the box. Fragapane stepped up to the spot — the eighth different Minnesota player to take a penalty in their last eight penalty shots — and took a long direct run onto the ball before striking it into the left post.
As the game ticked over into stoppage time, word came that Real Salt Lake had scored late on against Sporting Kansas City, meaning that the Galaxy would have to win to get into the playoffs. The home side through everything forward and lined up several shots in the six minutes of stoppage time but Miller and the defense were up to the task, holding the line and preserving the 3-3 score line. With the result, the Galaxy were dropped out of the playoffs for the fourth time in five years and Minnesota secured their spot for the third straight year. They will face the fourth-seeded Portland Timbers in Round One, with details on date and time to come.