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Deeper Dive | #MINvRBNY

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It wouldn’t be Minnesota if it wasn’t a snow opener, right? The opening match of 2023 at Allianz Field was hit with its expected snow flurries, and while it was easy to bask in the snow globe-esque beauty from the stands, it was a whole new beast for many of the players. NYRB and MNUFC were battling both the weather and each other, neither gaining a significant edge. Great moments littered the field almost as much as the snow, but between the weather or it being just “that kind of night,” neither side found that final difference maker – leading to a 1-1 draw. 

Midfielder Bongokuhle Hlongwane had never played in snow before the Saturday night match. “No, it’s my first time,” said Hlongwane. “I wasn’t happy, but I played. It’s my job, so I have to respect it whenever I have to. D.J. [Taylor] had been telling me ‘It’s going to snow,’ even Fraga [Franco Fragapane] said that to me ‘Did you check the weather?’ and I was like ‘No, I didn’t.’ It had been snowing so I was like ‘Oh, okay.’ Then I came and I was like ‘No,’ but we did it.”

Interestingly enough, Bongi was the one to find the back of the net for the Loons, in his first experience playing in snow – maybe Minnesota is rubbing off on him just a little. In the first corner kick of the year, Hlongwane was able to capitalize on a Miguel Tapias deflection, and the shivering crowd of Minnesota United faithful went wild. “It means a lot to me because I was able to score in front of the Loons fans, in our first game of the season at home. So yeah, I feel happy,” said Hlongwane.

“It was a good ball,” said Heath. “We had been talking for a couple of days that the near post area was a little vulnerable. It was a good ball in and obviously, Micky [Miguel Tapias] got on it. It was a good goal. At the end of the day, the team had some good set pieces.”

The goal couldn’t have come at a better time. The Red Bulls came out of the gate hot and ready to find the net, with a few near misses in the first 15 minutes of play. Bongi’s goal turned the tides of momentum, and the Loons were able to get their feet beneath them.

“I thought they played the conditions the first 10-15 minutes better than we did,” said Heath. “We were still trying to play instead of getting it forward and turning people around. Because it was going to be, and I said this to the players at half time, the game was going to be won or lost by the team that made the least mistakes in their own half.”

The second half had a lot of similarities to the first, with NYRB utilizing their high-pressing style of play to find opportunities and cause difficulty for the Loons' back line. However, this go-around, New York was able to find the net from a set-piece header.

“I thought it was a poor goal to concede,” said Heath. “What is he [Andrés Reyes] six-foot-two, six-foot-three? One of the biggest guys on the field and he gets a free header in the six-yard box. We’ll have another look at it and see where we were and see who wasn't blocked or who didn't attack the ball in their zone. Obviously, it's disappointing to concede from a set piece. We normally defend set pieces pretty well.”

Post-goal, the intensity from both sides ramped up, but Minnesota United started to find their groove, especially as the field conditions cleared up. The last 15-20 minutes of the game saw an extremely motivated Minnesota side, whose barrage of attacks were barely swatted away by New York.

“The conditions got better and we suddenly started to get a little bit more possession in their half of the field,” said Heath. “Started to get some crosses in. Hassani [Hassani Dotson] came on, I thought he did excellent. I thought Kervy [Kervin Arriaga] was outstanding all evening. I thought there were a lot of positives tonight. Before the season started would we have settled for four points? Probably. Away from home on the opening day at Dallas [FC Dallas] so it's been a good start.”

The draw wasn’t the result that MNUFC hoped for – especially after seeing multiple attempted volleys in the last 15 minutes of play. However, four points out of six is a good start to the season, and there have been a lot of positives to give the Minnesota squad hope for a solid 2023 campaign. 

Next up, the Loons are back in the dome and preparing to face Western Conference foes Colorado Rapids. The last time these two teams met, an intense, high-scoring game saw Colorado edge Minnesota with four goals to three. Be sure to tune in to catch MNUFC seek a little revenge in what is sure to be another great match in this exciting early 2023 season.


Colorado Rapids vs. Minnesota United FC

Dick’s Sporting Goods Park | Commerce City, Colorado

03.18.23 | MLS Matchday 4

8:30 pm CT (Exclusively on AppleTV’s MLS Season Pass)