With a short turnaround from last Saturday’s win over the Houston Dynamo and another short one ahead with FC Dallas on Saturday, Minnesota United opted for a different look against D.C. United at Audi Field on Wednesday night. Coming out in a 5-2-3 formation with an eye towards bolstering the defense, MNUFC gave up an early penalty but fought back to pull level before conceding again just before the break. Tyler Miller’s heroics in goal to stop a second penalty kick were ultimately for naught as the home side sealed the win with a late goal.
It wouldn’t take long for the Loons to find themselves behind the eight ball at Audi Field. In the 21st minute, defender Andy Najar took a long touch into the box with defender Chase Gasper in pursuit. Gasper reached across with his leg to try to pry the ball loose but ended up taking Najar down and D.C. United were awarded a penalty kick. Ola Kamara — who came into the night leading the league in goals from penalty kicks with seven — stepped to the spot and delivered a low shot to the right to beat Miller and put the home side on top 1-0.
MNUFC quickly got to work on turning things in their favor, but they struggled against D.C.’s aggressive high press. Adding a defender to the backline may have given them more bodies in front of goal, but it also meant there were fewer options farther up the field and, as a result, the Loons found it difficult to transition from defending to attacking. When they would successfully clear the ball, the Black-and-Red were quick to win it back and reapply offensive pressure.
The answer, perhaps unsurprisingly, came on a set piece. In the 40th minute, midfielder Franco Fragapane — stepping in on set piece duty for Emanuel Reynoso — delivered a curling free kick from the right side of the pitch and picked out defender Bakaye Dibassy near the penalty spot. Dibassy rose up and confidently nailed the header past an outstretched Bill Hamid to pull Minnesota back level at 1-1.
The visitors were no doubt hoping to hold the game right there through to halftime, but D.C. United had other ideas. In the 45th minute, Kamara brought the ball down the right wing and found himself double-teamed by Chase Gasper and Dibassy, but Dibassy went down with a shout and Kamara took advantage of the opening to burst towards the endline. With Dibassy out wide, a gap opened up and midfielder Julian Gressel streaked in, settling Kamara’s pass from out wide before delivering a shot on the far post past Miller to get the home side back in front 2-1 heading into the break.
D.C. picked up where they left off in the second half and in the 51st minute, MNUFC found themselves on the wrong end of a five-on-three break. Defender Michael Boxall did well to track all the way back and snuff out the initial attack but on the short clearance, Dibassy got tangled up with Russell Canouse and D.C. United got themselves another penalty kick opportunity. Kamara stepped to the spot once again and this time went left, but Miller fell on it and secured it to deny the forward a ninth PK goal on the year.
In the 53rd minute, Fragapane had an opportunity to level the game as midfielder Ethan Finlay pinged a cross all the way through the box to find the Argentine on the far post. His strike looked good, but goalkeeper Bill Hamid stretched out to tip it wide.
In the 60th minute, Head Coach Adrian Heath overhauled his lineup, bringing in Adrien Hunou, Fanendo Adi, Niko Hansen and Joseph Rosales for Fragapane, Robin Lod, Finlay and Jacori Hayes, respectively. While the changes opened up some new angles and opportunities with Adi working more on hold-up play and Hansen clearly eager to get back to the strong run of form he enjoyed earlier in the season, the visitors could not find a way through the D.C. defense.
With the Loons’ chances waning, D.C. United put the game to bed in the 85th minute as substitute Edison Flores found fellow sub Junior Moreno on a secondary run into the box. Moreno pinged a hard shot that deflected off Rosales and past Miller to make it 3-1 and effectively dash the Loons’ hopes for a point on the road.
FC DALLAS vs. MINNESOTA UNITED FC
Toyota Stadium | Frisco, Texas
10.02.21 | MLS Week No. 28 | MLS Game No. 27
7:00 p.m. CT (Bally Sports North+, The CW Twin Cities, MNUFC Radio on SKOR North)