On Sunday, Minnesota United faced a do or die game against the top team in the Western Conference, Sporting Kansas City. Sitting below the playoff line, the Loons needed a big win against the visitors to put themselves back in position for the postseason and Adrian Heath’s squad responded. After falling behind early on a set piece goal in the eighth minute, the home side rallied and came roaring back to score twice in the first half, the first from Franco Fragapane and the second a penalty kick from Emanuel Reynoso. MNUFC held the line in the second half through some physical play to come away with the win in the final home game of the season, putting them in fifth in the Western Conference heading into the final week of the season.
Minnesota United began the game with a lot of action going down the left side of the pitch through midfielders Franco Fragapane and Emanuel Reynoso. Midfielder Robin Lod pushed up on the right side, often sitting higher than forward Adrien Hunou in order to make himself available for crosses and switches to the field of play.
But before MNUFC could really even get settled into their game, Sporting KC struck early. Defender Romain Metanire tried to let the ball run out along the right sideline in Minnesota’s own final third, but midfielder Gadi Kinda jumped on it and got it back towards the middle of the pitch, where it went out for a corner kick. On the ensuing set piece, SKC dropped it short for Kinda, who sent a long cross that found forward Johny Russell on the far post. Russell headed it back towards the face of goal where forward Khiry Shelton finished it easily with his right foot to give the visitors a 1-0 lead.
Undaunted, MNUFC got right back to work establishing possession and gradually, they began to build up an advantage there and create opportunities in the final third. While keeping SKC bottled up in the back — in the 19th minute, Osvaldo Alonso and Bakaye Dibassy teamed up in the box to dispossess midfielder Cameron Duke on a dangerous run — the Loons got more men forward. In the 20th minute, Reynoso centered the ball from the left wing onto the near post and Hunou sent it wide to Lod. Lod had a defender directly in front of him but managed to redirect it to Fragapane, who struck it true past goalkeeper Tim Melia to level the game at 1-1.
While SKC would get a few more opportunities that MNUFC successfully stymied with some key one-on-one defending, it was the home side who would nudge ahead before the half. Once again on the attack, the Loons moved the ball crisply around the box before finding Reynoso, who went down in the 38th minute and the referee pointed to the spot. Stepping up for just the second penalty kick for MNUFC this season, Reynoso let Melia commit left before tapping a cheeky panenka straight down the middle for the team’s first successful penalty of the year. Up 2-1 now, the Loons shepherded the game into the break with a good dose of momentum.
Sporting Kansas City began the second half looking to break that momentum with heavy defensive pressure. The visitors ramped up the physicality and hounded the Loons whenever they were in possession, plus kept forward Khiry Shelton higher up the pitch and ready for an outlet pass whenever the pressure worked. But the tighter marking also helped the Loons whenever they could break against it. In the 50th minute, defender Chase Gasper made a run into the box following a turnover and Hunou found him unmarked with a cross from the right wing but Gasper couldn’t quite get over it and instead it went sailing over the crossbar.
Hoping to change the complexion of the game, Head Coach Peter Vermes brought in Daniel Salloi — one of the league’s leading goalscorers — in the 54th minute. SKC kept up the pressure and perhaps sensing that the team would need a jolt of energy, Head Coach Adrian Heath brought in midfielder Ethan Finlay for Hunou in the 69th minute, pushing Lod into the center forward role — a shift Heath has made regularly over the last several games.
As the game tipped over into the final 10 minutes, the scrappiness went up a notch. Kinda was shown a yellow card for taking down Fragapane on a long run in the 79th, which the Argentine clearly felt merited more than a yellow, and then in the 84th minute, following a no-call on a challenge, Fragapane retaliated with a rugged takedown of Russell for which he was shown yellow.
But the toughest foul of the day came from sub Amadou Dia, who came on in the 82nd minute and five minutes later delivered a crunching tackle near the sideline on Emanuel Reynoso, twisting the midfielder’s leg backwards and under him. Dia — who’s only played 101 minutes on the year, the fewest of all players with more than a minute — was given a yellow under strenuous protestations from the Loons’ players. Reynoso left the pitch for Hassani Dotson after the restart, but the Loons held fast through four minutes of stoppage time to come away with a 2-1 win. The much-needed three points vaulted MNUFC up to fifth in the Western Conference with one more game to play on Decision Day against the Galaxy in LA.
LOS ANGELES GALAXY vs. MINNESOTA UNITED FC
Dignity Health Sports Park | Carson, California
11.07.21 | MLS Week No. 35 | MLS Game No. 34
5:00 p.m. CT (Bally Sports North+, The CW Twin Cities, MNUFC Radio on SKOR North)