The action got underway in a hurry on Wednesday night in St. Paul against Houston with the MNUFC attack coming out running and gunning. In light of the Loons recent run of form in MLS season action, it was a welcome sight to see for the fan faithful at Allianz Field, as the boys in Black and Blue had struggled to activate their home-field advantage in the early-going of 2023.
The fast start from the front third would prove fruitful for the Loons in the 14th minute of the first half when the South African sensation that is one Bongokuhle Hlongwane juked Houston goalkeeper Steve Clark to the left and went right into the corner of the net. 1-0, Loooons.
After drawing first blood, the Loons attack stayed vigilant, showing a persistence that continued to keep the Houston defensive back line on their toes for a majority of both the first and second half. But, fortunately for Houston’s defense, and unfortunately for the Loons, Houston’s Steve Clark unlocked the achievement for superhuman keeper skills after giving up the goal to Hlongwane earlier in the contest.
The Loons peppering of Houston’s goal did feature a number of quality, on-target attempts from the likes of Hlongwane, Franco Fragapane, Luis Amarillia and D.J. Taylor. But, to his credit, Clark had some magnificent saves on goal that made for another somewhat maddening stretch of near goals that Clark turned into near-misses.
As the time ticked away in the second half, that uneasy feeling began to rise that one more late-game goal surrendered may become the Loons nightmarish reality. Houston’s attack ramped up mightily in the last ten minutes of the second half, and put the onus on Michael Boxall, Kemar Lawrence, Micky Tapias and D.J. Taylor to keep the box clean of scoring threats. Near misses and unconverted corner kicks would create some tense moments for the boys in the back and Dayne St. Clair on his head.
In the end, tense moments gave way to some solid saves from St. Clair, and an especially crucial slide and block from Kemar Lawrence on Houston’s Brad Smith in the 89th minute would end up being as close as Houston’s hopes of a draw would get. While no Loons fan would welcome any more of those stress-inducing attempts on goal, they can take stock in the fact that, when the chips were on the line, the Black and Blue held up in the face of a growing end-of-game barrage from Houston. They handled their business and finished with the W.
The other positivity to take from this 1-0 win? Hearing “Wonderwall" sung by everyone in the stadium for the first time following an MLS game this season. Hopefully, there is plenty more singing to do as the season progresses and the Loons welcome an all-important piece of their midfield back into the fold. Onward and upward, you Loons.
Portland Timbers vs. Minnesota United FC
Providence Park | Portland, Oregon
05.20.22 | MLS Game 13
9:30 p.m. CT (AppleTV MLS Season Pass,1500 ESPN)