On a muggy midweek evening, Minnesota United played host to Costa Rica’s Deportivo Saprissa at TCF Bank Stadium for an international friendly. It was a chance for each club to get some minutes for young players outside of league play and for MNUFC captain and defender Francisco Calvo to face his former club. Although a goal apiece in the first half had the match looking like it might go to penalty kicks, a late strike Saprissa sub Carlos Villegas put “La S” in front 2-1 for good.
"I thought there were some really good performances," said Head Coach Adrian Heath, whose main concern was minutes for little-used players. "Considering there’s probably, six, seven have played maybe one game in three months. There were some good moments. Plenty to work with. Learning lessons for some of the younger guys, especially the defenders. But overall, I was pleased because we got out of it what we wanted to get out of it. Got some really good minutes for some guys that needed it. And the lads are really disappointed that they haven’t gone on to take something from the game. Because we had a few chances as well. You know, Mason [Toye] did some nice stuff. I thought Frantz Pangop, at times, showed us some bits of quality."
The match got off to a bit of a rocky start with Saprissa’s goalkeeper Alejandro Gomez catching the ball outside of his own box and giving up a free kick from just beyond 18 yards. Loons midfielder Harrison Heath fired in a free kick that forced Gomez into a tough save that yielded a corner kick. Heath’s ensuing corner kick found defender Bertrand Owundi Eko’o — playing in his first match for Minnesota United since coming over before the season — but Owundi’s shot bounced hard into the ground and over the crossbar.
Saprissa opened the scoring in the 19th minute when forward David Ramirez shrugged off Owundi’s challenge on the break then went around goalkeeper Matt Lampson to finish smoothly and put El Monstruo Morado ahead 1-0.
"He was a bit nervous, a bit on edge," said Heath of Owundi. "And obviously, the first one was a mistake. But after that, he got himself going again and got over it. But as I say, he’s another one who has been — how long has he been here, a few months — and hasn’t played a game yet. So, he’ll be better from the game this evening."
The Loons would not have to wait long for an answer. In the 24th minute, midfielder Frantz Pangop (who was playing up top in the 3-5-2 the team has been using recently) got the ball near the middle on the left side of the box, executed a quick stepover and drilled a low shot around Gomez’s outstretched arms and just inside the right post.
“Every player had a chance to show himself,” he said in French, via translator and defender Jerome Thiesson. “That is what the coach demanded. I am very happy for myself, but especially for the team, that I could score that goal.”
Despite some good work in possession with bang-bang passes between some players who haven’t gotten to see a lot of the pitch so far and a bit of tenacious possession by players like midfielders Maximiano and Collin Martin, the teams went into the half deadlocked at 1-1. Saprissa won the possession battle 60% to 40% but most other stats were relatively even between the two teams.
In the second half, MNUFC seemed more intent on keeping possession and pulling apart the visiting side’s lines. In the 48th minute, Maximiano — who expanded his range further up the pitch in this one — got a good look at the goal but shanked it wide left after getting deep into the right side of the box.
"We wanted to get him in and around the game and get him the ball," said Heath of Maximiano. "Rather than sitting behind the game, I wanted him in the middle of it to get some more energy in the game. You know. I think he did some good stuff."
Forward Mason Toye, who’s gotten some minutes in MLS action but mostly late in games, looked good overall, earning an assist on Pangop’s goal and displaying some strength in possession in the 61st minute down the right wing. He took on two defenders and managed to hang onto the ball despite going down, eventually working his way into the box for a shot that came off defender Eric Miller and over the endline on the rebound.
"People forget that a couple months ago he was playing high school football," said Heath of Toye. "And now he’s starting to learn on the job. He needs to play every week. He showed glimpses tonight of what he can do. But we need to get more games into him."
After a raft of substitutions toward the middle of the second half brought on starters like midfielders Miguel Ibarra and Alexi Gomez and later, forward Christian Ramirez and midfielder Collen Warner, the Loons looked the team more likely for a spell. But in the 85th minute, an excellent through ball from the midfield picked out Villegas in the box and set him up for a strong finish that put Saprissa on top 2-1.
As the skies opened up the rain came down in stoppage time, it looked for all the world like the Loons would equalize and go to penalty kicks when a late corner kick bounced directly in Ramirez’s path, but the forward couldn’t get a foot on it and the whistle blew for full time.
Minnesota United next faces visiting Real Salt Lake this Saturday, July 14. The match kicks off at 7:00 p.m. with pre-match coverage beginning at 6:30 p.m. on FOX Sports North and MNUFC Radio on 1500 ESPN.
Minnesota United FC Starting XI: GK Matt Lampson; D Carter Manley, Wyatt Omsberg, Francisco Calvo (Alexi Gomez 62’), Bertrand Owundi Eko’o, Eric Miller (Miguel Ibarra 62’); M Harrison Heath, Collin Martin (Collen Warner 76’), Maximiano; F Frantz Pangop, Mason Toye (Christian Ramirez 76’)
MIN Unused Subs: GK Alex Kapp; D Tyrone Mears, Brent Kallman
Saprissa Starting XI: GK Alejandro Gomez; D Jaylon Hadden (Juan Gabriel Guzman 75’), Alexander Robinson, Jaikel Medina (Walter Cortes 67’), Adrian Chavez (Alejandro Cabral 46’); M Heiner Mora (Carlos Villegas 75’), Christian Martinez (Michael Barrantes 75’), Marvin Angulo (Mariano Torres 67’), Juan Bustos (Ricardo Blanco 67’); F David Ramirez (Randy Chirino 46’), Julen Cordero (Stewart Perez 67’)
Saprissa Unused Subs: GK Kevin Briceno, Aaron Cruz;
19’ – D. Ramirez – SAP
24’ – Pangop – MIN
85’ – Villegas – SAP
2’ – Gomez (YC) – SAP
89’ – Torres (YC) – SAP
90+’ – Robinson (YC) – SAP