LEAGUES CUP IS GREAT. Minnesota United won another thriller on Tuesday night, taking down Deportivo Toluca on penalties after a 2-2 draw. Bongokuhle Hlongwane continued his goal-scoring form in a fantastic first half for the Loons, but the Sausage Makers had plenty to say before it was all said and done.
Minnesota United picked up right where they left off last Friday, allowing Toluca to have as much of the ball as they wanted. Just like in Columbus, the Loons were patient, making the most of their chances when they came. The opening moments of the game could have easily seen either team score, but it was the local side that struck first.
Though slightly against the run of play, it was a beautiful goal nonetheless. When Emanuel Reynoso got the ball on the right side of the pitch, he made his signature move inside. Instead of searching for the shot this time, his left-footed cross to the feet of Joseph Rosales served the ball up on a platter. The Honduran international made no mistake, finishing sweetly with a first-time strike and putting his side up with plenty of soccer to be played.
Following the goal, Toluca continued to dominate possession. By the 25th minute, they had maintained 75% of the ball, taken seven shots, and put in four corners. Los Diablos Rojos found a way to do everything but score, but they never appeared to lose focus or get frustrated.
Once again, though, MNUFC’s counter-attacking prowess came to the fore. In the 32nd minute, Franco Fragapane found himself on an inspired run, threading one-two passes with flair and purpose to find his way to the top of the 18. The well-timed run of Mr. Leagues Cup gave Fraga an easy pass to make, but there was still plenty for Bongi to do. His unreal composure in the 18 saw him leave several defenders on the ground and blast the ball into the middle of the net. 2-0, Loons up and looking good.
Toluca showed flashes in the first 45, especially Juan Domínguez and Pedro Garay. But the same old story played out: a solid and compact Loons backline was too good to break through, and the impressive play of Hassani Dotson in the midfield really drove the team forward before the break.
The second half was a different story, but it started with promising signs. Chances for Bongi and the continued attacking play of the Loons’ fullbacks seemed to indicate that another goal was coming. Another goal did indeed come, but at the wrong end of the field.
In the 66th minute, Toluca’s pressure finally broke MNUFC. A chaotic sequence that saw shots blocked, saved, and sent back in ended with an absolute banger from Toluca captain Valber Huerta at the top of the box. With the deficit cut in half, Los Choriceros looked like themselves again, filled with energy and asking plenty of questions.
It seemed inevitable that Toluca would score; their offensive play was simply too good to keep quiet. With one under their belts, they pressed forward in overwhelming fashion, putting the Loons under intense pressure. It came to a head in the 73rd minute, when Dotson earned his second yellow card of the match and was sent off for a challenge in the box. Toluca’s goalkeeper, Tiago Volpi, buried the ensuing PK, and the match was level again with just 18 minutes remaining.
Down a man and on the wrong side of the match’s momentum, the Loons regathered their composure and hunkered down to weather the storm. Despite creating chances left and right, Los Diablos Rojos failed to turn their wave of creativity into a game-winner, and for the second straight time, a shootout settled MNUFC’s fate.
Dayne St. Clair put his cape on once more, saving Valber Huerta’s penalty to give his side the advantage. A miss from Robert Morales set Sang Bin up for the game-winning penalty, which he dispatched coolly for a spot in the quarterfinals.
Toluca was clearly a talented team, but they appeared to be a bit weary from nearly a month of travel during their dominant Leagues Cup run. The Loons stuck to their game plan, escaping with a win and showing that they have what it takes to succeed in tournament soccer.
After a bit of confusion down in Nashville, it seems MNUFC will be on the road for the next round to take on Nashville SC. The game is set to be played either this Friday or Saturday, with specific details yet to be confirmed.
Nashville SC vs. Minnesota United FC
GEODIS Park | Nashville, Tennessee
08.12.23 | Leagues Cup Quarterfinal
(Watch on MLS Season Pass)