Following a stalwart 1-0 win against Austin FC on the road, Minnesota United came into Wednesday night’s tilt against the visiting Philadelphia Union with renewed hopes of cementing their place in the postseason. The Loons had not faced Philadelphia since 2019 but despite the lack of familiarity, things got chippy quickly and hardly let up. While MNUFC got on the board first in the 41st minute, the Union struck back twice unanswered. But the Loons were up for the fight and came back on the strength of goals from Franco Fragapane and Robin Lod to climb once again to fifth in the West — for now.
Right from jump, the game got physical and stayed that way. In the fifth minute, midfielder Emanuel Reynoso appeared to foul Philadelphia defender Olivier Mbaizo and Mbaizo appeared to take personal offense as he confronted Reynoso and shoved him to the ground. The defender got a yellow card for his trouble, and the tone for the night was set.
Minnesota’s attack leaned heavily on the left side of the pitch to start the game, with the ball working between midfielders Franco Fragapane and Reynoso as they looked for a seam to work. The Loons had decent success early on in transition, with the Union failing to get pressure between the midfield line and the final third, giving the Loons the opportunity to work with space in front of them once they crossed midfield. Despite that and several chances to push for more, Minnesota found themselves with just two shots to their name and neither on target late heading into the final minutes of the first half.
But then in the 41st minute, the interplay between the attacking players that they’d been working on came to fruition. An attempt by Philadelphia to get the ball out of the final third was cut off by Gasper and then sent back into the box with a sideways tap by Reynoso. Fragapane picked the ball up and threaded it past Jakob Glesnes for forward Adrien Hunou, who struck it with his left foot onto the near post and snuck it past goalkeeper Andre Blake to put the Loons up 1-0.
They held the lead for only a few minutes though, as the Union quickly reorganized and pulled one back in the 45th minute. Midfielder Jamiro Monteiro tapped the ball back to midfielder Daniel Gazdag, who smashed it into the top right corner past an outstretched Tyler Miller to level it up at 1-1 just before the half.
Reynoso came out of the break with a fire in the belly though, and seemed prepared to take on the whole Union team to get his squad back on top. In the 49th minute, he danced around several defenders — dropping at least two to the ground — before unloading a left-footed shot that beat Blake but went just wide of the right post.
A momentary lapse in the 54th minute saw Philly nudging ahead as a corner kick forced Miller to tap the ball up, but not far enough away to keep Gazdag from getting his second goal of the night on a header on the far post.
Now down a goal and headed into the final 30 minutes, Head Coach Adrian Heath went to his bench and brought in midfielder Robin Lod for Midfielder Ethan Finlay in a like-for-like swap on the right wing. Only moments later, the substitution looked like a stroke of genius as Reynoso peeled the ball off a defender and hit a cheeky backheel to Lod in the box for an easy finish.
With the game level at 2-2, the Loons went for the jugular and added another just four minutes later. The Union defense misplayed a ball in the box, leaving it for Hunou to smash a hard shot from close range at Blake, who deflected it directly at a waiting Fragapane on the far post. Fragapane nodded it in to make it 3-2 in the 67th minute.
It looked like some clutch defending by Michael Boxall and particularly Bakaye Dibassy would see this one out, but in the 77th minute, the tenor of the game changed markedly. Trying to corral a high ball in Philadelphia’s end, Romain Metanire was fouled hard by Kai Wagner. Metanire took particular exception and fired the ball at Wagner’s head from close range, earning himself a red card and an ejection, while Wagner received a yellow card.
Reduced to 10 men, the Loons had to button up shop and hang on — a pity, since Reynoso was clearly feeling his oats and might have had another goal or assist in him. But MNUFC held the line and, thanks to some timely and aggressive goalkeeping from Miller at the death, the home side were able to come from behind and pick up a much-needed three points headed into a weekend matchup with LAFC.
MINNESOTA UNITED FC vs. LOS ANGELES FOOTBALL CLUB
Allianz Field | Saint Paul, Minnesota
10.23.21 | MLS Week No. 31 | MLS Game No. 31
7:00 p.m. CT (Bally Sports North+, The CW Twin Cities, MNUFC Radio on SKOR North)